Part Three: Conclusion and Recommendations

IGO Survey Part Three Conclusions Recommendations

 

SOCS 2014 IGO Scorecard Conclusion & Recommendations

Methodological lessons

This is a pilot phase of our attempt to build a Scorecard and should be viewed as such. We have designed a methodology that we hoped could evaluate and assess civil society engagement with IGOs, the primary component of which was a survey of civil society actors. As with any first iteration of a survey, we encountered some challenges around our sample. For example, we did not receive sufficient responses for some of the IGOs we covered, and there was a bias in the sample towards CIVICUS members and partners, who may not necessarily represent the fullest spectrum of civil society.

During this pilot phase, we also learned several lessons about our methodological approach.

First, IGOs have different mandates, and thus different activities with different constituencies. So it might be better to compare IGOs with similar IGOs. One broad category could be called the ‘regulatory’ IGOs, which set standards, settle disputes and convene stakeholders. This might include WTO and OHCHR. Another category could be the ‘service delivery’ IGOs, whose main focus is on the delivery of projects at the country level, such as UNDP and the World Bank. This is a useful distinction, and future Scorecards should account for such a distinction.

Second, IGOs also differ in their locus of activity, since some are decentralised and focused at the country level, while for others the bulk of their work takes place at their headquarters. As discussed within the body of the report, the 10 IGOs assessed vary in their approaches. In this sense, some IGOs may have a greater capacity to engage at the local level than others. Indeed, UNDP’s ‘low’ score for policy dialogue should not necessarily be taken as a commentary on country-level engagement, which in UNDP’s case is extensive. On the other hand, almost all IGOs claim to listen to civil society voices, so whether they are a decentralised organisation or not, it is still reasonable to ask civil society how accessible the IGO is at the global level.

Third, although the survey asked about engagement with an IGO at the global level, it is possible that respondents had engagement at the country level in mind when answering questions. This is possible and a concern. It is for this reason that we would establish a minimum threshold of 20 responses in order to score an individual IGO. Although it is possible that some respondents have national rather than global engagement in mind, it is reasonable to suggest that with enough respondents, such ‘errors’ would be averaged out.

Fourth, an IGO may feel that the Scorecard simply gets something completely wrong. A low score for programmatic development, for example, may fly in the face of the IGO’s own impression of its efforts. This is why the future Scorecard would allow the IGOs a ‘right of reply.’ But it can also be said that if an IGO is scoring poorly on something it thinks it does well, there is at least a cause to pause and reflect: if there is an annual meeting with civil society, for example, perhaps many respondents are unaware of. If so, why are they unaware? Seen in this light, the Scorecard can be usefully employed by the IGO to improve its own engagement.

Fifth, the Scorecard is unable to take into account broader national political contexts. In many instances, a primary stumbling block to successful CSO engagement with IGO processes is the lack of an environment conducive to civil society. This is particularly relevant if an IGO focuses on regional or national outreach. This could potentially lead to an unfair score when the reality is vastly different.

Sixth, the Scorecard does not place adequate weight on the dissemination of information by IGOs. Many IGOs excelled within the survey primarily due to effective dissemination strategies. By using the Internet and other tools to reach a broader audience than was previously possible, IGOs are evolving beyond our relatively basic idea of access. A recommendation for a future Scorecard could be an information-based indicator. This indicator would assess the ability of CSOs to interact with IGO processes despite being geographically removed from the decision-making hub. A key finding from the pilot exercise is awareness-building initiatives such as newsletters and other communication drives help. However, it must be conceded that not all CSOs have access to Internet, which presents a problem for future inclusion of such an indicator.

Finally, as stated throughout the report, our aim was not to rank or compare IGOs. Rather, it was to evaluate the state of civil society engagement at present. In the future, we hope to expand the methodology and develop a comprehensive system of scoring IGOs. In the Appendix to this report, we have laid the foundations for what a system of scoring might look like in the future. Whilst there are numerous debates about whether it is possible to measure civil society engagement, CIVICUS remains committed to working with IGOs and CSOs to find the most appropriate and comprehensive method of measuring civil society engagement with IGOs. This is just the start of the process.

