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9 Lessons learned

Based on examples of CSO engagement in policy dialogue and drawing on successes, and challenges in relation to policy processes, a number of lessons are presented below, arising out of the interviews and from the study’s analysis. While the study was not required to provide recommendations, the lessons learned will provide reflection points for the parties involved to develop a way forward on the critical issues raised.

9.1 Lessons for CSOs and Government at country level

Overcoming governance concerns among CSOs – the QuAM initiative

The lack of transparency and accountability by a section of CSOs has had a negative impact on CSO capacity to influence policy dialogue process, because they are seen as having no moral authority to hold Government accountable. The argument from both Government and DPs has been that CSOs need to clean out corrupt and untrustworthy elements, hence, the introduction of the QuAM initiative. CSOs continue to ask Government to be more transparent and accountable yet there are a number of incidences where their own governance practices fall short of acceptable standards. While it may be argued that such cases are uncommon and tend to happen with the so called ’brief case CSOs’, it still serves to undermine the effectiveness of CSOs demand for accountability from government. CSOs therefore need to be more transparent and open about their work and allow for scrutiny by all stakeholders, including Government. This would enhance the CSOs credibility, autonomy, and protection as well as cohesion amongst CSOs and good governance. The QuAM is a step in this direction.

Horizontal and vertical linkages crucial for effective dialogue

Vertical linkage: As noted above evidence and credibility are key ingredients of successful policy dialogue. Where CSOs have allied with communities that they serve, they have been able to collect the factual information that builds a convincing case for their suggestions to the policy development process. In addition, a strategic alliance with district and national stakeholders and networks also plays a crucial role in meaningful engagement in policy development processes. Working with local level alliances increases the evidence base for advocacy and strengthens credibility of findings during the policy dialogue with Government.

Horizontal linkage: Networks and coalitions enhance the power and authority of CSOs in policy dialogue engagement, with evidence suggesting they have been a key factor leading to several successes in policy dialogue and advocacy in Uganda. The study found that where success had been achieved by CSOs in policy dialogue, this was mainly a result of working through coalitions established for a specific purpose although looser networks, e.g. the Forestry Working Group (FWG) have also been successful in this regard. Examples of coalitions discussed in the report include the Coalition on Access to information that brought together human rights and Anti-Corruption CSOs leading to the enactment of the Access to Information Act, 2005. Another is the Coalition on Domestic Violence Bill that brought together CSOs working on women’s rights and elimination of sexual and gender based violence that effectively engaged in dialogue leading to the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act, 2010.

Working with the media: Working with the media to share and validate evidence used in policy formulation with local communities, contributes to success of policy dialogue. The media can be a useful means of reporting findings back to grass roots level, especially where research covered a wide geographic area. The media is influential both at local and national level, and often may set the agenda for discussion and stimulate action from Government. In policy dialogue, CSOs may provide the voice of those not in a position to speak out. CSOs also become the voice that presents findings back to these people. The media has also promoted CSO success stories, and thus helped boost CSO credibility. The media is a valuable means of maintaining debates, forcing research to be taken into account in policy discussions, and increasing awareness and understanding of issues, on both national and international scale. This is especially beneficial if CSOs feel policymakers are not taking them seriously. It is undeniable that politicians are forced to take more interest in issues when they come to public attention, in either a positive or a negative manner. In spite of the important role already played, there is potential for the media to expand its role as a convenient and highly efficient disseminator of CSO information.

Mutual collaboration between Government and CSOs

The recently launched NGO Policy (July 2012) is seen by CSOs as a step in the right direction (albeit with some qualifications[91]) overcoming some of the earlier concerns expressed in this report. It was developed following protracted contributions by CSOs to the dialogue process. Likewise, the ability of CSOs to successfully influence policy dialogue processes will depend on a favourable regulatory framework. Since policy dialogue takes place between Government and CSOs, CSOs play the role of bridging the gap between the State and private citizens, while the Government exists to ensure the welfare of citizens. Because of their closeness to the lower echelons of society, CSOs understand better how evidence can contribute to pro-poor policy processes. Government has the mandate and resources to ensure that pro-poor polices are developed and implemented. As such the development of policies needs to embrace the contributions of both parties, and from a critical mass of CSOs for the policies to be legitimate. Development of a mechanism for institutionalising and regularising the CSO to Government relationship, which was based on mutual respect and accountability, would be useful in strengthening policy dialogue for the common good. Government will need to create spaces in which CSOs feel safe to negotiate knowing that all are contributing to the same goals of developing the country. CSOs and Government need to work together as partners to strengthen both their legitimacy and credibility in policy dialogue processes.

Importance of evidence-based research: Government officials, DPs and CSOs acknowledged that a high level of professionalism, consistency, and factually-based evidence are respected in policy dialogue. Some CSOs have over the years focused on specific areas and developed strong competence in research and policy analysis earning them respect by government. Examples of such CSOs mentioned include ACODE, Uganda Debt Network, National NGO Forum, Uganda Land Alliance, CEDOVIP and actors in the women’s movement such as Uganda Women’s Network. The CSOs provide well researched position papers on particular issues. Their opinions are based on evidence and they present a number of proposals, which policy makers can consider. Uganda Debt Network, for instance, argues that Government has usually taken up 80% of their proposals on the budget, although they may not be publicly acknowledged. ULA also notes that over 80% of their proposals to draft six of the land policy had been taken up by Government, while proposals from CSOs in the Sexual Offences Law and GBV were taken up by Government.

