Analysis of the literature on recent experiences of the participation of civil society in the formulation and implementation of public policy.
The 90s were characterized by an intense movement of the social forces and actors involved with the shared invention of new policy formats and designs. The worsening of social problems and the crisis that has characterized the public sector - alongside the increasingly growing demand of social sectors for control of the State and its policies - have resulted in a questioning of the centralized, authoritarian and exclusionary standard that has marked the relationship between State agencies and the beneficiaries of public policies (emphasizing the need for democratizing the process) -as well as a questioning the State's ability to respond to social demands (emphasizing the issue of efficaciousness of results).
The discourse on participation thus launches demands and seeks to articulate the democratization of the process (participation) with the efficacy of the results (efficiency) - where the first appears as a condition for the realization of the second. Of course the emphasis on one point or another, or their effective articulation, vary according to the nature of government, society's ability to bring pressure to bear, the departmentalization of the projects, etc. It was hoped that through citizen participation in institutional spaces it would be possible to alter the pattern of planning and execution of public policy in Brazil. Changing this standard would be possible because participation would put pressure on State agencies, making them more transparent, more responsible and more susceptible to the control and intervention of civil society.
Society could exercise a more effective role in supervision and control since, by being "closer to the State," it could impose a more democratic logic in defining priorities and allocating public resources. These participatory mechanisms would oblige the State to negotiate its proposals with other social groups, making more difficult the usual "confusion" between the public interest and the interests of groups that circulate around State power and are accustomed to exercising a direct influence on it. A further expectation was that participation would affect participants themselves by acting as an educational force in promoting citizenship. The exercise of participation would increase the consciousness of citizenship rights leading to an increase in the number of people involved with public issues and would improve the quality of these interventions, contributing to the rise of new political actors.
But, up to what point were these and other expectations/promises fulfilled? To what extent has the formalization of these instances of democratic participation democratized public management and access to public resources? Finally, what has been the outcome of these ten years of betting on political institutionalization as a strategic field for the struggles of progressive and democratic sectors? Can it be affirmed that new tendencies in the production of policy in Brazil are being delineated as a result of this participation? These issues are indicative of a debate on policy within Brazil today, to which this study hopes to contribute. It tries to understand up to what point one can speak of new tendencies in producing public policy in Brazil as a result of these encounters, and their major possibilities and limitations.
As empirical references, I will use a body of studies devoted to the analysis of the public policy management councils (Conselhos Gestores de políticas públicas)1 in light of the importance that this model has taken on as a participatory space since the Constitution of 1988. Some number are illustrative. According to Carvalho (1995) between 1991 and 1993, more than 2,000 Health Councils were installed throughout the country, an average of nearly two new councils per day. In a recent study, Carvalho (n/d ) again accentuates the phenomenon of the proliferation of the councils: "in June of 1996, an estimate (...) suggests that about 65% of Brazilian municipalities have Councils (...) this means the existence of some tens of thousands of council members, a number equivalent to that of city council members (vereadores)" (Carvalho, n/d, 153-154). Research undertaken in São Paulo, shows that there are more than 1,167 municipal councils, in the social area alone, with an average of about ten councilors each. (Cepam, 1999) In the state of Rio Grande do Norte, studies indicate the existence of 302 municipal councils, just in the social area (Arquidiocese de Natal, 1998). If we add to the non-governmental councilors, the entire contingent of NGOs, entities and movements involved in their certification and political and technical training, we can see that there is a large concentration of energy and investment in this institutional space, which justifies a more detailed look. The purpose of this study is not to work with the particularities of each of these experiences, but rather to concentrate on the search for affinities and similarities, seeking to draw out generalizations where possible. References to specific cases are made when they are helpful to an understanding of the issue in question.
In order to place the management councils in the context of the rest of the councils functioning today in Brazil, we use the distinction proposed in the study, "Conselhos Municipais e Políticas Sociais" (Municipal Councils and Social Policies) (Comunidade Solidária/IBAM/IPEA, n/d) which divides the councils into three main types:
Program councils: "linked to concrete government programs usually associated with emergency actions well defined regarding their scope and clientele (...) In general, they articulate or accumulate executive functions in the realm of their respective programs. They work more with the notion of a specific clientele, supposed beneficiaries of the program. They have to do, not with the extension of rights or social guarantees, but with incremental goals usually linked to the concrete provision of basic goods and services or goals of an economic nature. Here participation in general, beyond including the targeted beneficiaries, contemplates partnerships and their economic or political potential. Examples are the Municipal Councils for Rural Development, School Feeding, Housing, Employment and Food Distribution .(Comunidade Solidária/IBAM/IPEA, n/d /:211)
Policy councils: ... "linked to more structured public policies or those embodied in national systems(...) They are usually contemplated in the national legislation, whether obligatory or not, and are considered to be an integral part of the national system, with legally established attributions regarding the formulation and implementation of policies in their respective governmental spheres, comprising the practices of planning and oversight of activities. They are also conceived as public forums for gathering demands and making pacts concerning the specific interests of diverse social groups and as a way of broadening the participation of sectors with less access to the State apparatus. In this group are located the Councils (...) on Health, Social Services, Education, the Rights of Children and Adolescents (...) They have to do with the dimension of citizenship, the universalization of social rights and the guarantee of their exercise. They ensure that these rights are enforced, guaranteeing their inscription or inspiration in the formulation of policies and their execution. (Comunidade Solidária/IBAM/IPEA, n/d :211)
Thematic councils: "(...) with no immediate link to the national system or legislation, these exist in the municipal sphere due to local initiative or State stimulus. In general they are associated with larger movements, ideas or general themes that due to some peculiarity in its political or social profile, the municipality emphasizes in its agenda (...) Here more than in the two other modalities, the forms vary widely. In general, however, they tend to follow the main characteristics of the policy councils, i.e. participation of representatives of society and the taking on of public responsibilities. In this group are included the Municipal Councils on Women's Rights, Culture, Sports, Transportation, Cultural Patrimony, Urbanism, etc." (Comunidade Solidária/IBAM/IPEA, n/d:211)
The policy councils (also called management or sectoral councils) are public spaces for plural and egalitarian relationships between the State and civil society. In the majority of cases, they are of a deliberative nature and have legal competence to formulate strategies for the control and execution of public policy. They have become obligatory at various levels of policy execution since the Constitution of 1988, and there are presently at least ten in all the Brazilian municipalities. Taking their operational dynamics into consideration, we can continue this attempt to characterize the management councils by distinguishing them from the other three type of council experiences: the community, popular and administrative councils.
