Public opinion, the participation of citizens collective decision-making processes (NL)

The SCP (NL), has been conducting research on a number of socio-cultural topics. Below is the work discription of the department of

Participation and Governance:

What does this research group do?

The Participation & Governance (PB) research group conducts research at national and an international basis into public opinion and the participation of citizens in (and the organisation of) collective decision-making processes. The research group collects, analyses and uses data from surveys, interviews and focus groups, as well as institutional data.

Civil society

PB examines both the participation of individual citizens in formal and informal social networks (from the perspective of the citizen) and developments in these networks themselves (from an organizational perspective). The research is conducted as part of the long term ‘civil society and voluntary work’ project and various European collaborative projects. PB also monitors developments in large non-governmental organisations. Over the next few years PB intends to focus more on informal groups.

Public opinion

Key aspects in the public opinion surveys are citizens’ satisfaction with and expectations of society and politics. For example, PB investigates political confidence and cynicism, the support for Europeanisation, the perception of happiness, and citizenship. Recently the Continuous Citizens Perspectives Survey (COB), based on quarterly surveys using questionnaires and focus groups, was launched.


Changes in the area of religion have been a key topic in PB publications for some time. These not only concern shifts in traditional Christian faith and church participation but also the emergence of alternative religious and/or ideological attitudes and behaviour (migrants’ churches, evangelical communities, new rituals and post-modern spirituality).

# Out of their research, what i find quite relevant and interesting to my thesis is the area of civil society and informal groups…

What are informal groups?
By informal we mean groups of small groups of people who meet regularly to work towards a particular purpose, or a hobby to pursue. They often have no institutional framework and are distinguished from associations, foundations and institutions of scale, personal contacts and the absence of a formal organization such as statutes, an official address, officers and formal registration with the Chamber of Commerce and the like. Examples include voice, Bible and reading clubs, jogging and cooking groups but also citizen initiatives in the area and on the Internet.

Why research on civil society and informal groups?
Although SCP has been a long time doing research on volunteering and the institutionalized structures within Dutch civil society, informal groups were far somewhat outside the boat. That while in the literature very often stress that informal groups are important for social cohesion in a society (Fine and Harrington 2004, Harrington and Fine 2000). This project is not only a logical continuation of our research on Dutch civil society, but can also give insight into new sources of social cohesion.

The project consists of two phases. In the first phase, a reader written by a number of case studies and theoretical reflection. The planned publication date for this reader is October 2010. Then there will be a follow-up study in which a central national survey and the results in 2011 and later will be published. In the following years to the research Participation and Governance attention continue to this theme.

To learn more about the Civil society and informal groups project? Please contact Esther van den Berg, Joep de Hart and Pepin van Houwelingen.

Harrington, B. and G. Fine (2000). Opening the “Black Box”: Small Groups and Twenty-First-Century Sociology. In: Social Psychology Quarterly, vol. 63, No. 4, p. 312-323.
Fine, GA and B. Harrington (2004). Tiny Publics: Small Groups and Civil Society. In: Sociological Theory, vol. 22, No. 3, p. 341-356

Other ongoing research can be found here.

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