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9 Lessons learned

The following lessons learned were shared with the CSOs who attended the Reflection on Findings Workshop on March 18th, 2012 and the DPs on March 25th. Their inputs were incorporated into the formulation of these lessons.

1. Better way of measuring results of policy dialogue

There is an urgent need to develop better articulated indicators and better instruments to measure both the process and outcomes of CSO engagement in policy dialogue. Whilst these remain vague and inappropriate this kind of work is will continue to be undervalued and will be vulnerable to unfair comparison with service provision projects where impact measures are more straightforward. CSOs are often aware that there are examples of better measurement tools but have not had the resources to identify, develop and customise these for their needs. This is a key area to technical assistance development (and should be linked to Lesson 5).

2. Better underlying principles

The issues noted in Chapter 7 relating to how DP assistance can distort the development of vibrant civil society need to be taken seriously and discussed openly so that a common code of practice can be developed among donors and CSOs to guide CSO action around voice and accountability. Some donors seem to be unaware that while they share an understanding of what they intend to achieve in policy dialogue their underlying ideologies and approaches may be diverse and contradictory.

3. Better funding modalities

DPs already recognise that their funding mechanisms do not necessarily meet the demands of CSO engagement in policy dialogue and their efforts to find alternatives need to be encouraged. These can include the establishment of Trust Funds for particular vital public good institutions involved in policy dialogue or supportive research, support for Foundations, block grants to International civil society Foundations for onward support to local CSOs as well as the options explained more fully in Lesson 4 and Lesson 5. Consideration can be made to ring fence funds within the large SWAP programmes for civil society engagement (including participation in planning, monitoring and preparing independent reports and position papers a ’voice and accountability window’) It also needs to be recognised that much of the policy dialogue work is just that; ’dialogue’; explaining, informing, convincing people through informal means a well as networking and strategising. These actions need to have salary apportionments to budget lines which in turn will require formal reporting and justification of time but most importantly ensures that these processes are fully reported. DPs need to recognise that the skills set required for central level advocacy may require concomitant salaries.

4. Funding policy dialogue themes holistically

Taking a thematic approach to this study rather than an organisation based approach as was done in the DAC commissioned Citizen Voice and Accountability Study (2008), has highlighted the importance of the right mix of skills and actors to affect change. Just as donor work in consortia, the idea of CSOs working in thematic implementation consortia defined by programme support could be considered. The right strategic mix of actors should be supported under a single umbrella to ensure collaboration and synergy so often absent from the silo approach to funding that currently exists. These consortia would include the range of CSOs needed to make change happen e.g. research, grass roots activists, lobbying groups, legal services, media, IT services. This would privilege good knowledge management and strategic advocacy. While current project designs may intend for this to happen it often fail to realise these aspirations as project implementers become inward looking.

5. Resources for All

Consideration may be given to a possible funding window which provides a more level playing field as it seeks to provide public access information, resources and support. This will allow growth of a diverse civil society. It responds to the need for CSOs of different types including short-term issue-based movements, volunteer groups, small and local groups to access resources without becoming NGOs and applying for grants and project support. The support can take many forms:

Funding directories (local, philanthropy, private sector, diaspora etc.), finance and accounting manuals, tax clarification, planning and evaluation tools, generic gender and human resource policies, advocacy and lobbying guidelines and a whole range of other ’How to Manuals’ as well as essential sector information (research, studies, training manuals etc.) which could be publicly available (e.g. online). Organisations could also benefit from bulk-bought services such as accounting and auditing, insurance services, tax advice, web-site development and hosting. Recognising that there is a disconnect between the supply of volunteers and the demand for their services, virtual skills banks could be developed to link those with skills and a available time to offer to organisations through online networks. The idea is not unlike Third Sector facilities available in the UK.

6. Independent research

There is an urgent need for high quality independent research in all of the thematic areas covered by this case study and probably in other areas too. What exists is tends to be scattered and may also be linked with interests (e.g. connecting to new or continuing funds or needs to prove achievements) rather than genuinely independent. Policy dialogue must have better links to independently generated evidence. SDC’s plan to establish a LG Research Challenge Fund is a step in the right direction. Possible funding of Third Sector studies and specific course in advocacy and citizen engagement within Universities could also be considered.

7. Overhaul of the regulatory arrangements for CSOs

Among CSOs there is considerable support for the notion of transforming the current complex and scattered regulatory functions of the NGO Affairs Bureau, Ministry of Social Welfare, Cooperatives, Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, and Ministry of Youth Development under a single umbrella somewhat like the Charities Commission in UK. It is recognised that efforts have been made before but lacked the concerted support of the donor community. As well as providing a better service to CSOs a more credible commission/accreditation body would be tasked with raising the public image of CSOs and conferring legitimacy. A careful step by step approach to supporting the revamp of CS registration would be required which would include legislation to create a government department which cannot be influenced by political government or by the sector it is intended to regulate.

8. Global bridges

Just as embassies create links between business interests between their home country and host country civil society links could be given more focus. This would be a valuable way to support the development of civil society and provide mutual exposure to issues as well as to possibilities for technical transfer.

9. Development Partners openness to CS scrutiny

As DPs promote transparency and accountability between civil society and Government, they could also consider ways to enhance their engagement with CSOs beyond funding partnerships and websites. Their policies, programmes and priorities and achievement claims could be open for scrutiny and collaborative dialogue.

10. CSO own Code of Conduct and self-regulation

The CSO community is like any other sector in Bangladesh and has its own ’bad apples’. TIB’s review of NGO governance (2007) revealed much that NGOs should be concerned about. Those involved in policy dialogue need to be especially vigilant of behaviour which can undermine collective advocacy efforts and which can be used to discredit these. Consideration needs to be given to the development of a code of practice (perhaps like the Integrity Pledge TIB has introduced for service providers) to raise an awareness of issues of legitimacy, accountability and ethics.

This page forms part of the publication 'Support to Civil Society Engagement in Policy Dialogue' as chapter 12 of 20
Version 1.0. 03-01-2013
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