‘Beyond our two minutes’: which international bodies are good/bad at consulting civil society organizations?

September 3, 2014

     By Duncan Green     

Ah yes, death by consultation, the fate that awaits all NGO policy wonks. The international civil society alliance CIVICUS has published ‘Beyond Our Two civicus SOCS logoMinutes’, a useful new report trying to assess the efforts of intergovernmental organizations (UN, World Bank etc) to engage with civil society.

It’s a pilot project, developing a scorecard to test IGO engagement and produce a league table to name and shame the laggards, and offer some praise (suitably grudging, I trust) to the leaders. They decided to focus on four areas:

‘1. Access: Civil Society Organization (CSO) access to the main decision-making body of the IGO. We developed a set of questions to assess how proactively the IGO facilitates civil society engagement within its core decision-making body, as opposed to just at the programmatic level. In doing this we evaluated accreditation mechanisms which have been widely used by IGOs to regulate civil society participation within decision-making structures.

2. Policy: Engagement by the IGO with the CSOs in policy dialogue. We developed a set of questions to assess the extent and the stage at which an IGO engages civil society in policy development.

3. Programmes: Engagement by the IGO with CSOs in programmatic development. We developed a set of questions to assess whether civil society feels the IGO simply views them as implementers or contractors.



4. Empowerment: Empowerment of the CSO by collaborating on relevant IGO initiatives that mattered to the CSO. We developed a set of questions to assess whether the IGO makes an attempt to empower the CSO, for example, by working with the CSO on initiatives that it cares about, beyond programme partnering.’

They then asked CSOs to fill in survey questions about their experiences with ten IGOs, and interviewed staff from the IGOs about their experiences working with civil society. 462 CSOs responded, but as the report points out, that is just a fraction of the population: ‘Global governance has undergone an incredible transformation over the past 20-30 years. Where once IGOs had to justify the inclusion of CSOs in their work, today it is the exclusion of CSOs that requires justification. From less than 100 CSOs in 1950, today about 3,900 CSOs have consultative status with the UN.’

Civicus summarizes its key findings as:

• Obstacles: The three most commonly identified obstacles were member states overriding CSO voices, consultations that had no outcomes and weaknesses in the outreach mechanisms of IGOs.

• Priorities: The three priorities that ranked highest were greater focus on local or regional outreach, greater focus on identifying appropriate

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interlocutors to reach different types of CSOs and decentralised CSO outreach strategies.

• Access: CSOs reported that IGOs were overly selective in choosing whom they sought to engage, not proactive enough in reaching out to civil society and provided weak access to the main decision-making body of IGOs.

• Influence on Policy: CSOs reported not feeling listened to on policy issues, and a major obstacle identified was organisation of dialogues without tangible outcomes.

• Programmatic Delivery: A slight majority of CSOs felt that IGOs were only interested in them for their ability to deliver programmes and projects, though a large minority did not strongly report this complaint.

• Empowerment: CSOs were quite split on the extent to which IGOs actively sought to strengthen them and collaborate with them on initiatives that matter to CSOs. This speaks to different experiences across various IGOs. Some CSOs have had positive experiences at some IGOs, others much less so.

The final league table is buried on page 70, but here it is:

Civicus IGO ranking

the UN agencies manage to come both top (Human Rights, Women) and bottom (Refugees; Food and Agriculture), with the rest somewhere in the middle.

Two final points: these rankings may reflect the world views of the CSOs working on these issues (are human rights activists generally more positive about multilateralism than food and ag people?). And the paper does not touch on a rather important point – why should IGOs consult with unelected CSOs in teh first place? My take on that is that CSOs have no absolute claim to legitimacy (certainly compared to elected governments), but (especially when democratic processes are flawed) IGOs should indeed be triangulating by consulting with a range of stakeholders, including civil society, but also private sector, faith groups, academics etc.

Civicus is asking for feedback on this initial effort, so could any indexistas out there please give them a hand by commenting?

September 3, 2014
Duncan Green