John Young, ODI
Vanesa Weyrauch, CIPPEC
Vivian Kazi, ESRF
Alan Hudson, ODI
Following the completion of its second year of operation, the Civil Society Partnerships Programme (CSPP) invited its partners to London to discuss the lessons learned so far and the way forward for the network. 20 people attended from a range of types of organisations, from think tanks to NGOs, based in Africa, Asia and South America. As last year, the meeting overlapped with the Annual Advisors' Meeting, and as agreed at the last meeting, the meeting was timed to coincide with another relevant event - the ODI/INASP Research-Policy Symposium. There was a general feeling among participants that the network is now becoming more cohesive and this meeting provided a useful forum for partners to come together for more substantial work and discussions.
- It is difficult to demonstrate 'policy impact' in processes characterised by complex interactions with a large number of different forces and actors. It was suggested that it would be more prudent to look for evidence of contribution to a process of policy change, rather than seek to attribute the change to a specific agent.
- If we want to influence policy, we need to always bear in mind what forces determine its shape - it is often crucial to work with the media and special interest groups.
- When working with politicians, it is important to work across the political spectrum to ensure that your organisation is not seen as biased. Also, it can often be effective to work with politicians who are not yet in government.
- It is important to share your ideas for change with different levels of government and policy makers, and it can be valuable to use brokers to help facilitate communication.
- It is important to work with policy makers on a long term basis to gain trust; to work with networks of policy makers for long term attitude change; and to involve policy makers as early as possible in your work and research as this will enhance the likelihood of them taking your approach on board.
- CSOs need to fit into policy makers timetables, and where it is possible, plan any research activities around them.
- The lack of capacity to carry out research was considered to be a/the major concern of many partners.
- It is more useful to be in partnership with organisations strategically, because different organisations have different strengths and weaknesses that can complement those of your organisation.
- There is a concern that academic researchers do not have the incentives to contribute to the policy process, and that academic agendas are internationally driven, removed from and often not concerned with national realities.
- More consideration on the 'ToT' workshops is need. Several issues have arisen: the need for a good facilitator; the need to circulate draft material before the workshop; and the possibility that an extra day is needed to instruct participants how to share the lessons that they have learned. It is also important to consider how to choose participants and who to invite.
- While RAPID toolkits are considered to be very useful, we need to test and assess all useful tools and share our experiences and lessons on these.
- It is important to look at the 'cross-cutting themes' of bridging research and policy; this will deepen knowledge and enable more comparison and lesson-sharing across contexts.
Specific points about the design, governance and management of the network:
- Some of the key attractions of this network to members are the opportunities for gaining knowledge and learning lessons to improve practice. We should ensure that there is a space for critical reflection and lesson-sharing on practice, tools, approaches etc.
- The strengths of the network lie in the diversity of members and their capacity, the value of being an approach-based network, and that it can facilitate South-South lesson sharing and collaboration.
- There was a concern that the CSPP has taken too abstract an approach to building the network. We need to build the network from a more practical perspective, looking carefully at the ways that network members can benefit from it and add value to their organisations' work.
- It is very important to ensure that the network is Southern-focused, and there was a consensus that while at this formative stage it will be run by ODI, in subsequent years it should be governed by the Southern partners.
- The programme needs to strike a balance between conveying a clear sense of purpose for the network and allowing space for the group to form; we need to ensure that we are focused on bridging research and policy, but must also guard against taking a too theoretical approach at the expense of offering practical ways to improve our work.
- Capacity building is key. We need to recognise that at first this may involve just a few organisations, or even just key individuals in those organisations - but this must in time contribute to strengthening the whole organisation, and expanding to include other organisations.
- The programme needs to involve organisations in other fields to contribute to our diversity, and to spread our message.
- The correct management and governance of the secretariat is imperative for allowing the network to fulfil its objectives. This issue needs to be explored as soon as possible.
- The network should decide on membership levels and numbers. In order to bring real value to members we need deep, long term engagement and capacity building. However we should guard against being exclusive and look to encourage a wide membership.
- More funds should be allocated to provide incentives for lessons and knowledge-sharing.
- It is important to build the governance structure so that it does not inhibit us from working together and networking; to ensure this, it is important that we have projects on which to collaborate.
- It was felt that country partners could act as nodal agencies, taking the lead to involve other national CSOs. Also, it would be beneficial to hold country and regional meetings to feed into the international meeting, to ensure that the global activities are grounded in local realities.
Actions and resolutions:
- Regional networks should be established in Africa and Asia to emulate the Latin America Network.
- Network members should collaborate to develop proposals for appropriate funding opportunities eg the DFID Governance and Transparency Fund.
- The new CSPP website should be established as soon as possible. It is seen as a great tool for lesson sharing and helping the community work together. It will be important for members to keep their website profiles etc up to date to ensure that partners can get the most value from the site.
- There should be more involvement of members in the agenda setting and implementation of the next global projects. Programme partners should submit ½ page project ideas before the end of the year. These will be discussed electronically on the new website.
- Next year's event should be led by a Southern partner, and held at a venue in the South.
Following the completion of its second year of operation, the Civil Society Partnerships Programme (CSPP) invited its partners to London to discuss the lessons learned so far and the way forward for the network.