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Executive Summary

Background and purpose

The Joint Evaluation of Civil Society Engagement in Policy Dialogue commissioned by six international development agencies (Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland) was carried out in the period May 2011 to August 2012. The evaluation focuses on the effectiveness of civil society organisations (CSOs) in policy dialogue. The overall purpose is lesson learning for Development Partners (DPs) in terms of how best to support CSOs in the area of policy dialogue. The purpose of the case studies is to provide in-depth analysis of how CSOs engage in policy dialogue, what outcomes they have achieved and what factors have contributed to them. This report presents the results of the Uganda Country Study, with the main period of fieldwork carried out in two phases September 2011 and February-March 2012. The country study was guided by the overall methodological framework provided for this evaluation. The case studies, selected through a process of consultation comprised:

  • Case Study 1: Governance and accountability, focused on anti-corruption, with education and health as the key entry points
  • Case Study 2: Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS), focused on gender responsive legislation
  • Case Study 3: Environment and natural resources sector, focused on forest management and governance.

The three cases touch all sections and strata of society in the country. The lack of good governance and the pervasive nature of corruption, the slow progress towards gender responsive development (particularly in regard to women) and the critical loss of the Uganda’s forests with the potentially disastrous consequences this has for the environment, climate and future prosperity of both rural and urban populations. The report provides a narrative of the evidence of CSO’s current achievements and potential for engagement in the future, together with an assessment of the DPs’ strategy in supporting these processes.


For the purpose of this report, policy dialogue is defined as in the Accra Agenda for Action (Section 13) as “open and inclusive dialogue on development policies”. The Agenda further states that Developing country governments will work more closely with parliaments and local authorities in preparing, implementing and monitoring national development policies and plans. They will also engage with civil society organisations (CSOs). Civil Society Organisations are defined as: All non-market and non-state organisations outside of the family in which people organise themselves to pursue shared interests in the public domain.


The methodology was informed by a ’Conceptual Framework’ developed during the scoping study phase which challenged the teams to develop an ex-anti ’theory of change’ of CSO involvement in policy dialogue. This was done so that the study team might better focus the enquiry, identify appropriate indicators (and key questions) and measure outcomes (summarised in a ’topic guide’). Information was drawn from the extensive documentation available, from respondent interviews and focus group discussions at national, district and community level using a variety of analytical tools including the ’policy cycle’ and power cube. The team was successful in gathering information and views from a wide range of stakeholders including individual CSOs; CSO networks; government ministry and agency staff, politicians, the media, community based organisations and DPs.

There were of course limitations and establishing attribution was one of the most challenging elements of the study due to the highly complex interacting forces and actors that come into play in the policy dialogue process. This alerted the team on the need for caution in interpreting reported successes. For most CSOs the Theory of Change concept was not understood and the discussion quite superficial. Very few people, with the exception of CSOs in the natural environment and forestry sectors, were able to clearly articulate the policy dialogue strategies.

Factors affecting the enabling environment

Across all sectors beyond the three case studies, Uganda has a comprehensive legal and institutional framework for citizen participation enshrined in its Constitution (1995), as given in its decentralisation policy and Access to Information Act 2005. However, there are threats and contradictions to these otherwise progressive policies. The Anti-Terrorism Act gives immense power to the security forces which can be used to punish CSOs that challenge policy or question human rights abuses. The Press and Journalists (Amendment) Bill 2010 has prohibitions and limitations on freedom of speech and journalists which attest to the pressures they work under with journalists having to report official sources of information in the public domain rather than using investigative methods. Access to information is too costly for ordinary citizens and there are formidable bureaucratic obstacles to overcome.

The Amendment (2006) to the NGO registration statue which recently became operational has caused most concern. While CSOs were involved in its preparation, they claim their input was largely ignored. The prospect of CSOs having to re-register annually, under the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Internal Security) is seen as a means of controlling CSOs which are perceived as too critical of Government. However, more recently (and after the completion of the field work for this study), Government announced a new NGO policy. At its launch in July 2012 the NGO Forum expressed its hope that overall, the introduction of this new policy, with its framework for engagement, was a step in the right direction.

Looking specifically at the case studies, the governance and accountability sector has a number of relevant legal frameworks and acts on anti-corruption, and space is provided for CSOs to engage in policy formulation though parliamentary proceedings. The act itself is one of the most comprehensive in terms of aiming to combat corruption and hold Government accountable. The institutional frameworks which include preparation of national and sector plans, the anti-corruption agencies in Government, the budget processes and budget performance report and role of Parliament in the process, all provide opportunities for CSO involvement.