The community councils, common in the 70s and 80s, were meant to serve as spaces for presenting community demands to the local political elite, in a relationship that renewed traditional patronage relationships between the State and society. As Teixeira argues: "In reality (the community councils) constituted themselves as mechanisms for the ritualization of demands or instruments for the co-optation of leadership (...) These initiatives arose as a response of the governments elected beginning in 1982 to the growing popular mobilization, seeking to neutralizes the political force that certain popular organizations came to have with the deepening of the political and economic crisis" (Teixeira, n/d). The popular councils are public spaces created by the social movements themselves, characterized by a lower level of formalization and institutional non-involvement. The relationship that they establish with the State and political parties has the defense of their autonomy as a structural condition. (Teixeira, n/d ). Further, there are administrative councils that are devoted to the direct and participatory management of service providers such as schools, day care centers, hospitals, etc., but they do not have the power to influence the design of public policy in the areas in question.
To conclude, we can affirm that the management councils are distinguished from other council experiences, taking into consideration:
they are public spaces of plural and heterogeneous composition, representing organizations from civil society and State agencies, which are bearers of values and interests that are not only distinct, but sometimes antagonistic. This plurality is related not just to the State/society dichotomy, but also expresses cleavages internal to each.
they hold the instrument for resolving conflicts among the different groups inherent to the diversity of interests at play in the negotiation process.
their deliberative nature. The management councils have legal force to act in the field of public policy to redefine priorities, budget resources, target publics, etc, thus pointing towards the sharing of power.
If these characteristics transformed the management councils into new institutional arrangements, we need to understand up to what point it was possible to implement them in concrete cases, i.e., it is necessary to know whether the real dynamic of the councils has allowed these innovative principlesto be translated into innovative political practices in the realm of public business management.
Although the councils have existed for less than ten years, too short a time to favor more conclusive affirmations, an analysis of the bibliography based on a comparative perspective suggests that there are many obstacles to the normative principles becoming effected in concrete experiences. That is, despite the existence of the councils denoting an important victory in the struggle for the democratization of the decision making process; studies demonstrate that it has been very difficult to change the centralism and lead position of the State in defining policy and social priorities in the concrete dynamics of the councils. Despite the fact that the reasons the councils are prevented from assuming their legal attributions more effectively come from different levels, and that these motives express themselves in very different ways depending on the political culture and local situation, we will try to capture the problems that most stood out when analyzing the bibliography, grouping them around three main axes: the affirmation of the councils as plural and egalitarian spaces , the councils as places for negotiation between State and society and the councils as deliberative instances.
1. The councils as places for egalitarian and pluralistic representation2
The organized movements in civil society exercised a strong influence during the process of creating the Constitution, resulting in the inception of the councils and the definition of some principles for their implementation. One of these principles is obligatory parity in the composition of the councils. That is, it was understood that the State and society should have an equal number of members on the councils, except in the case of health councilors for which the law provides parity for clients in relation to the whole of the other segments.3 Parity was therefore considered to be a prior condition for a real dispute among divergent positions and interests within the councils, thus guaranteeing the legitimacy of representation and equilibrium in the decision making process.
We have seen that in both the discussions among those who participated in these experiences and in the theoretical studies to understand them, the question of parity has often been reduced to its numerical dimension with the main issues revolving around the disregard of the parity principle in the state and city legislatures which regulate the councils. This study is a bit outside that scope and seeks rather to rescue the political dimension of the discussion on parity.
In this sense, our assumption is that even if numerical equality existed between State and society , such equality would not be sufficient to guarantee equilibrium in the decision making process. In the operational dynamics of the councils, the main constraint to a more symmetrical relationship between State and society appears to be related to the following variables: a) the difficulty that the actors, whether governmental or non-governmental, have in dealing with plurality, b) the councilor-entity relationship and c) the qualifications of the councilors for the exercise of their functions.
