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6 CSO strategies on policy dialogue

6.1 Types of CSO strategies on policy dialogue

Adopting the typology of CSO engagement in policy dialogue provided by CIDA during the Inception period of the study (Checklist 2 Inception Report, 2011 reproduced in Annex B), Annex G provides a comparison of the strategies adopted in the four different thematic areas.

To summarise the table in Annex G, there are two main strategies of direct engagement and indirect (i.e. preparation for) engagement and both are regarded as necessary for successful outcomes. Direct engagement may be formal:

It may also be informal:

Indirect strategies are aimed at the enabling environment for engagement by preparing dialogue participants for engagement and creating a conducive relationship for policy dialogue:

Analysis of the different approaches adopted in the four case studies following elements are key:

  1. Nature of the issue: a clear public good such as provision of quality education enjoys cross-party, public and international support and provision of invited spaces as well as open discussion in the media facilitates exposure and debate on issues. More recently citizen participation in local government has achieved similar wide support. However, controversial or marginal issues such as decentralisation, minority land rights and displacement of food production are forced to play out in informal spheres.
  2. Provision and use of formal invited spaces does not necessarily translate into better engagement outcomes. Formal invited spaces may not function as desired and can be co-opted, tokenistic or mechanistic (with little contestation and debate). As the education coalition CAMPE has demonstrated, despite achieving formal invited space status, its main influence and successful strategies lie in its ’behind the scenes’ advice. The collaborative relationship it has forged with Government means it is called on to discuss more controversial and difficult issues out of the public domain. Provisions for invited spaces will not be productive if the participants are the wrong ones (e.g. ALRD invited to represent CS on food security), co-opted (e.g. cherry-picked citizens invited onto local mandated LG committees) or where there is no requirement (strong demand) for action (e.g. CHT committee). Vigilance in monitoring the effectiveness of invited spaces (who participates, what is decided) needs to complement their provision.
  3. Research and evidence gathering is key to making cases to inform policy dialogue but remains particularly weak across all the cases (even the more developed education case).
  4. The cases also indicate that, particularly with controversial issues or issues which may be perceived as critical of Government, alliance building with a range of stakeholders is an important strategy. For example, CAMPE has demonstrated that including Teachers Unions and private sector as well as parent groups, while more challenging, helps to find areas of common interest around which to jointly campaign and is more likely to force government response which purely like-minded coalition demands may not. Strategic inclusion of lawyers is key but often under-utilised.(e.g. only in 2012 has CAMPE considered this and found that even the threat of public interest litigation yielded instant government attention).
  5. Use of the media is an essential element of indirect engagement and is increasingly shaping public opinion and sometimes demanding direct action. However, it is still a strategy which is under-exploited and unsophisticated.
  6. The nature of leadership is key: CAMPE is a home grown coalition which has weathered turbulent times and gradually built respect on all sides and can use this to facilitate and broker dialogue. The purposeful acquiescence of leadership in local government to the professional associations by NGOs which championed issues previously appears to be a sensible strategy. The professional associations understand the context for the issues as well as the negotiation (policy dialogue) context. It has been argued that international leadership is required to force the impasse on the CHT land issues.

6.2 Legitimacy and accountability

Legitimacy is generally regarded in relation to the organisation having some form of acceptance by others.[36] Pratt (2009) notes that ’this could mean a constituency (through, for example, memberships); or a means of validating the work of the NGO through participatory means of evaluation, participation in governance (board), or other feedback mechanisms’. The issue focuses on the extent to which the CSO represents the views of its members, clients, target groups. It also encompasses the issue of the perceptions of other stakeholders and the extent to which they respect them and include them as authoritative and authorised voices.

The legitimacy of the key CSO players in education has been established as evidenced by their inclusion in state invited spaces as well as in forums such as international coalitions and national debates. There is now an attempt to broaden the scope of the recognized actors to include the teachers unions and this has been partially successful. The largest coalition, CAMPE claims that it is a “constituency driven organisation”.

