Since the late 1990s, the number of registered non-profit organisations has grown rapidly. In 2014, they amounted to 30 331, of which around 18 000 were non-profit voluntary associations. Despite their generally small number of members and limited resources, they have gained growing visibility and credibility in Estonian society in the last decade.
A document called the Conception for the Development of Civil Society in Estonia (reminiscent of for example the British Contracts on Relations between Government and the Voluntary and Community Sector) was adopted by the Parliament in December, 2002. This document is aimed at highlighting good practices in inter-sectoral partnerships. It has served as a basis for the planning of government policies towards the non-profit sector. These policies are coordinated by the Ministry of Interior Affairs.
One of the recent influential developments in the cultural policy domain has been the establishment of the Estonian Cultural Chamber in 2011, which has also collaborated with the Ministry of Culture. In preparing the Cultural Developments 2014-2020, the Ministry commissioned research which examined recent developments in different fields and identified issues that are crucial. 12 experts collaborated in the research – The Central Concepts and Trends in Estonian Cultural Policy (2012, accessible on http://www.kultuuripoliitika.ee/). The research was based on the model of François Matarasso and Charles Landry, focusing on 21 strategic dilemmas in cultural policy making. One of the central problems described by the researchers across disciplines was the homogeneous nature of cultural practices, and orientation towards internationalism in the cultural practices of local minority cultures. The minority cultures are very rarely the target of professional cultural policy on the state level and professional culture is carried out through the Estonian language, sometimes due to the lack of awareness. The focus on institutional and professional culture instead of inclusive cultural practices was perceived as another problem across cultural fields, and consideration of the social impact of culture was perceived to be lacking. Another issue raised in the research was the lack of consideration of culture in the present taxation system. Centralisation was also considered a problem, further aggravated by a lack of involvement in cultural policy making by the local governments.
One of the issues addressed both by the governmental programme and the umbrella organisations is the involvement of civil society in policy making. Within the different branches of government, there is no uniform practice on how to consult with NGOs, or whether, to which extent, and at which phase, they are to be involved in policy-making. Neither are there any general criteria for the selection of such organisations. There is a tendency among governmental agencies (including the Ministry of Culture) to stick to those organisations with an earlier record of smooth cooperation. This could be an obstacle to the engagement of organisations with more innovative approaches.
However, there is a non-binding Code of Good Practice in civic involvement, which has to a varying degree been adopted by government agencies.
The decisions of the Cultural Endowment (see chapter 1.1), which administers a relatively large share of the cultural expenses by the government, are made by expert panels without political involvement.