The difficulty of dealing with plurality
The principle of parity tends, by the very nature of our political culture, to translate into advantages for government, causing a profound imbalance in the decision making process, as the following reports illustrate:
"Even being egalitarian, parity, in part due to Brazilian ideology, weighs more on the side of government, there's no other way. Parity is fictitious (...) A large number of non-governmental entities have councilors who were government employees. The spirit of these councilors is not that of civil society, they follow the government line. They do not represent civil society"(a non-governmental councilor from CEDCA/SC, in Moraes, 1998).
"(...) in the way the councils are divided, I think that [parity] is correct (...) 50% clients, 25% workers and 25% from government. But we realize that the way the dynamic operates is that the client segment is yoked to the government. So it ends up even going against the workers (...) and in favor of government in many things (...)"( a non-governmental councilor from CMS/Cuiabá, in Silva, 1996: 108).
"Even though I believe that the parity formulation was a good solution (..) in practice distortions have been revealed (...) arithmetic parity does not mean political parity. To believe that. was ingenuous on our part. This cannot be resolved by changing the law, changing the representativity calculations of government and society. This will change for sure but only when political activity is elevated to an ethical level that we do not have today" (statement of one of the creators of the ECA Estatuto da Criança e do Adolescente (Statute on Children and Adolescents,) in Stanisci, 1997: 118).
In fact, in many cases, the balance deriving from numerical parity between State and society comes undone in the concrete disputes inside the councils. Their internal diversity creates the possibility of multiple cleavages and alliances in the unfolding of the deliberative process. The interests that bring the entities to dispute a council seat vary widely, as does the very notion of what participating in policy formulation means. For many representatives of civil society, being on the councils is a way of getting more resources for their entities and not a form of collectively constructing the public interest in each specific area. The dispute for resources, most often scarce, the distinct political projects that inspire participation and the differences in understanding of what it means to participate in the public policy formulation turn the naturally heterogeneous field of civil society into a highly fragmented one. In the same way, even though it is possible to generalize about the nature of State participation in the councils, it is necessary to recognize the fundamental heterogeneity of the State actor. Among governmental representatives, we also find subjects who are bearers of distinct interests, as well as different views of the role of the councils, often with stances very open to civil society's participation, even when the general focus adopted by government can be one of resisting this participation. The recognition of this basic heterogeneity in the fields of government and society can be seen in the fragments below:
" The ‘soup’ of different organizations, entities and associations included in the notion of civil society is frightening. Economic interest groups, corporate associations, philanthropic entities, NGOs and neighborhood associations .present different objectives, projects and needs. How can we reconcile this plurality? (...) Equality of representation does not necessarily follow equality or numerical parity on the councils, not just due to the higher 'fire power' of public power (...) but also due to the difficulties coming from the field of 'civil society' itself." (Lüchmann, 1997:26).
"One must take care, however, with reductionist analyses that presume the bearers of these interests (of the popular class) always to be the representatives of civil society on the councils. From our point of view, in the first place, the block of civil society representatives cannot be dealt with as a harmonious whole, given that it commonly represents different (and fragmented) interests; secondly, conservatism is strongly present in many of the representatives, and thirdly, on the other hand, we have seen progressive postures among government representatives - mainly, but not exclusively in the case of democratic popular administrations.." (Stanisci, 197:117).
In this sense, we can affirm that real parity in representing interests inside the councils involves, among other things, the ability to establish alliances and agreements around individual projects. Parity is not something conquered on the legal terrain; rather, it involves a constant dispute for hegemony inside the councils.
Nevertheless, attempts to create such alliances have shown themselves to be precarious due, among other reasons, to the difficulties the social actors have in dealing with differences. Analyzing the case studies, it was possible to perceive the existence of strong resistance by social organizations, especially those linked to the advocacy of rights, to recognizing the presence of other social organizations as legitimate representatives of civil society. The research of Cátia Aida Pereira da Silva (1994) on the functioning of the twenty protective councils of São Paulo4, highlights this problem and points out some of its consequences:
"The protective councilors of São Paulo consider themselves to be legitimate representatives of the population and legitimate occupants of these public spaces, since they participated in the pro ECA and pro-CTCA mobilizations in the city. For them, and a good number of the city councilors, the spaces created by the ECA are legitimate if and when they are occupied by people 'with a history' in the 'struggles' of the pro-citizenship sectors. This vision prevents them from considering the 'others', those who do not share their practices, discourse and beliefs, as legitimate candidates for protective councilors. By denying the legitimacy of the participation of the 'others', these councilors equally threaten the legitimacy of the protective councilors, since they reduce the pluralism and the existence of conflict, the raison d'être of polyarchical and democratic experiences. The councilors who do not share the discourse on citizenship in turn devalue the power of the councils to intervene in the public sphere, thus denying the very principles that nurture them. - the defense of rights and the participation of society (...) one can say that the behavior of these two groups is anti-polyarchical. The first accepts the norms, having worked for their institutionalization, but does not accept the pluralism of social representation in the spaces created by these same norms. The second group submits to the norms, but doesn't wholly accept the principles that guide them. Neither recognizes the other as equal and therefore, they don't manage to get along together inside the same space, at least up until now". (Silva, 1994:95).