CSOs can and do participate in the policy processes with the Development Network of Indigenous Voluntary Organisations (DENIVA) Civil Society Index report citing an overall intense level of CSO activity. Yet, the study identified a lack of political will to combat corruption, in spite of its declared policy of ’zero tolerance’ and increasing hostility to criticism, with in some cases personal threats being made to individuals. CSOs invited to engage in dialogue report that their views are not in fact represented, and that a seemingly open and participatory process is more of a ’token’ involvement in the governance sector.

Policy dialogue on gender and women’s rights has been on-going for over 30 years. More recently the 1995 constitution made positive provisions for the rights of women, but the view is held that the law still discriminates against women in matters of inheritance, marriage, and divorce and property ownership. In terms of frameworks for CSO engagement, in addition to the provisions of the constitution, the Government created a Ministry of Gender to implement policies. The Ministry has created space for CSOs such as the Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET), the Uganda Women’s Lawyers Association (FIDA Uganda) and the Centre for Domestic Violence (CEDOVIP). CSOs regard the legislation as generally supportive of their involvement; however, they note the major gaps in addressing the structural gender inequalities and power relations with regard to gender equality in Uganda.

In the forestry sector, the legal framework and Forestry Policy (2001), and National Forestry Plan (2002) are models for the sustainable management of forests. The Plan provided specific space for CSOs to engage in its preparation. The study found that over a ten year perspective, the environment for policy engagement has until fairly recently been positive. However, the particular challenge faced by CSOs is that the official policy on forestry management and the current political agenda are in conflict. Government agencies charged with management of the forests are under-resourced and unable to manage political interference in their affairs. Thus CSOs in the forestry sector are engaged not so much in influencing the official policy per se but in defending its implementation. They see their role as preventing political and big business interests from exploiting the country’s natural forest resources for short-term gains through increased large-scale commercial cropping, industrial development, coupled with a lack of enforcement of illegal encroachment.

Enabling environment and issues of donor funding

Some observers cite donor funding as a contributory factor in reducing the importance of CSOs as significant players in the country. The Uganda NGO Forum found donor support was producing a proliferation of two types of CSOs, one focusing on urban-based elite advocacy organisations and secondly a membership network or professional association type CSOs, and that DPs have avoided politically oriented groups.

However, while this provides one perspective, DPs themselves have taken action to address these issues directly with Government on CSOs behalf concerned by the narrowing of the space for CSOs. Some DPs (e.g. Sweden and the Netherlands) have reduced their development assistance in response to the Government’s position. Changes in DP funding may also play a role in shaping the enabling environment, with less money going directly to CSOs engaged in policy matters, due to donor harmonisation processes, concerns over value for money and limited or no core funding being made available.

CSO governance and self-regulation

CSOs recognise the importance maintaining their own standards of governance and accountability, amid criticism from Government over their credibility. While this concern may affect only a minority of CSOs, the two main umbrella organisations, NGO Forum and DENIVA have developed a voluntary self-regulation system setting minimum standards of governance. It will be important to review progress with this initiative as well as monitor the standards of governance within the sector.

CSO strategies, effectiveness and outcomes

CSOs adopted a range of strategies, with the more effective including evidence-based research; capacity building, awareness creation and sensitisation; strategic alliances coalitions and networks; social mobilisation and alliances; media advocacy; public demonstrations and petitions; public interest litigation and sponsored private members bills. The study assessed effectiveness both in terms of the key strategies adopted and the outcomes achieved measured as process, intermediate or policy change outcomes.

Preparing and disseminating evidence-based research: This was identified as a key feature of CSO’s strategy and ability to influence policy. It was successfully used in gender advocacy, with CSOs collecting information that was used to inform the debate on the enactment of the Domestic Violence Law. The strategy was also successful in the forestry sector in informing the public and the political Government on the national importance of preventing the destruction of the Mabira Forest. The list of documents and references given in this report testify to the high quality of information that Ugandan CSOs are generating.