 

Conclusion

The IGO Scorecard on intergovernmental civil society engagement is a perceptions survey of a complex and gradually shifting environment. This tool is the starting point for a broader debate on the state of global governance and whether it lives up to our expectations in 2014. From all of our findings, it is clear that there is still much work to do to improve and reimagine IGO outreach.

Our conclusions portray civil society engagement at the IGO level as underdeveloped in many areas. As we reflect on the conclusions from both IGO and CSO perspectives, we are able to draw attention to problems in the structural architecture of global governance. Both CSO and IGO staff highlighted the biggest obstacle to effective engagement of civil society are member states. Almost all IGOs have been designed as almost exclusively state-dominated organisations. This state-centric structure of IGOs creates a structural imbalance, which makes the integration of citizens’ voice into their activities of secondary importance at best and tokenistic at worst. More broadly, these imbalances in IGO outreach are situated within wider challenges around accountability in global governance.

We pointed out at the outset of this report that the incorporation of civil society voices within global governance institutions has enjoyed a relatively positive trajectory. However, in the process of this research, it has become clear that much more could and should be done to improve civil society engagement by IGOs.

A good place to start is with enhancing civil society influence on policy issues. Civil society has little space to impact on policy and the limited scope to affect policy direction. The onus is still primarily placed on CSOs to try to engage in policy discussions or just to have a seat at the table. Accessibility to IGO decision-making hubs simply isn’t good enough. We also note that civil society actors feel IGOs are too selective in their outreach, choosing to focus engagement on an elevated few rather than engaging with the broad diversity of the civil society spectrum. Civil society spaces are dominated by a few well-resourced and well versed CSOs, who sometimes entrench themselves into privileged positions than open up access to their colleagues.

Our research reveals that civil society calls for a greater regional or local outreach by IGOs, moving away from centralised, headquarters-based engagement. CSOs are consistently saying that outreach based within their geographic locale is far more effective.

The coordination of local or regional civil society groups also featured highly as a priority for improving civil society engagement. A need to strengthen networks of civil society actors working towards a common thematic goal was viewed by both civil society and IGOs as a key to improving civil society engagement in the future. However, the filtration of CSO voices heard in the field outside of key headquarters’ locations must be visible, accountable and identifiable. In essence, IGOs need to include and amplify civil society voices outside of their immediate vicinity and comfort zones.

We have illustrated overarching needs from CSOs, such as decentralised engagement strategies, focus on regional civil society interlocutors and more tangible outcomes from consultations. Meanwhile, IGO staff have also expressed their frustrations with the capacity of CSOs to engage with them, alluding to a lack of awareness surrounding their mechanisms.

 

Recommendations to governments and intergovernmental organisations

We call for a rebalancing in the structure of IGOs through multi-stakeholder models so that they are not exclusively controlled by member-states. There have been recent examples of international agencies and programmes that have had a broader-based constitution. We believe that re-designing institutional structures will allow for a more a nuanced understanding of civil society as a key player in global decision-making, improve the accountability of global governance and lead to more effective institutions.

UNAIDS integrates civil society representatives into its governing body. It is the first arm of the UN to incorporate civil society into a decision-making structure. The approach has been widely praised as a huge step forward for civil society integration into UN systems.[1]

Further, we believe that IGOs need to do more to mainstream civil society outreach, beyond focal points, so that all staff are encouraged to proactively engage civil society. In many cases a formal civil society engagement policy may be appropriate. This will allow for enshrined commitments to civil society engagement, institutionalisation of a culture of civil society outreach and empowerment of focal points to distil professional experiences and build capacity of staff within IGOs. Moreover, it will encourage the dissemination of best practice regarding civil society engagement.

IGOs also need to ensure that they promote diversity in the range of civil society actors they engage with. Our research suggests that the current system of engagement has been monopolised by well-resourced and well versed CSOs, whilst under-representing grass roots activists. Thus, decentralising outreach strategies and encouraging the filtration of civil society voices that are geographically removed from decision-making hubs is critical. Essentially, this would involve empowering local or regional offices to take control of civil society engagement and holding them responsible for proactivity when engaging with a wide spectrum of CSOs.

All 10 IGOs assessed in the Scorecard are headquartered in the global North. Whilst all have regional or country offices, their outreach strategy is primarily spearheaded by headquarters. A key recommendation from CSOs is decentralisation of outreach and focusing on local-level CSO interlocutors.