The field of civil society is well fragmented and heterogeneous and the councils should reproduce this heterogeneity in their composition under penalty of de-legitimizing participatory experiences. This often means defending the legitimacy of representation of anti-democratic groups that make their participation on the councils a condition for maintaining old privileges and old practices of negotiation with the State. This issue is very delicate because, at the limit, it means defending the right to representation of entities that historically often have set themselves against the process of struggle for citizenship, many defending profoundly authoritarian values and postures.:
"It would be contradictory to a democratic and pluralist stance to deny the presence of any sector of civil society on the councils. On the Municipal Council of Campos, all the currents of thought among those working with children are represented: the progressive entities, those against the Statute, those which don't even pay attention to it (...) The MNMR (the National Movement of Street Children) is there, but so are the Rotary Club, the Lions and the Chamber of Commerce; on this point it is very representative. However, many of these entities are not committed to the struggle to implement the Statute or to the cause of children. Thus, guaranteeing the representation of conservative sectors of the society, doesn't advance the issue of democracy on the council. Various councilors from these organizations make pacts with the Mayor outside the councils to get access to budget funds, going against the by-laws they themselves voted. And so, how can that work out? (councilor from the CEDCA/RJ in Camurça, 1994:61).
The State Council for Child and Adolescent Protection in Rio de Janeiro, as reported in Camurça (1994), is an interesting. At a certain point, the NGOs linked to rights advocacy, which were then hegemonic, established a norm prohibiting the participation of the Military (State) Police as non governmental representatives and of the philanthropic and charitable organizations as representatives of civil society. This exclusion damaged the representativity and legitimacy of the council. It came to be recognized as a "space for the movements" or the "opposition council" due to its high level of internal homogeneity. If the exclusion of these groups reduced the situation of antagonism, making the taking of decisions easier for the other side, it negatively affected the process of legitimization of the councils' deliberations, weakening them in their struggle with the State.
Heterogeneity in composition with regard to difference and the ability to build alliances around projects seem to be necessary conditions for lending efficaciousness to council actions and to broadening their democratizing potential. It is from argumentative confrontation and from attempts to negotiate among groups that defend different, and sometimes clearly antagonistic, interests that the council draws its strength, since:
"There is no way to speak of common interest or agreed upon norms, when there are important actors who do not participate and therefore do not submit to them (...) It is necessary to increasingly amplify the degree of publicness of the negotiating spaces and create public spaces where a growing number of interests can be represented. Differently from those counter-public spaces, it is in these expanded spaces that tendencies toward corporatism can be confronted and the apprenticeship in the difficult construction of the public interest can advance. The deepening of democracy demands an expansion of the public nature of the spaces for discussion, negotiation and deliberation. The more diversified the public included in these spaces arguing, negotiating, compromising and reciprocally legitimizing themselves and their demands, the greater the degree of publicness and better the possibilities for potential advances in democracy in this process that could create a propitious terrain for the creation of new hegemonies." (Dossiê, 1999).
It is undoubtedly necessary to question the frequent utilization of the councils as a means to obtain/maintain favors and privileges. Nevertheless, this questioning or denunciation cannot be translated into an excuse for excluding certain interest groups from representation on the councils. In general, the negotiation and shared construction of the public interest based on making dissension explicit and politicized is one of the great challenges of participatory experiences. Creating a transition from a discourse motivated only by private interests to another whose interests are referenced in the public realm is a difficult learning experience, even more so in societies such as ours, marked by a political culture that denies conflict.
On the other hand, even while recognizing the importance of this criticism one needs to consider that the management councils, at the same time that they are constrained by this sociability that tends to the denial of otherness, have made their contribution to questioning the very source that constrains them. That is, in taking on the normative principles of plurality in composition, parity in representation of interests and negotiation as a way of resolving conflict, the councils, with all the difficulties we have pointed out, help to create, in a slow and discontinuous way, a new ethic of discourse based on the recognition of and respect for differences. In this sense, it is possible to affirm that they are developing an importing pedagogical function in constructing citizenship as we can see in the following statements.
"Despite the innumerable difficulties that have been faced in the process of legitimizing and organizing the councils, in our state we observe that the first experiences with the councils have been vindicated. We, of the council (a reference to the Piauí State Council for the Protection of Children and Adolescents) (...) we think that the opportunity to sit at the table with the government, to debate the problems and try to solve them is positive. Sometimes there are misunderstandings, there are conflicts, but this exercise is important to legitimize in practice those rights already legally conquered." (Ferreira, 1997:82)
"(...) it can be perceived that new possibilities are emerging for the municipal managers and for the members of civil society to reorient State/society relations in a more democratic manner (...) The experience of the CMS (Municipal Health Council of Cuiabá) is corroding, in a very slow way, it's true, the strong lines of division between State and society and putting these two spheres into an interactive relationship A relationship that has run throughout the administrative, financial, technical political and cultural dimensions. This new management form is mediating tense and contradictory relations, but revealing that the traditional traits of the local political culture are losing a bit of their hold. when civil society tries out its first steps at dialogue in managing public health services (...) In almost all the statements, the councilors mentioned the ever present political patronage existing among representatives of public power in the city. This situation is being gradually altered with the existence of the CMS (...) it is a new process of public policy making, that in our view is being constructed, still in a very incipient way, but with a seed of participatory democracy(...) (Krüger, 1998:150-158)
"(...) the Health Councils have been functioning as spaces for fomenting the creation of collective identities and political subjects. The mere existence of the Councils represents an offer for inclusion and participation, if not in decision making, at least in public discussion, shaping a new phenomenon in Brazilian history, due to the scale and speed at which it has occurred.(...) this process precedes and presides over the permanent constitution of new social subjects who, impelled by self interest, articulate their needs in the light of the public interest" (Carvalho, n/d, 153, 155,156).
