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Civil Society as a Development Partner: Lessons learned and ways forward for donor engagement

Date
Time (GMT +01) 07:00 14:00

Keynote Speakers:

Nonette Royo - Multi-stakeholder Forestry Programme Indonesia
Scott Dupree - Greengrants Alliance of Funds

Chair:

Sheelagh Stewart - DFID

Discussants:

Chris Allan - Greengrants Alliance of Funds
Tom Bigg - IIED
Yvan Biot - DFID
Naved Chowdhury - ODI
Julius Court - ODI
Rick Davies - Consultant (Ghana Research and Advocacy Programme)
Terry Green - FRR, Consultant, (Rights and Voices Initiative, Ghana)
Judith Kent - DFID
Chandra Kirana – Samdhana Institute, Indonesia (Greengrants Alliance of Funds)
Maria Latumahina - Papuan Civil Society Support Fund (Greengrants Alliance of Funds)
Laura Martínez Ríos Del Río - Greengrants Alliance of Funds, Mexico
Guy Mustard - DFID
Peter Owen - DFID
Heather Plumridge - Greengrants Alliance of Funds
Lydia Richardson - Tripleline Consulting (Uganda Civil Society Umbrella Fund)
Jeremy Smith - DFID
Amália Souza - CASA, Brazil (Greengrants Alliance of Funds)
Zoe Stevenson - DFID

Facilitators:

John Young - ODI
Adrian Wells - ODI

An "effective state" is one that is not only capable of delivering services to its citizens, but also in remaining accountable and responsive to them. It has long been recognised that citizens have been essential in building institutions, in demanding fairer rules of the game and in ensuring that the State continues to deliver. A focus on effective bureaucracies therefore challenges donors to also take stock of how they might better work with civil society in delivering that goal. This is especially important in light of the Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness, including a shift to budget support, donor harmonisation, alignment with host government priorities and mutual accountability. What challenges and opportunities does this shift provide for the way donors do business with civil society?

The roundtable brought together practitioners working to strengthen civic engagement in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Discussants tabled and compared alternative instruments for support to civic engagement with the state, including:

  1. Small grants facilities providing direct support to grassroots organisations and CSO activists (Greengrants Alliance of Funds);
  2. Bilateral instruments working to broker state - civil society relations (the Multi-stakeholder Forestry Programme in Indonesia, MIRROR in Bolivia, Manusher Jonno in Bangladesh and the CSO Umbrella Fund in Uganda);
  3. Multi-donor instruments for civil society support, in part to build accountability around direct budgetary support (Ghana Research and Advocacy Programme, Ghana Rights and Voices Initiative) ;
  4. PPAs for partnership development between UK organisations and CSo counterparts in developing countries (ODI and IIED).

Drawing on the models presented, the roundtable identified a number of lessons essential to the design and delivery of civil society support:

  • Ownership - Participants stressed the need to work with a broad range of citizenry in identifying thematic areas for support to civic engagement. Aligning civil society with the specific interests of donors or government can otherwise undermine its capacity to hold the state to account. Amongst others, advocacy groups should not be expected to fulfil service provision roles if this compromises their capacity to engage in policy processes.
  • Grant-making - Care is needed to ensure that funding and grant-making mechanisms do not demobilise or disempower small effective civil society groups - especially grassroots organisations and networks with limited absorptive capacity. Support needs to be differentiated depending on institutional capacity, including appropriate use of small-grants facilities.
  • Resourcing - Investments in capacity building, as well as the additional time needed to tune in to local contexts and agendas, set up and manage a complex portfolio of small and organizationally weak partners, need to be fully resourced. Resources may need to be front-loaded, with commitment to providing long-term support.
  • Diverse but coherent portfolios - The cases presented highlighted the need to work with diverse partners at local and national levels in supporting policy innovation. Facilitating vertical linkages between them (coalition building) is important for coherence around policy objectives.
  • Brokering the state - civil society interface - Donors can play an important role in building trust between the state and civil society, and in linking civic engagement with support to key agents of change within the bureaucracy. This may require active facilitation around individual grants or grant portfolios. It is also an argument for direct donor engagement, at least initially.
  • Risk management - Support to civil society can incur significant risk for donors where it promotes contestation and debate. Contestation is, however, critical if change processes are to take place. A focus on brokering dialogue between the state and civil society may therefore help to contain risk without also compromising the learning and innovation that comes from contestation. Decisions to engage with specific elements within civil society should also be informed by a sound analysis of social and political dynamics.
  • A sector focus - the Indonesia experience highlighted the importance of a sector focus (forestry) in generating sufficient intelligence of existing actors and networks, and in brokering strategic partnerships. In that case, a focus on natural resources helped to reap broader dividends in governance reform.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation - Monitoring is essential in targeting funds appropriately, and in supporting the upwards amalgamation of lessons. However, it is often challenging where civil society partners lack institutional resources. Effective M&E also depends on a clear strategy and simple methodologies. M&E is as much an input to civil society advocacy strategies as it is a tool for donors. This includes monitoring of intermediate outcomes such as increased awareness amongst policy makers and shifts in power relations.

These lessons call for more thinking on the type and blend of instruments that may be brought to bear for support to civic engagement with the state.

Amongst others, the roundtable highlighted the role of small-grants facilities as cost-effective intermediaries. The cases presented involved locally led organisations with strong credibility and sufficient intelligence of civil society networks to mobilise resources wherever and whenever it is most needed for policy action. Small-scale grants can therefore complement other bilateral and multi-donor support instruments where the latter would otherwise struggle in reaching grassroots movements and informal networks.

In at least two of the cases discussed (MFP in Indonesia and Manusher Jonno in Bangladesh), indigenous trust funds are taking over the space initially created by direct donor engagement. This includes continued facilitation of the state - civil society interface around individual small grants. This highlights the importance of sequencing interventions in ways that empower local intermediaries in the longer term. Where donors are wary of direct engagement, harmonisation offers a means of spreading risk. However, this needs to be supported by sufficient solidarity amongst donors to risk the diplomatic repercussions of engaging in civil society - state relations.

The option also exists to deliver long-term budget support to local civil society intermediaries. However, donors need more evidence of the extent to which support for civic engagement can impact on state effectiveness and of how this might be enhanced by the right combination of aid instruments. This is especially important in a context where donors find it hard to move small amounts of money but at the same time are unwilling to mobilise large amounts for civil society support.

Description

An 'effective state' is one that is not only capable of delivering services to its citizens, but also in remaining accountable and responsive to them. It has long been recognised that citizens have been essential in building institutions, in demanding fairer rules of the game and in ensuring that the State continues to deliver. A focus on effective bureaucracies therefore challenges donors to also take stock of how they might better work with civil society in delivering that goal. This is especially important in light of the Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness, including a shift to budget support, donor harmonisation, alignment with host government priorities and mutual accountability. What challenges and opportunities does this shift provide for the way donors do business with civil society?

This roundtable brought together practitioners working to strengthen civic engagement in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Discussants tabled and compared alternative instruments for support to civic engagement with the state and drawing on the models presented, a number of lessons essential to the design and delivery of civil society support were identified.