Capacity building, awareness creation and sensitisation: These are longer term strategies that are used by CSOs to change public attitudes, capacity of public/government institutions, capacity of CSOs and capacities and attitudes of community members on policy issues. Strategies to raise awareness of specific targeted interest groups and communities have been very important in addressing issues that are in the invisible spaces. In Uganda, a number of CSOs have now reinforced this strategic stance, seeing the building of capacity of communities at grass roots level as the key element of their strategy to improve the overall effectiveness of influencing both policy formulation and its implementation. This has been tested and has proved effective in the forestry sector.

Strategic alliances, coalitions and networks: CSOs have been criticised in the past for working individually. However across all three case study sectors, networks, coalitions and networks were being used effectively coordinate the work of individual CSOs. More importantly the formation of a strategic alliance creates a more powerful resource with which to either advocate for change or to confront Government or other parties where official policy is not being followed.

Examples of coalitions and networks include the Coalition on Domestic violence (contribution to passing of Domestic Violence Law); Uganda Forestry Working Group, UFWG, (success in preventing degazettement of forests, e.g. Mabira); The UFWG prepared a five-year strategic plan in 2011, which is testimony to what networks, when properly organised and funded can achieve. Anti-Corruption Coalition of Uganda, a national network with regional offices (exposed corruption cases throughout the country). There is a range of other issue-based or more permanent thematic-based networks serving the sector.

DPs have recognised the value added from supporting CSO networks. While this has achieved some success, the study findings were that supporting networking processes (networking), rather than assisting the formation of specific networks, would lead to more sustainable networking outcomes.

Other strategies: Demonstrations were found to be effective strategies, but held the risk of becoming violent. They were a used successfully by the gender and women’s rights organisations, usually involving the signing of petitions to be handed to the Minister. CSOs in the forestry sector, working with the media organised mass demonstrations, although ultimately successful in terms of assisting in preventing government abuses of forestry policy, they resulted in innocent lives be lost and in mass arrest of activists. The media has been used to raise public awareness about issues that affect people across the entire country, and has been a valuable means of maintaining debates on policy decisions, on increasing awareness and understanding of issues, as well as on influencing policy decisions at local and national levels.

Effectiveness in terms of process, intermediate and policy change outcomes: The framework used by the team to assess the different outcomes in the three case studies, indicated notable achievement in process outcomes comprising the formation of networks and coalitions to support the causes. In the governance, accountability and anti-corruption case study, coalitions were successfully established at national, regional and local levels. Similarly for policy engagement on gender issues, some four coalitions were formed to influence the various legal provisions in domestic violence, sexual offences and marriage and divorce policies. In forestry, two successful networks were established, the Uganda Forestry Working Group and the Forestry Learning Governance Group. Intermediate outcomes identified in the governance, accountability and anti-corruption case study included presentations to Parliament by CSOs on sector spending priorities. Other representatives were co-opted onto health policy advisory committees. In the gender issue case study, increased cooperation between CSOs and Government was improving. All three policy process case studies contributed to policy change outcomes in one way or another, although it was in the gender responsive legislation case study with the enactment of the Domestic Violence Bill, and the success in preventing the degazettement of the Mabira Forest (at least for now), that the work of CSOs was seen as a major contributing factor.

Lessons on DP Strategies

It is estimated that 95% of all funding for CSOs comes from DPs. And as the modalities of funding are rationalised with fewer, more harmonised facilities, CSOs become more dependent on DP priorities. That is not to say that dialogue does not take place between DPs and CSOs (and indeed this study is an example of this process) but it is a concern for CSOs. At the same time, it is recognized that DPs need well managed, functioning CSOs to ensure that they achieve value for money. Nevertheless, overall donor interest in supporting CSOs seems to be increasing.

Findings from this study suggest a typical role identified for CSOs is programme or thematic area monitoring, as well as capacity building both a national and community level. DPs have provided funds for accountability institutions such as the Anti-Corruption Commission, but they also see CSOs as being able to provide a role in monitoring accountability in Government.

Funding modalities are changing, with individual donors now harmonising their funds within a basket mechanism. For example the Democratic Government Fund, the Independent Development Fund and the Civil Society Fund. This is apparently seen as a platform of assistance, with less direct donor exposure. There is a suggestion that DPs may be moving towards more core funding in the future.

Indirect Support: In addition to providing funds, DPs are able to create more space for CSOs, whereby DPs interact with CSOs and being aware of their (CSO) concerns, are able to articulate these at during ’DP – Government of Uganda’ meetings.