The Relationship of councilors to their entities
Beyond respect for difference, the realization of the councils as places of pluralistic and egalitarian representation seems also to be related to the nature of the connection established between the governmental and non-governmental councilors and the entities they represent. In this sense, the better the councilor-entity relationship, the greater the possibility that the various interests can, in fact, make themselves represented on the councils.
Regarding the representativity of the governmental councilors, the case studies permit us to affirm the existence of a very fragile link between governmental representatives and their agencies of origin. The governmental councilors tend to defend their own opinions on the councils rather than proposals and positions resulting from a discussion within the state agencies involved. Thus, the government positions do not always become known to the council and the council discussions are not usually followed by the state agencies involved. Many times this derives from the lack of importance the State attributes to its participation in the councils, sending people to the meetings who are unprepared for the discussions and have little decision making power. Often this policy of depleting the councils has been reflected in the high absence rates of the governmental councilors at meetings and their high turnover.. This produces a weakening of the councils which, despite their legal prerogatives, are unable to prevent many important decisions from being taken in high level government offices under the influence of the traditional mediators. The following statements highlight this issue and point to some of its consequences:
"It is necessary to have representatives (governmental) with better knowledge and competence to decide. What often happens it that the representatives on the councils don't have decision-making power. They approvethings and afterwards nothing happens because they don't have support (...) The governmental councilors have a commitment to the State, but they have little decision power. What they want is often not what the State wants. Sometimes they accept the council decisions, but their superior comes along and thinks things should be different and the representative comes back with another position." (Moraes, 1998)
"The governmental representation has not had support, the third level comes to the council. So these are people who don't have power of decision or autonomy. In practice, they are people with whom we would be able to come to agreements, for sure (...) but it is a fragile alliance because when you ally yourself with a technician, it isn't s/he who decides in the organization (...) So much so that at crucial moments(...) The federal government(...) calls in the government representatives and tells them how they should act on the issues to be voted." (non governmental councilor on the National Council for Social Services, in Raichelis, 1998: 212)
"(...) if I consider you who are here, we have no differences and could sign any manifesto together: now I don't want to talk with technicians on the basis of affinity, I want to know if the government is going to implement this or not. Strange, you are the government, I am civil society and I can speak - you "the government" cannot. I don't want to know from you why the government is not implementing, I want to know why you, in your department, you who decided here, are not implementing "(non governmental councilor from the National Council on the Rights of Children and Adolescents, Conanda, in STANISCI, 1996: 122)
"It can be observed that there is no organic character in the participation of the governmental representatives, in terms of criteria for their indication, nor orientation for their intervention. In some cases, this representation appears as one more task, not always a priority, to be completed with a work routine. The designated technicians, in general, present little familiarity with the themes that have to do with them, have little power of decision and are not invested with representativity of political positions." (Krüger, 1998:154)
"(...) a lack of 'political will' on the part of governments, generally expressed in the nomination of governmental representatives who have no real power of decision inside the institution to which they belong; thus decisions continue to be taken in the traditional way at high levels of government without taking into account the discussions which took place in the Councils, much less its deliberations." (Comunidade Solidária/IBAM/IPEA, n/d /91)
Even in the cases of governmental councilors being personally committed to the council and its thematics, this weak relation with their organizations of origin has translated into an impediment to realizing their functions. In analyzing the literature, it was possible to highlight many cases where active and interested governmental representatives have seen their position on the councils weakened because they are not in a position to honor the commitments they have made. In the absence of a previously agreed upon position to take to the council, the governmental representatives can end up defending a personal position and establishing agreements based on that. Later they might not manage to obtain the support needed from their departments to be able to implement them.5
In synthesis, in a space organized under the logic of egalitarian and pluralistic representation, the low representativity of the governmental councilors harms the process of consensus building, weakens the deliberations and reduces the possibility that discussions realized in the councils will produce substantive changes in the direction of democratizing the State agencies. Altering this tendency has shown itself to be very difficult, since it presupposes that governments accept submitting its programs and projects to discussion in the councils. While participation on the councils continues to be seen as just another formality to be completed, the encounter between State/society will tend to be reduced to personal relationships, limiting the impact it could have in moving toward institutional reinvention.
