Policy professionals in civil society organizations : Struggling for influence

Abstract: The professionalization of civil society organizations coupled with an elite-driven policy process has fostered the rise of policy professionals in civil society organizations (CSOs). This dissertation explores the role and functioning of policy professionals in CSOs, describing and analyzing how CSOs’ hiring of such expertise contributes to processes of professionalization within civil society, including what that entails from a normative perspective. It does so by analyzing interviews with and observations of policy professionals in Sweden, Latvia, and the Netherlands. The main research question guiding the thesis concerns how we can conceptualize and understand the group of policy professionals in civil society and the role it plays in the professionalization of civil society. The analysis is based on field theory in combination with new institutional theory.The study provides new insights into the role of policy professionals and professionalization of CSOs through four empirical studies. First, it conceptualizes the field of policy advocacy in civil society as a struggle to gain influence over internal and public policymaking. In this struggle, policy professionals’ daily activities concern practices of influencing policy application and constructing several types of field-specific capital. Types of capital important for this subfield are, over and above social and academic capital, organizational capital and policy-political capital. While organizational capital restores the organization by fostering legitimacy, trust, and loyalty, policy-political capital, acquired from the political sphere, enhances the political professionalization of the field.Second, a contribution of this thesis is to conceptualize policy professionals’ different role orientations as policy scholars, policy lobbyists, policy communicators, and policy activists. These role orientations of individual policy professionals are in turn connected to strategies embedded in the logics of and relationships with actors outside civil society.Third, by identifying how these policy professionals handle the sometimes-clashing logics of membership and influence, gaps between ideals and practices are found in policy professionals’ day-to-day policy work. Policy professionals try to overcome these gaps by the means of decoupling, myth creation, and organizational hypocrisy, creating a discrepancy in that the organizations say one thing but do another.Lastly, this thesis argues that the mediatization of civil society creates conflicts within organizations, in turn pushing CSOs to advance their work via branding, framing, and strategic communication that elevate the positions of communicators within policy teams.One of this study’s main contributions is made in relation to the professsionalization of CSOs, demonstrating how their roles are connected to organizational strategies. A second contribution is that of nuancing and extending the literature on and conceptualization of policy professionals by conceptualizing the subfield of policy professionals in civil society. This thesis reveals how the policy professsionalizationof CSOs creates a new political landscape where competence relating to these areas is in demand, fostering the emergence of policy professionals as a cadre in civil society. A significant danger of this policy professionalization of CSOs is that decision making is placed more in the hands of these employees, rather than in the hands of the members the organization is supposed to represent.

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