Notably, IGOs need to place an emphasis on institutional resources for civil society engagement. This means allocating more funding for civil society engagement at all levels and championing advocates for civil society reform both internally and externally, as well as allocating more resources for building a greater awareness of mechanisms available to civil society and building the capacity of civil society to engage more effectively with IGO systems.[2]

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has initiated training toolkits, seminars and workshops for civil society organisations. These capacity building efforts – spearheaded by the civil society engagement team – have enhanced the awareness, understanding and the ability of civil society organisations to engage with the human rights mechanisms at the UN, particularly under time constraints.[3]

Finally, it is critical that IGOs take the lead in global efforts to create an enabling environment for civil society. It is not good enough inviting one representative of a well-known CSO to a consultation at headquarters when their colleagues are facing grave threats back home. IGO leaders and representatives must back up their commitment to civil society by not turning a blind eye to attacks on civic space in countries where they operate.

 

Recommendations for civil society

We urge our civil society peers to consider prioritising influencing of global governance institutions wherever possible in their programmatic activities. Local events are increasingly being shaped by global happenings in today’s interconnected world. Key to the above are enhancing civil society’s knowledge and understanding of the impact of global decision-making on local conditions (including through creation of interactive publications and organisation of learning exchanges) and building coalitions and networks around general and specific themes that enable pooling of resources to maximise civil society’s ability to influence decision-making processes.

We call for democratisation of civil society spaces in global governance processes. In particular, larger and well-resourced CSOs with established presence in key intergovernmental organisations should enable civil society groups on the ground to engage in these spaces. For example, this can be done by proactively offering use of organisational accreditation or earmarking of financial resources to enable greater sectoral engagement in intergovernmental processes.

Moreover, we need to ensure focus on expert analysis and targeted advocacy to enhance public interest in decision-making at intergovernmental forums. In particular, strategic relationships should be forged with academia and the media to advance civil society positions. Parallel to this, we also need to create better synergies between civil society groups and greater cross-sectoral cooperation. In particular, the Istanbul Principles for CSO Development Effectiveness[4] should guide work and practices in relation to engagement with global governance institutions.

As part of the process of working on the Scorecard, we at CIVICUS also reflected on what more we could do improve civil society engagement with IGOs. As a global civil society alliance and as an organisation often invited to take part in IGO engagement, we feel a duty to ‘walk the talk’ on the recommendations above.

An important priority for us is to take the findings of our work and convene discussions with CSOs and IGOs, to see what more could be done to improve engagement. We plan to do this in the months following the publication of this report. In the course of this process, we will also gather feedback on the Scorecard methodology with a view to honing it and launching a more comprehensive method of measuring civil society engagement with IGOs.

Given the emphasis on strengthening regional and local outreach by IGOs, we will engage CIVICUS’ members to explore ways to bring a diverse range of civil society actors into contact with IGOs. One avenue for this is likely to be the Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA), the group of national civil society platforms that are part of the CIVICUS alliance. We believe that encouraging national-level civil society platforms to facilitate IGO engagement could be a relatively efficient way of achieving broader-based inclusion.

As CIVICUS, we will continue to participate in global governance institutions’ meetings, representing our members and advocating for greater civil society participation and engagement. We remain committed to working within and through international institutions and processes to create a better world for all. However, we also recognise and remain committed to the urgent need for reform to make these institutions and processes more accountable and responsive to citizens’ demands.

 


 

 

[1] UNAIDS, NGO participation/civil society participation in the NAIDS Programme Coordinating Board (PCB), accessed 29/04/2014 at:  http://www.unaids.org/en/aboutunaids/unaidsprogrammecoordinatingboard/ngocivilsocietyparticipationinpcb .

[2] OHCHR, NGO Handbook, accessed 29/04/2014 at: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/NgoHandbook/ngohandbook2.pdf .

[3] OHCHR, NGO Handbook, accessed 29/04/2014 at: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/NgoHandbook/ngohandbook2.pdf .

[4] Istanbul Principles on CSO Development Effectiveness, 2010, accessed 16/05/2014 at: http://cso-effectiveness.org/IMG/pdf/final_istanbul_cso_development_effectiveness_principles_footnote_december_2010-2.pdf .