In the field of non-governmental representation it was also possible to confirm, based on a comparative analysis of experience, the weakness of the link between the councilors and their entities. Generally, the non-governmental councilors have found little support or follow up of their activities on behalf of the entities they represent:
"They are not conversing with the base. No, I'msure that they aren't. I notice inside the council, that the members don't receive a deliberation from the base, so they can say anything they want on the council. I mean, in practice they are emitting a personal option. The council is not fulfilling its democratizing role. This is a defect of the council (...) the council members arrive, receive the agenda and emits their own opinion, not representing the collectivity. So what we want is that the agenda be sent out 15 days before the meeting.. Then the representatives would have to meet with their groups to discuss the matter and bring in their opinions, then, yes, we would be democratizing information - both the information and the decision(...) I think that if we could manage to correct this, we would advancing the quality of participation" (non-governmental councilor from the Municipal health Council of Cuiabá, in Silva, 1996:133-134, underlines mine)
“(...) a certain isolation of the leadership in relation to the movement, since in searching for ways to gather and understand the issues to take a decision in these instances, in addition to taking up part of the time needed to organize the movement(...) [the council members] simultaneously transform themselves into 'specialists' on the subject and on articulating with the State, making the involvement of other members, the growth of the organization and the mobilization of the movement more difficult. The new demands and the difficulties in articulation place the social movements and the organizations of civil society in a weak position inside the councils. The client segment(...)has shown itself to be quite vulnerable(...)for not having a previously defined position, making decisions individually .based on the discussions during the meetings(...) Not reflecting the position of organized civil society and with innumerable difficulties in, based on the discussions and positions taken inside the councils, engendering debate within their community groups, they compromise the ability of the council to become a mechanism for the broadening of (...) the public space." (Ferraz, 1998:147-148)
Many other statements protest this lack of two-way communication between the councils and entities. The council agenda is not always discussed with the entities and the positions of the entities are not always made known to the councils in such as way as to influence deliberations. The entities, movements and NGOs name or elect their representatives and then tend to distance themselves from the routine work of the councils. So the council members end up emitting their own opinions on certain subjects as a result of personal experience or adherence to proposals defended in the heat of the debate. This lack of prior discussion within the entities and movements of origin has shown itself to be quite problematic, mainly in the case of the client segment which, often with no previous maturing of the issues, ends up signing on to positions defended by the groups with the greater influence and power of argument. The frailty of the movement-councilor-council connection has very much weakened non-governmental council members and the council itself in their disputes with the government.
On the other hand, the movements and social organization are also impaired by the lack of a more organic link with the councils. The maturation provided by these encounters could be potentiated if channels of communication between the entities and councils were really functioning. The apprenticeship in negotiation, the setting of new patterns in the relationship with the State, the reconciliation of the defense of corporate interests with the creation of a decentralized notion of the public interest, etc. are conceivable results of these encounters. They are not always realized, however, due to the poor participation of the entities and movements in the functioning of the councils. Confining the issues to the restricted environment of the councils has impeded a broader circulation of information, inhibiting society's participation in the councils' debates and deliberations.
Many opinion makers, whether or not directly involved in the council experience, have interpreted the councils' isolation to be a result of their own option for institutional inclusion as the chosen form of political struggle during the 90s. In this sense, they argue that efforts undertaken to negotiate with government - almost always very resistant to power sharing - as we shall see - end up consuming the movements' energy and they are unable to maintain the link with the bases. Continuing this argument, many emphasize the demobilizing effects of institutional participation:
"The mobilization of the movements and of civil society in general around social issues was most in evidence only at the moment of creation and constitution of the councils, losing force right after the realization of the Municipal Conferences. Thus the present situation of the civil society representatives, who have maintained little connection to the local social movements, being guided more by personal judgment, than by action proposals originating in the sectors they represent" (Rizzoti, 1999:279).
"The State Council (for the Protection of Children and Adolescents of Piauí) made significant advances up until 1994, when it became structured from the legal and administrative point of view(...) According to the councilors' analyses, the council was much more active prior to being institutionalized than today since, as we know, it has not been directing its own deliberations(...) The state council had been more active and creative in the political process, believing in its power to transform State actions with regard to social problems. As we can see, long before being legitimized on the legal plane, the council acted more forcefully in confronting problems such as violence against children (...) Today we are not seeing this same process. We have daily knowledge of disrespect for children's rights(...) and we do not see the council taking a position(...)"(Ferreira, 1997:120-130)
"Members of the Municipal Forum made speeches and criticized the dependence of council members on the judiciary, recalling the 'old days of the popular movement' when pressure and mobilization resolved the impasses."(Silva, 1994:70)
"(...) Public policy depends on social mobilization; if the councils are weak it is necessary to invest in other spaces. Technical expertise is not enough, budget allocations and policy only change through social mobilization(...)".."(...) The councils are not our main places of struggle, at least not now. Why should we be on the councils? To resist? That's not enough. Today it is fundamental to the revitalization of social mobilization to test the limits of legality, refuse to stay within institutional limits...seek to win elections...leave departmentalization behind...return to the 80s." "(...) The councils are being seen as an end and not a means(...) acting on the council has demobilized other forms of action" "We need to think of the councils as more limited spaces for negotiation. They are not the movement's place, they are not a space for mobilization (...) it is necessary to look beyond the councils. The councils are no substitute for organizing in a wider sense; if this is happening it is wrong" (personal record of the interventions made by movement and NGO representative during the National Seminar on Management Councils (Seminário Nacional de Conselhos Gestores) November 5-6, 1999)
We can sense in these appraisals, a certain nostalgia for the time when conquests were processed more rapidly, were more visible and were felt to be the result of a collective struggle. This doubtlessly is one of the ingredients that nurtures the return to an old - and today very real - polarization between institutional struggle and social mobilization. The difficulties in reconciling activities of a strategic nature and working at the base with concrete activities in the process of elaborating public policy, added to a negative evaluation of the practical results of institutional participation in terms of improved quality of life for the target public have led many movements and NGOs to rethink the priority given to the institutional dimension as the chosen form of political struggle during the 90s.
