Civil society: Key resources

Editor's choice

Voice, accountability and civic engagement: a conceptual overview: Discussion Paper #14, UNDP Oslo Governance Centre

This discussion paper provides an overview of current thinking on voice, accountability and the role of civic engagement in promoting more responsive democratic governance and sustainable development. It reviews recent reports, studies and evaluations of key donors and institutions and lays out lessons learnt in promoting voice and accountability mechanisms and strengthening civic engagement. These lessons include the importance of political relationships in the functioning of state institutions, the recognition that the creation of voice can be a messy, conflictual and difficult process, and the need for development practitioners to focus on both ‘voice’ and ‘accountability’ simultaneously. (Source: UNDP)

Civic Engagement in Policy Development  M. Adil Khan 2008 

How have states attempted to bring civil society organisations into policy discussions and policy development? What lessons can be learned from these attempts? This chapter from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs World Public Sector Report 2008 examines initiatives to promote civic engagement in policy development. It argues that political leadership, institutional changes and capacity-building are of crucial importance for the success of participatory initiatives.

Capacity Development for Policy Advocacy: Current thinking and approaches among agencies supporting Civil Society Organisations ODI 2006.

Capacity building is likely to become increasingly important throughout the life of the Civil Society Partnerships Programme. The team recognises that it is important, early on, to develop a clear understanding of current principles and practice in capacity building for Southern organisations involved in using research-based evidence in policy processes, and establish a common position and vocabulary as a starting point for engagement with potential partners.

Mutual Accountability Mechanisms: Accountability, Voice and Responsiveness

This note makes the case that strengthening accountability is a critical CD strategy. The capacity of any system requires appropriate feedback loops to self-regulate, adapt and effectively achieve its objectives. This applies to living organisms and people, to organizations and to societies. In any given society there are a multitude of accountability relations and thus also a wide range of entry points for accountability as CD strategy. This implies further unbundling how accountability mechanisms actually work as well as identifying in more operational ways what can be pursued as promising strategies and instruments.

Capacity Building of Southern NGOs: Lessons from International Forum on Capacity Building (IFCB)

This paper reflects on the debate on capacity development from the perspective of southern civil society organizations. It is a synthesis of lessons from various global, regional and local initiatives undertaken by the International Forum on Capacity Building (IFCB).

Useful Web-sites and partners

  • GSDRC topic guide on voice, empowerment and accountability: Voice, empowerment and accountability (VEA) interventions aim to support poor and marginalised people to build the resources, assets, and capabilities they need to exercise greater choice and control over their own development, and to hold decision-makers to account. This guide provides an overview of the best available evidence on the impact of VEA interventions. It identifies what we know about the barriers to VEA in different contexts, and emerging lessons on how to address them.
  • GSDRC topic Guide on Service Delivery: Equitable access to essential public services is vital for human development, inclusive growth, and tackling persistent inequality. This topic guide provides an overview of the best available evidence on inclusive service delivery. It includes lessons from cases where aid has been effective at addressing weak front-line incentives, where services have been delivered in very difficult environments, or where access has been expanded equitably over time.
  • Affiliated Network for Social Accountability (ANSA-Africa): Accountability in Service Delivery: ANSA-Africa is a network, jointly created by the World Bank and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in 2007, to be a leading African advocate of citizen involvement in demand-side governance initiatives. ANSA-Africa Secretariat is now hosted by Idasa based in Pretoria, South Africa. The objectives of the Network are to: develop cross-country collaboration on social accountability and demand-side governance initiatives; provide technical assistance to different countries so the quality of social accountability initiatives is greatly enhanced; deliver training programs on specific tools and techniques; and share country experiences and lessons from social accountability and demand-side governance initiatives regionally and globally.

Other knowledge resources

  • Debating the Provision of Basic Utilities in Sub-Saharan Africa: Despite the World Bank’s ample support for privatisation and exaggerated promises for privatisation’s performance, it has performed miserably in sub-Saharan Africa. Is it time to rethink supporting the private sector in this region?
  • Can Privatisation and Commercialisation of Public Services Help Achieve the MDGs: This working paper argues that reliance on private sector provision will fail to address the central challenges of public sector delivery. The process of privatisation creates an incentive framework that undermines, rather than strengthens, the accountability and capacity of the State to provide accessible and affordable services.
  • PPP for Basic Services Delivery (Human Development Viewpoint) Supporting formal and inclusive tripartite partnerships at the local level between government, business and communities is an effective way to unleash local development and alleviate poverty by increasing poor people's access to basic services.
  • A capacity building framework: McKinsey, the management consultancy, conducted case studies on 13 nonprofit organizations that engaged in capacity building over a 10 year period. The research led to the creation of the ‘Capacity Framework’ which defines seven essential elements of nonprofit capacity. The elements are: Aspirations; Strategy; Organizational Skills; Human Resources; Systems & Infrastructure; Organizational structure and Culture.
  • New Directions in State Reform: Implications for Civil Society in Africa: There is a gap between the discourse of civil society and the pressures for state reform in many countries in Africa. Whereas civil society discourse celebrates the power of social groups and organizations to contribute to the institutional changes necessary for democracy and development, the debate on state reform cautions against such optimism.  
  • A note on capabilities that contribute to the success of non-governmental organisations: Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are increasingly important actors in the field of development. They are diverse, in terms of their organisational form, structure and culture, and the issues they address. Correspondingly, the capacities that NGOs need in order to deliver on their mandate range across a broad spectrum.When asked,NGOs themselves list an interesting set of capacities that they believe make them sustainable and effective. 
  • Multi-Stakeholder Engagement Processes: Multi-Stakeholder Engagement Processes (MSEPs) are (structured) processes that are used to ensure participation on a specific issue and are based on a set of principles, sometimes inspired by the rights-based approach to development1. They aim to ensure participatory equity, accountability and transparency, and to develop partnerships and networks amongst different stakeholders. MSEPs can create the conditions for confidence building and trust between different actors and serve as a mechanism for providing mutually acceptable solutions and win-win situations. The inclusive and participatory nature of the processes promotes a greater sense of ownership over its outcomes, and consequently, strengthens its sustainability. MSEPs also stimulate transparent and inclusive decisionmaking, strengthened stakeholder networks, accountability, and a sense of empowerment, thereby contributing to improved governance.