International Civil Society Week 2019

April 24, 2019

Earlier this month I participated in International Civil Society Week in Belgrade.  Since 2012, when I last wrote about a CIVICUS sponsored global gathering, we are seeing more agreement on the importance of areas such as accountability, diversity and inclusion and collaboration.  Our discussions, although still probing and searching, are more tactical – how do we effectively move forward to address challenges we agree are complex and urgent?  A few additional themes that were addressed: 1) Motivated by the threats to civic space around the world (including in the Europe and the US) there is a new focus on the importance for organizations that aim to represent citizens to demonstrate their credibility through modeling their values.  2) The  importance of sharing messages of hope to counteract those of fear was also emphasized.

Here is some additional practical learning that was shared that may be helpful to other civil society organizations/NGOs.

Impact Assessment and Accountability

I have written a number of times over the past few years about collaborative explorations to improve our evaluation and accountability to those we aim to serve.  A workshop on Dynamic Accountability (organized by AccountableNow) was nicely nuanced and practical as many of us have now recognized the importance of evaluating our impact in different ways, and can turn our focus to practicing different approaches.  A discussion about what is meant by practicing dynamic accountability included being in motion (not a snapshot in time), striking a balance between what is requested externally (by donors) and what is felt to be most useful internally, and driven by a learning agenda – evaluation for the sake of learning not just gathering data to be reported.  Effective accountability includes understanding who your stakeholders are, having mechanisms for on-going feedback and allocating time and resources to doing this.

It was noted that this does not need to be an overly complex process – some smaller organizations with limited resources shared ways to do this within an organization’s capacities if the commitment is there.  One idea was to have shorter time frames, and smaller numbers of topics covered for feedback loops in order to utilize a feedback process more often.  The executive director of the PHE Ethiopia Consortium described a committed, multi-year effort to align staff efforts with collective responsibility for engaging with its membership and stakeholders.

The Global Standard initiative offers 12 areas of commitment for accountability which provides useful guidance for organizations looking to strengthen their efforts..

Exploring more innovative and collaborative approaches

A workshop organized by the new Innovate4Change network looked at the benefits to collaborative and network approaches and structures. There has been a lot of discussion about a paradigm change from centralized, hierarchial, top down processes and organizations to more flexible ones with distributed leadership, and several examples were shared.  These included Enspiral and OuiShare.  A discussion of alignment (with common goals) and autonomy (to creatively address strategies and tactics towards those goals) was particularly interesting (see Slide #66 in this powerpoint presentation).

The story was also shared of the creation of Comunidas, an initiative to strengthen the philanthropic culture in Latin America and the Caribbean. The platform functions as an exchange of products and services to identify untapped resources and support fundraising efforts. Its creation story can be found on Slides 77-87.

Ingredients for ‘success’

Although there is no one recipe for success, the closing plenary tackled some elements from successful movements that organizations, networks and movements to bring about long term change will want to consider: 1) Planning but staying agile; 2) Understanding the current environment; 4) Involving local leadership and mobilization; 5) Youth leadership; 6) Partnerships; 7) Commitment and dedication for the ‘long haul’ to see you through the setbacks; 8) Clear messages and 9) Learning from legacy efforts.  It was also suggested that lowering the risk bars and increasing the ease of participation can help to get people involved.