Civil society for sustainable change: strategies of NGOs and active citizens to contribute to sustainability transitions

Buijs, Arjen E.; de Koning, Susan; Mattijssen, Thomas J.M.; Smeding, Ingeborg W.; Smits, Marie-José; Steins, Nathalie A.


According to the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, a “Whole-of-Society” approach is needed to initiate transitions to a nature-positive society. Many look at civil society to initiate and accelerate such transitions. In this article, we investigate strategies from Civil Society Actors (CSAs) to contribute to transformative change, with specific focus on Tiny Forests and Beach Clean-Ups in the Netherlands. Results show that CSAs have a clear Theory of Change to achieve their goals, and act upon that vision through assembling power and resources, developing policy-relevant environmental knowledge, mobilising public support and media coverage and initiating innovative sustainable practices. Adopting mosaic governance approaches, CSAs strategically position themselves in social and institutional networks, connecting professionals and citizens for political leverage. However, our findings show that the step from local impact towards transition remains a large one and the contribution of CSAs should be valued as emergent, co-produced and part of a broader transition movement.