Photo: Carolin Weinkopf
by Laura-Kristine Krause
Most civil society organizations and initiatives would probably happily agree that the work of civil society has the greatest impact when players collaborate with one another. It is, after all, precisely the belief in collective action and the desire to create and achieve something together that lead many people to work for the community, be it on a professional or voluntary basis.
I experience almost daily in our work at More in Common, however, that this positive basic attitude towards social impact is not enough. Our work is devoted to the issue of social cohesion. We have been working since 2018 towards our goal of a society that is strong at its very core, and able to respond to societal change in a resilient and united way. We carry out research into what causes division and where we might find common ground. We then translate our findings into projects and tools that can be put into practice. We learn from the work being carried out by our colleagues in France, the UK and the USA, and from our partners in society, politics, the media and business in Germany.
Our mission cuts across so many issues: trust in democracy, politics and fellow human beings, people coming together, social participation and visibility, disinformation, social media and information behavior, climate protection, justice, migration, and so on. There are so many issues that are linked to social cohesion – that make it work, or indeed make it more difficult; and for every issue, there are teams carrying out focused work on it. Through our work with these teams and colleagues, we learn a lot about structure, degrees of professionalization and the challenges of different thematic "ecosystems". We also observe that people from very different fields sometimes think very similarly, for example, about how they can tap into new target groups.
However, exchange forums on the "how" of civil society work - i.e. impact strategies, approaches, experiences and lessons learned - are much rarer than those on the "what," i.e. the thematic focus. Funding approaches that look beyond the "classic" program categories such as democracy, education or climate are therefore also important and could lead to and promote cross-thematic (and sometimes more "technical") exchanges. Structures that not only support but also demand networking among grantees – and indeed provide the resources to make this possible - are particularly important if we are to avoid a situation where collaboration is simply viewed as a ‘nice to have’. After all, it takes time, which is a very precious commodity in almost all civil society organizations.
If, as a result of more networking, players gain a better understanding from each other of what other organizations with similar goals are working on and the objectives they are pursuing, this surely leads to a better "division of labor" within civil society. This is important because none of the major challenges of our time can be solved by one individual or organization working alone. Take climate protection, for example: in addition to players who drive the issue and call for political decisions or provide scientific support, there is also a need for those who work to ensure that we do not create unnecessary polarization and that people find their own personal place within this social challenge. A stronger focus on target groups and an understanding of causal chains can help to achieve this goal.
Some players from within the sector think strategically about the needs of the sector itself: this means they identify a cross-sector need for evidence, strategies, communication or other tools, and then go on to meet that need. These players and organizations are just as important as the thematically focused organizations. The Schöpflin Foundation's new "Infrastructure & Good Relations" program – which is where the More In Common organization now sits - focuses on supporting these organizations.
What might this work look like? We see our task, for example, as collecting and further processing research findings in such a way that they actually help in practice, rather than coming across as too abstract or scientific. Almost 150 organizations are already working with our toolkit. And with our latest study, “Zusammenhalt und Begegnung: Wie und wo Zivilgesellschaft wirken kann” (Cohesion and Convening: How and Where Civil Society Can Be Most Effective), we have provided evidence-based research on convening across social boundaries that can be used in practice. In the future, we want to make our quantitative and qualitative research capabilities even more available to our partners so that they can, for example, get direct feedback during the project development stage, and see whether their ideas can reach broad segments of society. I always say that the packaging for every brand of shampoo has been more consumer tested before it is put on the market than any civil society campaign: and that is precisely what needs to change.More news