Governments in many parts of the world are currently confronted by some major governance challenges. They need, as a matter of priority, to defuse social tensions which arise from phenomena such as rising food prices, increases (real or perceived)
in inequality, and political exclusion. To complicate matters further, and partly because of new technologies (particularly the Internet), states no longer exercise the same degree of control over their territories as they once did and increasingly have to
take into account a myriad of external influences. In such a context, giving space to dissenting voices is fundamental to the creation of a sustainable, socially cohesive society. The harnessing of civic participation and political feedback mechanisms is essential
if growth processes are not to be derailed. This is particularly true in the context of shifting wealth, where faster economic growth and more social dislocation require innovative responses. Promoting civic participation and decentralisation could prove to be a powerful
tool for improving service delivery as well as something to be valued in its own right. Similarly, women are important agents of change, and facilitating their full participation in democratic life is an important policy objective.