It was established in 1990 through the joint collaboration of 17 national NGOs leading in education. These organisations together (along with five additional organisations and an individual, bringing the total to 21), form the CAMPE council which is the highest decision making body. In order to facilitate sectoral coordination it was decided in 1997 to open up membership. As of 2010 there were 2013 Affiliate Members from which three members are chosen on the basis of certain criteria, to be represented on the Council. In addition there are 1,300 partner organisations across the country. Members pay a nominal membership fee, participate in AGM and elect the three representatives to the Council. Partners, however, are the recipients of services provided by CAMPE.[37] The Council is made up of reputed individuals and organisations from NGOs, former government high official and academia, which give it credibility, access and legitimacy. Collectively they make up the largest NGO contribution to education services in the primary education sector.

As noted in the last external review of CAMPE “Recently it has laudably moved from the safety of working exclusively with a ’like-minded’ agenda to provision of platforms for different voices (e.g. Teachers Associations, parents, students) and debate as well as exploring means for more direct action such as public interest litigation. It is therefore moving more towards provision of space for public action rather than relying on its own direct action and this needs to be appreciated as an important shift.”[38]

Council members are periodically elected by member NGOs ensuring that CAMPE’s policy making body is transparent and accountable to its constituency. The Council is comparatively active in policy making and guiding overall strategic direction and does not engage itself in operational aspects of CAMPE. There are critiques of how open the Council is to newer and different views. There was a deliberate attempt while founding the organisation to protect it “from the excesses of democracy” so that it could retain the character of a professional coalition with decision-making being in the hands of a select group.

Formally, accountability of the individual NGOs is to their executive committees and general bodies with no formal means of ensuring accountability to the group members. There is generally strong accountability to the DPs for the use of funds and some to the Government, as registering authority and also for use of funds in certain cases.

The area of downwards accountability to students, teachers, School Management Committees (SMC), PTA and other community bodies is weaker and less formalised. While identification of priorities and strategies are vetted with the community and various interest groups they will not be able to demand accountability of the NGOs. CAMPE is also faced with the challenge of how best to identify and respond to the priorities and needs at the community level so that it can speak for that level as well as for the national level.

At central level it is recognised that NGOs involved in local government (LG) advocacy work have very little leverage and unlike in education do not represent a large constituency. They now prefer to support LGAs which have the legitimacy of potentially 100,000 LGER (and their electorate, counted in the millions) and networks of district level Citizen Forums which have acquired local level legitimacy. A future intention is to harness these efforts and those of more fluid issue-based movements to become a stronger pressure group for change at central level.

At local level, LG active NGOs are mostly taking a catalytic/facilitating role to encourage the emergence and development of citizen forums which channel the voice of citizen themselves. This approach has probably been promoted by the fact that NGOs active in LG tend to be those which have taken a strongly rights-based orientation to their work and are less likely to be involved in service provision. The citizen forums are generally considered to derive their legitimacy from the fact that they comprise respected community leaders, activists and social workers.[39] The composition of these forums does need careful surveillance as some target-driven NGOs will cut short the period needed to make the right selection and provide sufficient nurturing. However, CSOs shared with us that co-option and infiltration by vested interests (economic or political) are other problems which undermine the forums’ legitimacy. Accountability is strongly linked to the motivations of citizen forum members to volunteer. Social recognition requires them to prove that they are fighting for local causes.

For the Chittagong Hill Tract (CHT) Land Rights, both PCJSS and Headmen Association (HA) have legitimacy and are recognized by the CHT Adivasi Peoples, Central Government and LG Bodies and occupy invited spaces provided by the Government. They get wide publicity of their public statements by the media. They are accountable to their own members although in both cases leadership is based on inheritance (sons of headmen become headmen) or kinship (the current chairperson of PCJSS brother of the previous chairperson).

For food security the Association of Land Reform and Development (ALRD) is the only network body representing NGOs. Its focus is land issues but these include how land use relates to food security. It operates with the usual NGO accountability to the NGO Affairs Bureau and its Board. Other NGOs involved in food security activism do this in addition to their core work often under the guise of (action) research.

[36] Pratt, Brian ’Legitimacy and Transparency for NGOs, INTRAC August 2009.

[37] Source Annual Report CAMPE 2010, page 88.

[38] External Review of CAMPE, February, 2012, page 4.

[39] Conversations with members of Citizen Forums and their constituents as well as eligibility criteria published by organisations such as Rupantar, Transparency International for their Citizen Forum membership.

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