Even though the polarization of institutional struggle versus a policy of mobilization was important for having provoked an examination of the dilemmas involved in practicing participatory politics, questioning the results of these experiences and demanding a more careful cost/benefit analysis; it does not appear able to offer very fertile ground for developing the debate it invited. This is because, first, it doesn't seem accurate to affirm that social demobilization is an immediate and inevitable consequence of investing in institutional politics. Even though we do not have the studies to allow us to make more conclusive statements, it seems correct to affirm that this demobilization is a reflection of the broader social context - marked by the growing rise in unemployment rates, the setback of social rights and an explosion of violence - all of which have shown themselves to be highly inimical to mass political organization and participation. The movement-councilor-council relationship often fails to develop because the movement itself is debilitated by this context, as Lüchmann suggests when affirming: "The Environmental Council has no representativity because the environmental movement no longer exists"(Lüchmann, 1997:30).
Further, emphasis on the discussion of this polarity could result in relegating strategies for struggle to a secondary plane, when on the contrary, the larger challenge seems to be how to reconcile and articulate them around a project of participation in citizenship. In other words, one of the grand dilemmas of the progressive and democratic sectors seems to be how to invest in institutional space and, at the same time, create projects and proposals to mobilize society within such an adverse context. As one of the participants in the National Seminar on Management Councils argued, it is necessary to rethink the project of citizen participation, recovering the principle behind various participatory experiences meant to radicalize democracy. The participation of civil society in institutional decision making spaces is one way to realize this project, but doubtlessly it is not the only way - not even the most important way. The management councils represent an important advance in creating more democratic ways of managing public business, but, as Stanisci states: "Without attributing an omnipotent character to the councils it is necessary to bear in mind that their democratizing potential is not realized in isolation, [but] only as part of a larger whole."(Stanisci, 1997:145). The councils have a role to perform in the control of public administration and in the democratization of social and political relations, but they also have inherent limits, for example their departmentalized and fragmented nature. Understanding their limits as well as their potential could avert creating unrealistic expectations around the councils, which inevitably leads to frustration: "The process of institutional participation through the councils faces serious challenges that demand a lot of energy and creativity from society in order to be able to confront them(...) The councils could become mechanisms for strengthening civil society and social control over the State(...) but indiscriminant action by the councils, with no anchor in social mobilization, concerned only with occupying the space, could lead to bureaucratic and paternalistic practices (Teixeira, n/d ).
To conclude this discussion on the representativity of the councils, we need to remark that it would be very difficult, even for the most well intentioned of governments, or the most participatory of communities, to represent themselves in a competent way on the innumerable councils functioning today. The Constitution, in instating the obligatory nature of the councils in many areas, ended up creating an extensive network of councils, creating lots of spaces to fill. Attempts to occupy these spaces have often led to overwork by some councilors, who end up serving on several councils at the same time. Analyzing the problems flowing from this proliferation of participatory spaces, some studies move toward proposing that the entities, movements and NGOs undertake a cost/benefit analysis and choose the councils that merit their participation, prioritizing those that have a greater chance of transforming state agencies and of producing policy. Just because these spaces are open doesn't necessarily mean they have to be occupied, at least not with the same level of investment. This is the position defended by the "Escola de Formação Quilombo dos Palmares"(EQUIP) among others, which proposes:
"to occupy those institutional spaces for popular participation that are the fruit of the movement's own struggles. Paying attention however to the proliferation of these spaces, seeking to define attributes and roles that avoid bureaucratization and the excessive multiplication of these mechanisms; the need to expand the cadres of the movements, reinforcing their bases of representation, aiming that the same person not serve on various councils or other organizations at the same time (...) pluri-representation" (Escola de Formação Quilombo de Palmares, 1997, underlining mine)
Still others suggest revising the uniform proposal for the creation of councils in the municipalities, proposing the creation of large councils on social policy or of a broad municipal council that would act through commissions or thematic committees. (Stanisci, 1997:120)
The qualification of councilors
Even though we still do not have studies specifically devoted to an analysis of the councilor profile, we do have very valuable information found diluted throughout the entire group of studies, that allows us to make some observations. The most important is the unanimous recognition of the lack of qualifications on the part of both governmental and non governmental council members to intervene more actively in the policy formulation process. This recognition goes along with the observations on the importance of training programs and the debate about their content.
