Better Public Services for Better Societies

For years, different forums and disciplines have argued that public goods and services  will be pillars of development debates and strategies in the 21st century.

A public good or service is an asset that benefits the common good and is available to society as a whole in comparable quantities and quality.  Examples include clean air and access to water, education, health and  employment opportunities. In addition, there are so-called “democratic public services” such participatory democracy, free press and speech, transparency, access to information and diversity. Public services may  serve a local community, a region, a city, country or the entire planet.

One measure of a society's success is its ability to create and maintain quality public services. Many societies now find themselves battling for the quality and coverage of public services which benefit all, as  private services, available only to those who can afford them, become more and more the norm. In fact, in some societies, public services such as democracy, education, health and natural resources have been converted into private services.

The debate about public goods and services is central to sustainable development. The growing demand for natural resources, development and better living conditions  is jeopardized by natural limits, increasing scarcity and stubborn inequality.

Although public goods and services aren't provided exclusively by the government, the state—despite all its difficulties—remains the entity best suited to produce and distribute most basic public goods. Therefore, the production of these by the state and the accompanying civil scrutiny to  ensure transparency and quality are both necessary for sustainability: one that guarantees the universality of the rights of citizens and the other combats the tendency toward exclusion in the marketplace and concentration of power in government.


Despite the fact that, by definition, services produced under the aegis of the state and by government action must be public (collective, visible and accessible), their provision is by no means limited to the state. Our analysis of regional trends tells us that there is a very critical debate in society today  about what goods and services are considered public and the responsibility of provision among government, the private sector and civil society.  To some extent, sustainability is a function of how these questions are answered.

Civil society and so-called public interest organizations play a central role in producing and supplying public services. The strengthening of civil society doesn't require the weakening of the state, or vice versa. On the contrary, a strong and dynamic civil society is perfectly compatible with a robust state and both need each other and are mutually reinforcing. It is essential to reconsider forums for interaction between government and civil society to promote the creation and regulation of public services. At the same time, the efficiency and scale of market models can be an essential ally in the production and distribution of public services. For example, access to information (internet) and communication (mobile phones) are fields where business interests are key players, while governments and civil society seek to ensure access and improved quality in these services.

Dialogue and the active participation of the full diversity of interested parties can contribute to  improved provision, quality and access to public goods and services and to the identification of shared strategies that strengthen the critical role of the state.


In response to this trend, Avina will concentrate its work to:




Primary sources: research, interviews, and essays produced by Fundación Avina.

Secondary sources cited: