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How can CSOs Promote Pro-Poor Policy and Practice

Time (GMT +00) 12:00 13:30


Julius Court - ODI

Stephen Karekezi - AFREPREN

The poor tend to benefit when civil society organisations (CSOs) are engaged in shaping policy, particularly when engagement is well-informed and leads to evidence-based policy. CSOs increasingly recognise the need to use evidence and engage with policy processes more effectively. All too often, however, it seems that researchers, civil society actors and policymakers live in parallel universes, and relations between government and civil society are strained. Researchers cannot understand why there is resistance to policy change despite clear and convincing evidence. Policymakers question the legitimacy of NGOs and bemoan the inability of many researchers to make their findings accessible, digestible and in time for policy discussions. Often, CSO's engagement in policy processes fails to do justice to the diversity of the issues and quality of the evidence.

How can CSOs promote pro-poor policy and practice in the African Energy Sector ? - Stephen Karekezi
Stephen Karekezi used Ethiopia as a case study to discuss key issues of energy policy in Africa and how CSOs can promote pro-poor policy. Energy use in many African countries remains dominated by biomass. The pressing need is for low-cost, small-scale, affordable and cleaner energy solutions for the poor, but the bulk of funding however is going towards large scale investments that meet the needs of elites. In sum, African energy policy is much more oriented towards elite uses rather than the majority of people, particularly the poor. The example of Ethiopia also indicates that policy is actually getting worse - the attention to small-scale and affordable energy solutions for the poor is decreasing in public expenditure. The key question is: How can one push for the needs of the poor in existing energy policy and investment patterns in Africa? AFREPREN is responding in a number of ways to influence energy policy and investments. These include:

  • Political context: Flagship studies and projects in countries with strong pro-poor credentials (e.g. Mauritius experience with co-generation of electricity using sugar cane from small-holder farmers);
  • Evidence: CBO participation/consultation, multiple country studies provide compelling evidence; policymakers are averse to the risk of being the first to try option;
  • CSOs: Joint government/academia/civil society studies, strengthening links with CBOs/trade union umbrella agencies and networks;
  • External: influencing international stakeholders via the Johannesburg WSSD Conference and MDGs processes.

CSOs, Research and Policy: A Framework for Action - Julius Court
Julius Court focused on how CSOs can engage with researchers and policymakers to improve development policy and practice. Better links between researchers, policymakers and civil society groups can help save lives, reduce poverty and improve the quality of life. The problem is that the link between research and policy is tenuous and difficult to understand because policy processes are complex and much research is not very policy relevant.

ODI's Context, Evidence and Links Framework is an analytical and practical tool. The aim is to simplify the complexity of how evidence contributes to the policy process so that policymakers and researchers can make decisions about how they do their work to maximise the chance that policies are evidence-based, and that research does have a positive impact on policy and practice. Four broad groups of factors have been identified, the first of which are called external influences. These are the factors outside a particular country which affect policymakers and policy processes within the country. For example, in small, heavily indebted countries, World Bank and bilateral donor policies and practices can be very influential. At national level the factors fall into three main areas. The political context includes the people, institutions and processes involved in policymaking. The evidence arena is about the type and quality of research and how it is communicated. The third arena links is about the mechanisms affecting how evidence gets into the policy process or not.

For CSOs wishing to influence policy and practice, understanding the context, evidence and links is just the first part of the process. Our case studies also identify a number of practical things that researchers need to do to influence policy and practice, and how to do them.

  • In the political context arena you need to get to know the policymakers, identify friends and foes, prepare for regular policy opportunities and look out for policy windows. One of the best ways is to work with them through commissions, and establish an approach that combines a strategic focus on current issues with the ability to respond rapidly to unexpected opportunities.
  • Make sure your evidence is credible. This has much to do with your long term reputation. Provide practical solutions to policy problems in familiar language and concepts. Action-research using pilot projects to generate legitimacy seems to be particularly powerful.
  • Make the most of the existing links by getting to know the other actors, working through existing networks, and building coalitions and partnerships. Identify the key individuals who can help. You need people who can network with others, mavens to absorb and process information, and good salesmen who can convince the sceptics. You may also need to use informal "shadow networks" as well as more formal channels.

Influencing policy change is an art as much as a science, but there are a wide range of well known and often straightforward tools that can provide powerful insights and help to maximize your chances of impact on policy.

Discussion sessions followed each presentation which raised several key points and insights on CSOs and policy influence.

Summary of Workshop Evaluation Findings
There are three main conclusions arising from the workshop evaluation. First, participants were, in general, very interested in the issue under discussion and happy with the approach used. Secondly, most participants were particularly pleased by the use of a few practical cases which allowed the contextualization and easier understanding of the more theoretical / abstract elements of the presentations and follow-up discussion. Thirdly, many participants would have preferred more time for more detailed discussion - an important reason for undertaking follow-up workshops of a longer duration.


There is widespread agreement on the vital role that Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) can play in influencing policies and practices to make them pro-poor. More and more CSOs are recognising the need to understand policy processes better and use evidence to engage with them more effectively. Sometimes, however, it seems that CSOs, policymakers and researchers live in parallel universes. This workshop focused on how CSOs can use evidence to promote pro-poor policies. Active participation was the cornerstone of the approach in the workshop, with emphasis placed on participants' own knowledge and experience.

The workshop enabled participants to:

  • discuss the opportunities and challenges for CSOs to inform policy;
  • learn about relevant approaches in this area;
  • share experiences about ongoing activities and what works.
Garborone, Botswana