The study by the Archdiocese of Natal/Pastoral da Criança and the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (1998) that sought to profile the municipal and state councilors in health, education, social services and child and adolescent services demonstrated that for 71% of the non governmental councilors, the main impediment to exercising their functions is the lack of training, a problem also highlighted by 63% of the council presidents. The study in the states of Bahia, Alagoas, Paraíba, Sergipe, Ceará, Maranhão, Piauí and Rio Grande do Norte, reported by the "Escola de Formação Quilombo dos Palmares' (EQUIP, 1995), indicated that the issue of training of non governmental councilors is also considered, by the councilors themselves, to be one of the main obstacles to effective participation by civil society on the councils, pointing to: "the lack of knowledge, experience and support for the functioning of the councils and the role of the councilors. And further, the lack of training and/or staffing that contribute to this discussion” (EQUIP,1995). The State Forum for Urban Renewal of Pernambuco (1998), in a survey of eight municipal councilors from Recife, also gave prominence to the problem of training the councilors, as did Silva (1994), who in his analysis of the implementation and functioning of twenty protective councilors in São Paulo, accentuated the negative impact of the lack of qualifications of the non governmental councilors. These and other studies, in addition to noting the problem, identified some of its consequences:
"The documents studied show that there is a large deficiency in the elaborating and producing official correspondence and reports, filled with errors in Portuguese(...) Many times these councilors don't know that producing a perfect document has the same impact as realizing a satisfactory consultation and that it can resolve serious problems. Since the councils act primarily through letters, official correspondence and telephone calls to the authorities and functionaries of various organs, these deficiencies end up shining through, influencing the performance and the image of the CTCAS."(Silva, 1994:91)
"Every week I get a stack of things I can't handle, and so the lobbies take advantage, because they have many more people available, paid personnel who are clear about what they want, and we aren't" (Environmental councilor from CONSEMA/SP, in Souza, 1996:95)
"(...) there was a lack of knowledge among the non governmental councilors about where to refer our demands; whether to block a government action, we should refer the case to the Office of the Prosecutor(Ministério Público) or to the Judiciary "(non governmental councilor on the CEDCA/RJ, in Camurça 1994:55)
"We the clients don't have the political and cultural preparation to serve on the council. I notice a lack of tenacity on the part of the client representatives, not because they lack will, but because they don't have the expertise to defend health policy at the municipal level(...) while the government representatives, the public employees, have everything in hand because they know how health services function, they know how a budget is created, they know how to defend their own rights, we users - beyond the right to exams, right to health, beyond giving our opinion on whether or not to accept the certification of a hospital, of an institution, with respect to health - we are not prepared. This is very serious"(councilor/client of the CMS/Cuiabá, in Silva, 1996:127)
"Given the low power of mobilization of the popular movements at the present time and the lack of an organized civil society in the majority of the municipalities in Rio Grande do Norte, people from civil society who participate on the councils do not have information, or the theoretical, technical and political training needed to exercise participation(...) the reality of the councils is a deterioration. In all the councils that I studied I found the same thing, the councilors (from civil society and government) are on the councils just filling a vacancy, they don't know anything, the only ones who do are the presidents, and not all of them"(Arquidiocese de Natal, 1998:61)
"Problems related to training, information and qualification, despite touching more sharply upon the popular sectors, also call into question in many ways the other representatives who have higher cultural capital. Reduced participation by civil society with reduced time available to meet the excessive demands for problem resolution and the excessive burden of legal and bureaucratic requirements(...) make up a picture whose closest approximation to putting into effect the objectives contemplated in the law is fanciful, at best" (Lüchmann, 1997).
"(...) certain actors take precedence over others(...) this can be observed in the prevalence of representatives from the unions and health and government professionals(...) representatives from the popular entities, don't have the same expertise, they absent themselves from discussions, remaining passive and discouraged from following the procedures(...) they have more physical presence than ability to influence consensus building. (Simionatto e Nogueira, 1997: 30-31)
Variations on the same theme appeared in all the studies analyzed, allowing us to suppose that presently it is the main obstacle to more effective non-governmental representation on the councils. This reality has generated much perplexity and challenging questions such as: "given these findings that question the preparation of the councilors/activists and the quality of their preparation, we can ask ourselves what is the significance of the existence of the councils, if we are unprepared to occupy these spaces and dispute projects in them"(EQUIP, 1995).
But, how to improve the quality of representation of the civil councilors without promoting elitism and the bureaucratization of participation? How can the qualifications of the councils to exercise the complex activities that are demanded of them be guaranteed without making participation elitist? In a country such as ours, marked by high levels of illiteracy, this discussion can take on dramatic contours, especially considering another characteristic of our political culture: over valuing technical arguments to the detriment of other kinds of knowledge. This is currently one of the great challenges at play in the council experiences. Even though we are far from glimpsing a solution to this dilemma, the studies have pointed to some interesting routes or have at least provided promising readings/interpretations of the issue. If not, we will have to see.
Some NGOs have dedicated themselves to training the councilors, as is the case of the "Escola de Formação Quilombo de Palmares"(EQUIP), which has developed some very interesting work in the northeast region of the country. The big difference that appears to exist in the work of EQUIP is that its training is not directed to the individual councilors, but rather to their entities. The perspective they adopt is that it doesn't work to train just the non-governmental representatives, considering their enormous turnover. For EQUIP, it is necessary to train the movements and the entities, combining technical and political content based on the premise that the debility in the activities of the non governmental councilors is not restricted to their low dominion over technical matters, but also to a great cultural difficulty in taking on a negotiating posture vis-à-vis the State. Other NGOs such as IBASE, the Forum for the Rights of Children and Adolescents, and more recently, the National Movement of Street Children. are also devoted the work of training councilors,
Regarding deficiencies on the technical level, related to the internal operations of the administrative apparatus, such as budget issues, the legal procedures for processing certain questions, etc., many studies have underscored the importance of technical departments. Through them, the problem of unfamiliarity with technical questions can be minimized without having to transform the council members into specialists, which as we have seen, can cause problems in the councilors' relationship with the base. In some cases these technical departments function to produce studies or research that legitimizes council interventions and positions in the debate with the technical corps of the mayor's office; in others, they act to advise the popular councilors, for example the client representatives. They act directly to influence the inequality in competence levels among the councilors.