Civil society: Introduction


In November 2011, the global community will meet in Busan, South Korea, to review progress on implementation of the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action. Through the Working Party on Aid Effectiveness (WP-EFF), preparations are under way to take stock of progress made by donors and partner countries in implementation of joint commitments.

To complement this effort, the OECD/DAC, in cooperation with the Learning Network on Capacity Development (LenCD) and the Southern initiative CD Alliance, launched a process to reflect on the specific commitments and implications of the Paris Declaration and the AAA for capacity development. The preparation of a set of technical Perspectives Notes is a key input to that process.

The purpose of drafting these Perspectives Notes is threefold: (i) provide a review of the current state of play with respect to CD priorities highlighted in the Paris Declaration and the AAA; (ii) Provide an input to the Synthesis Report on CD key messages for Busan, to be led by a CD Alliance coalition; (iii) set an agenda for further technical work post-Busan. These Notes also will provide background for LenCD resource corners and learning materials.

To ensure coherence and consistency the OECD/DAC definition of capacity and capacity development is adopted as a default. Capacity is the ability of people, organizations and society as a whole to manage their affairs successfully. Capacity development is the process whereby people, organizations and society as a whole unleash, strengthen, create, adapt and maintain capacity over time.  These definitions remain quite general and call for further precision in order to be operationally useful (see Box 1).

Box 1 : Discussing Capacity Development

Different organizations and institutional networks view capacity development in a variety of ways, for example:

  • UNDP concentrates on four strategic priorities: institutional arrangements and incentives, leadership, knowledge and accountability.
  • NEPAD’s Capacity Development Strategic Framework has six cornerstones: leadership transformation; citizen transformation; knowledge and innovation; using African potential, skills, and resources; capacity of capacity builders; integrated planning and implementation.
  • The ECDPM capacity study distinguishes five core capabilities: to commit and engage; to carry out technical, service delivery and logistical tasks; to relate and attract resources and support; to adapt and self-renew; and to balance coherence and diversity.
  • The Accra Agenda for Action’s strategic priorities are: civil society and private sector engagement, country systems, enabling environments and incentives, capacity development in fragile situations, integrating capacity development in national and sector strategies, relevance, quality, and choice of capacity development support.

It is difficult to discuss “capacity development” without first determining what kind of capacity is needed and what it should look like in operation.  Without this clarity, discussions on capacity development tend to become general exchanges on what makes for good development practice.  Regardless of which of these or other approaches is used, it is critical for practitioners to understand what they are seeking in terms of capacity and to use this as the basis for identifying activities which will help to encourage its development, rather than assuming that certain mechanisms will automatically enhance capacity.

This series of Perspective Notes was prepared by a professional drafting team assembled by the OECD/DAC and LenCD. The team included James Hradsky, Nils Boesen, Anthony Land, Heather Baser, Silvia Guizzardi and Mia Sorgenfrei. Silvia Guizzardi led in drafting this Perspectives Note on Capacity Development and Civil Society Organizations, which subsequently benefitted from comments from the rest of the team, from peer reviews by Philippe Besson, Rosalind Eyben, Alan Fowler, Real Lavergne, Jenny Pearson, Brian Tomlinson and the European Commission, as well as a wider electronic vetting process through the LenCD global network. All comments from those involved that have helped contribute to a sound paper are acknowledged with thanks.


CSOs and Capacity Development in the Framework of the AAA[1]. The 2005 Paris Declaration and 2008 Accra Agenda for Action (AAA) call for broadening ownership of national development processes to include state institutions as well as other key national stakeholders such as civil society organizations (CSOs) and the private sector. This also suggests that support for stronger national capacity goes beyond that of the state alone, to address capacity challenges faced by CSOs and other non-state actors. AAA reference to CSOs and capacity issues is highlighted in Box 2 below.

Box 2: AAA – key passages on CSOs and CD-related themes

13. b. Donors will support efforts to increase the capacity of all development actors – parliaments, central and local governments, CSOs, research institutes, media and the private sector – to take an active role in dialogue on development policy and on the role of aid in contributing to countries’ development objectives.

20. We will deepen our engagement with CSOs as independent development actors in their own right whose efforts complement those of governments and the private sector. We share an interest in ensuring that CSO contributions to development reach their full potential. To this end (…):

c. We will work with CSOs to provide an enabling environment that maximizes their contributions to development

In the framework of the AAA CSOs and other non-state actors (NSAs) have an active role to play to support country development processes, one important function of which is to strengthen the capacities of other organizations, including other CSOs or local state institutions. CSOs can therefore be providers of CD support, as well asrecipients, as they might need to develop and strengthen their own capacities to perform their development roles effectively at their full potential. This note seeks to consolidate evidence on two key capacity issues for CSOs:

  1. CSOs for Capacity Development: What are the strengths and opportunities CSOs offer to support national and local CD processes? What are the challenges and shortcomings they face?
  2. Capacity Development for CSOs: How have CSOs been supported to develop and strengthen their capacities to effectively play their development roles to their full potential?