CSOs provided their own perspectives on DP support, which they saw as being overly ’programme specific’ or linked to a particular ’policy agenda’ rather than being concerned with the organisation itself or in CSO capacity building. In a similar vein, there was also a concern that DPs were more interested in working with well-developed CSOs. CSOs observed that capacity building might be a more cost effective route, reducing DP reliance on expensive consultants. It was also suggested that DPs might cut short a particular programme to respond to the DPs changing priorities. While acknowledging the benefits from donor harmonisation, providing a single entry point in the areas of good governance, human rights and accountability it lessened the opportunity for other important issues to be addressed. The requirement for CSOs to be able to respond to competitive proposals again precludes new, less experienced CSOs from participating according to CSO sources.

Role of International NGOs: Typically but not exclusively, a DP will contract an INGO (e.g. Care International or Oxfam International) who in turn will sub-contract or associate with a local organisation. The local CSO is then subject to the management requirements and budget as set by the INGO. It was not possible to examine these contractual relationships in detail, but they may not always be to the commercial or financial advantage of the smaller national CSO. However, incidences were cited where INGOs provided additional support such as capacity building or provided advisors to work with the local CSO on project management for example.

Financial Sustainability of CSOs: It was concluded that for a CSO to be financially viable it needed (a) a source of programme related funding (b) more flexible funding to be used more at the discretion of the national CSO, and (c) some element of core funding to enable at least some of the overhead costs to be covered. This would allow CSOs to be more ’pro-active’. It was outside the remit of this study to consider the financial viability of CSOs, but this surfaced as an important issue during the course of the fieldwork.

Overall conclusions

While spaces exist for many CSOs to participate, the legislation (NGO Act) in its amended form is seen by CSOs as undermining the policy of full and meaningful participation. However, in July 2012 a new NGO policy was announced, and while this is not yet in law it appears to be step in the right direction and has been given a cautious welcome. However, CSOs also continue to face constraints in accessing resources for policy dialogue. The introduction of a multi-party system of government has led to a polarizing of policy dialogue and debates especially where the issues are controversial. Private sector and commercial interests, especially in the forestry sector have led to Government decisions bordering on violation of its own policies and laws. The political interests and political interference in some respects has been in conflict with the set regulations, hence also leading to intimidation of CSOs that may oppose the politician’s stand.

In attempting to sum up the relationship between CSOs and Government it is important to distinguish between civil servants (as technical staff) and the political Government (politicians or staff who are political appointees). The relationship with the former has been and continues to be positive. In the case of the latter, there is more ambivalence, when the Government is criticised on controversial matters, on governance or corruption issues. That said, a number of politicians are pro-CSO and very supportive. It remains a complex relationship.

Coalition building: The study concludes that a key success factor in effective policy dialogue was through the formation of coalitions and networks between CSOs, although with the caveat that DPs need to re-focus on networking processes, rather than on network institution building. The flexible and fluid nature of existing networks seems to work well, in spite of its seemingly complex nature. The creation of more formal coalitions between CSOs and Government on the other hand is needed as policy development needs more legitimate opportunities for both parties (Government and CSOs) to interact. The formation of strategic alliances is also seen as important, both in terms of say two CSOs working together as well as vertical alliances with communities or local authorities.

Professionalism and consistency is respected by Government and DPs together with the capacity to collect, collate and communicate evidence-based information, indicating that it is to the advantage of both Government and DPs to ensure that the capacity of CSOs to deliver their services is improved. It follows that CSOs to have the credibility to hold government to account, must themselves ensure they work to the highest standards of professionalism and ethics. Recognising the importance of this issue the Quality Assurance Mechanism (QuAM) initiative was introduced by the NGO Forum which is considered an important step forward.

CSOs already work closely with the media and this has proved a powerful tool for advocacy and for holding government to account and for promoting the work of CSOs. The development of a strategy to enhance this relationship would be a useful next step.

CSO institutional support: The study concludes that to ensure the long-term viability of the CSO community will require a review of current funding mechanisms to provide on the one hand more flexible funding so that CSOs can develop their own long-term vision and programmes, while at the same time seeking means for CSOs to become less dependent on donor support and more able to generate their own funds. While this was outside the direct remit of the study is an important area which needs further research.

This page forms part of the publication 'Support to Civil Society Engagement in Policy Dialogue' as chapter 3 of 19
Version 1.0. 07-01-2013
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