CSO capacity

The level of CSO capacity is a critical factor for effective policy engagement, which can either promote or undermine the credibility of CSOs. Capacity encompasses many aspects, from policy advocacy skills to technical knowledge, research skills, and availability of the resources necessary to support an organisation. Capacity to collect, collate and communicate evidence in the most constructive and compelling manner is of great importance in policy advocacy, and is key to the success of any dialogue process. A great number of CSOs lack this capacity and rely on others to play this role. While acknowledging that capacity development takes time, CSOs argue that Government and indeed DPs needs to be more accommodating to CSOs, while CSOs should also be more aware of the available research and make better use of it in policymaking. There are examples which illustrate this lesson: In the case of the networks lobbying and advocating with the National Agricultural Advisory Services, NAADS, e.g. the Coalition for Effective Extension Delivery and Gender Alliance on NAADS, there is evidence to suggest that this has led to an increase in women’s participation and more voices of farmers in decisions at local level. However, other CSOs without adequate capacity have failed to influence NAADS or impact on its policy[92].

9.2 Lessons for DP strategies

The lessons draw on the debate on programme specific funding, flexible funding and core funding for CSOs. Funding mechanisms that provide core support to CSOs lead to longer-term sustainability and strengthens CSOs while project support impacts negatively on CSOs, undermining CSO sustainability and institutional growth. Core funding on the other hand has enabled CSOs to build the capacity necessary for effective engagement in policy dialogue. The CSOs that have had longer term core support from DPs have grown stronger and more effective in policy dialogue. The CSOs are able to recruit policy and advocacy expertise and undertake research to inform policy development processes. Core funding spread over a number of years makes it possible for CSOs to follow a process and maintain consistency and a sustained programme of dialogue. For CSOs to remain financially sound, sustainable and adequately resourced, funding would be needed in three main areas:

  • Programme related funding from a DP or government agency seeking particular services which the CSO could provide
  • A flexible source of funding which would provide the CSO with the opportunity to decide how and when it can be used in its policy engagement activities, and
  • An element of ’core funding’ to enable the overhead costs to be covered (office, administration, utility legal and insurance costs etc.).

It is important that DPs are aware of the funding mechanisms that impact negatively on CSOs in terms of their ability to act as effective players in policy dialogue processes. While direct CSO support may be preferred by national CSOs, DPs own country policies and dynamics may be the determinants of the actual mechanisms of support. Harmonised multi-donor funding facilities offer opportunities for supporting policy dialogue. However, caution should be exercise so that the harmonised approaches are not leading to DPs setting their own agendas. CSOs mentioned the likelihood of negative implications of harmonisation such as lock out of CSOs who may not meet the set criteria for the tagged thematic and geographical focus of the big funds.

Non-financial support to CSOs by DPs is as important as financial support. DPs have an opportunity to enter into dialogue and mediate on spaces that may not be accessible to CSOs. DP dialogue with Government offer an opportunity for discussion and resolution of issues of concern that CSOs may not be able to put themselves. Sharing of useful policy information between DPs, CSOs and Government facilitates CSOs effectiveness in dialogue at all stages of the policy cycle.

DP support to CSOs will need to be focused on well targeted policy dialogue approaches that create results. Deliberate programming for policy dialogue by CSOs has made policy dialogue work for CSOs, helping them not to be reactive to situations, but have sufficient readiness to react with credible information. The use of targeted advocacy tools such as CBME, Score Cards and Citizens Manifestos have helped to collect and provide the evidence required for policy influence. Evidence-based research provided issue points for policy dialogue while tools and Community based Structures provided the platform for communities to monitor policy implementation. CSO strategies that strengthen the capacity of the target group to use these tools to monitor policies, puts the power in the hands of citizens to demand for accountability and better service delivery by duty bearers. The formal and informal dialogue structures and coalitions of CSOs have been more effective and create a larger voice for CSOs and enhance their potential to be influential rather than them acting as individual CSOs. DPs support of CSOs monitoring of government policy and programs strengthens service delivery.

Other targeted approaches of CSOs that have made inroads into the policy process include public dialogues which offer a platform for public debate by all parties involved, media advocacy which facilitates social mobilisation, public demonstrations and petitions, public interest litigation which use the courts of law for mediation on issues that cannot be solved through dialogue an and sponsorship of the private members bills.

[91] The NGO Forum stated its most worrisome concern was that MoUs would have to be signed by government departments at all levels, even where NGOs had no representation (Source: NGO Forum Website).

[92] CSO Capacity for Policy Engagement: Lessons Learned from the CSPP Consultations in Africa, Asia and Latin America Overseas Development Institute, Working Paper 272.

This page forms part of the publication 'Support to Civil Society Engagement in Policy Dialogue' as chapter 12 of 19
Version 1.0. 07-01-2013
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