Based on the evidence collected, this note attempts to:

  • Identify operational implications for donor agencies, international NGOs (INGOs) state institutions in partner countries and other CD support providers – including CSOs themselves - engaged in providing CD support to CSOs;
  • Propose a set of key messages for the Fourth High Level Forum (HLF4) in Busan.

Section 2 looks at the evidence coming out of recent research. Based upon such findings, Section 3 draws out implications for different actors in donor and partner countries. Section 4 presents a set of potential messages for the next HLF4 in Busan and suggests areas for further research and discussion. An annotated bibliography is presented in the Annex[2].

Limitations of this Perspectives Note. The AAA refers to CSOs as well as other NSAs (political parties, local authorities, research institutes, media and the private sector) and their roles in supporting country development processes. “Non-state actors” (NSAs) is a very broad and open-ended term, widely used in development cooperation to refer to a range of non-governmental actors that can influence development processes. In very general terms, this includes CSOs and the private sector (i.e. multinational corporations, national firms, and other for profit organizations)[3]. “CSOs” is in itself a broad concept, as it embraces a full range of organizations that are established voluntarily by citizens seeking to promote their concerns, values and identities (IBON International, 2010)[4]. This note focuses on partner country CSOs, recognising at the same time that other NSAs can have a critical role in CD – both as recipients to enhance their own capacities as well as providers of CD support. More attention should therefore be devoted to collecting evidence and consolidate lessons learnt on CD practices and other NSAs such as parliaments, the private sector and the media[5].

There must be recognition of the rich diversity of player in a democratic society (OECD, 2009);  CSOs are highly diverse expressions of social organizations of people whose organizations, in turn, are affected by the features – including divisions and weaknesses – of the societies in which they are embedded and work (Tomlinson and Wanjiru, 2010). Some types of CSOs represent interests and have scopes that diverge from development objectives (criminal organizations, armed groups, etc), and are looked with suspicion and mistrust by state institutions and other development partners. Because the world of CSOs is so complex, diverse and sometimes controversial, it becomes difficult to generalise or draw conclusions that apply to the full range of CSOs. This note takes therefore a somewhat narrow approach. It looks at CSOs whose missions, mandates and actions can contribute to national development process[6]. In this note, the term CSOs is used to refer to partner country CSOs such as local/national non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and more informal forms of membership and non-membership CSOs - for example Community-based Organizations (CBOs). International NGOs and donor country CSOs are also forms of CSOs, but for clarity and simplicity they in this note they are referred to as International NGOs (INGOs).

[1]A number of acronyms will be used frequently in this perspectives note. These include: AAA (Accra Agenda for Action); CBOs (Community-Based Organizations); CD (Capacity Development); CSOs (Civil Society Organizations); INGOs (International Non-Governmental Organizations); HLF4 (Fourth High Level Forum) NGOs (Non-Government Organizations); and NSAs (Non-State Actors).

[2]An overview of preliminary findings and of potential key messages from the note was presented, discussed, and overall agreed upon at the Global Assembly of Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness, which took place in Istanbul (Turkey) on 28-30 September, 2010.

[3]At least in theory, CSOs differ from the private sector as making profit is not the ultimate objective of CSOs - the CSO sector is often referred to as “no–profit”. In practice, it is not always easy to distinguish the government sector from civil society and the private sector. CSOs can play an important role in the economic sphere and, in some cases, CSOs might aim at making a profit or at least a net gain to guarantee their sustainability - for example when asking for fees when providing services. Furthermore, just as the private sector, CSOs do play a role in the political sphere – as in the case of political parties, which are also CSOs. Sometimes CSOs are even more influential than the state itself, especially in fragile situations.

[4]As defined by the London School Of economics Centre for Civil Society, civil society commonly embraces a diversity of spaces, actors and institutional forms varying in their degree of formality, autonomy and power, including registered charities, religious organizations, academia, development non-governmental organizations, political parties, community groups, women's organizations, faith-based organizations, professional associations, self-help groups, social movements, business associations, coalitions and advocacy groups.

[5]There are examples of on-going efforts on this matter. For example, Cluster A of the Working party on Aid Effectiveness (WP-EFF) - which focuses on Ownership and Accountability – is currently taking a step in this direction by looking at engagement with parliament, political parties, local authorities, the media, academia, social partners – in addition to CSOs. (,3343,en_2649_3236398_43384788_1_1_1_1,00.html)

[6] A useful framework to understand development-oriented NGOs and CSOs is provided in Korten, D. (1990), Getting to the 21st Century - Voluntary Action and the Global Agenda, especially in the Chapter titled “From Relief to People’s Movement”. Korten distinguishes four generations of development-oriented NGOs:  1. Relief and Welfare NGOs, 2. Community Development NGOs, 3. Sustainable Systems Development NGOs and 4. People’s Movements.