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Civil Society and the Dangers of Monoculture: Smart New Primer from Mike Edwards

Duncan Green's picture

Mike Edwards has just written a 3rd edition of his book ‘Civil Society’. It’s a 130 page primer, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy reading. I found some of the conceptual stuff on different understandings of civil society pretty hard going, but was repaid with some really interesting and innovative systems thinking, leading to what I think are some novel suggestions for how NGOs and donors should/shouldn’t try to support civil society in developing countries.

Edwards sets out some fairly arcane (to me anyway) debates, identifying three schools of thought that see CS as

  • ‘Associational life’ that builds trust and social capital (de Toqueville, Robert Puttnam, etc)
  • The Good Society: a good thing in itself
  • A protagonist in the public sphere, incubating debates that will eventually turn into laws and policies (think tobacco campaigners, or women’s rights)

"'What to do' depends on what one understands civil society to be. Devotees of associational life will focus on filling in the gaps and disconnections in the civil society ecosystem, promoting volunteering and voluntary action, securing an “enabling environment” that privileges NGOs and other civic organizations through tax breaks, and protecting them from undue interference through laws and regulations that guarantee freedom of association" (pg. 108)

"Believers in the good society will focus on building positive interactions between institutions in government, the market and the voluntary sector around common goals such as poverty reduction, human rights and deep democracy" (pg. 108)

"Supporters of civil society as the public sphere will focus on promoting access to, and independence for, the structures of communication, extending the paths and meeting grounds that facilitate public deliberation and building the capacities that citizens require to engage with each other across their private boundaries" (pg. 108)

Unsurprisingly, Edwards advocates a synthesis of all three, but then he gets interesting.

People Power: What Do We Know About Empowered Citizens and Development?

Duncan Green's picture

This is a short piece written for UNDP, which is organizing my Kapuscinski lecture in Malta on Wednesday (4pm GMT, webcast live)

Power is intangible, but crucial; a subtle and pervasive force field connecting individuals, communities and nations in a constant process of negotiation, contestation and change. Development is, at its heart, about the redistribution and accumulation of power by citizens.

Much of the standard work on empowerment focuses on institutions and the world of formal power – can people vote, express dissent, organise, find decent jobs, get access to information and justice?

These are all crucial questions, but there is an earlier stage; power ‘within’. The very first step of empowerment takes place in the hearts and minds of the individuals who ask: ‘Do I have rights? Am I a fit person to express a view? Why should anyone listen to me? Am I willing and able to speak up, and what will happen if I do?’

Asking, (and answering) such questions is the first step in exercising citizenship, the process by which men and women engage with each other, and with decision-makers; coming together to seek improvements in their lives. Such engagement can be peaceful (the daily exercise of the social contract between citizen and state), but it may also involve disagreement and conflict, particularly when power must be surrendered by the powerful, to empower those ‘beneath’ them.

Blog Post of the Month: The Best Evidence Yet on How Theories of Change are Being Used in Aid and Development Work

Duncan Green's picture
Each month, People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion.

In September 2014, the most popular blog post was "The Best Evidence Yet on How Theories of Change are Being Used in Aid and Development Work"

In this post, Duncan Green, provides an overview of Craig Valters’ new paper ‘Theories of Change in International Development: Communication, Learning or Accountability’  The paper, and Duncan's blog post, help answer the question: will Theories of Change "go the way of the logframe, starting out as a good idea, but being steadily dumbed down into a counterproductive tickbox exercise by the procedural demands of the aid business?"

Read the blog post to learn more!
 

How Change Happens: Great New Case Studies + Analysis on ‘Politically Smart, Locally Led Development’

Duncan Green's picture

The research star of the show at last week’s Thinking and Working Politically event was a great new ODI paper from David Booth and Sue Unsworth. Bioversity International/Ronnie Vernooy

Politically smart, locally led development seeks to identify the secret sauce behind 7 large and successful aid programmes: a rural livelihoods programme in India; land titling and tax reform in the Philippines; disarmament, demobilization and reintegration in the Eastern Congo; the EU’s global plan of action to reduce illegal logging; civil society advocacy on rice, education and HIV in Burma and inclusive governance in Nepal.

The paper identifies a number of common elements:

The Best Evidence Yet on How Theories of Change are Being Used in Aid and Development Work

Duncan Green's picture

If you are interested in Theories of Change (ToCs), you have to read Craig Valters’ new paper ‘Theories of Change in International Development: Communication, Learning or Accountability’ or at least, his accompanying blog. The paper draws on the fascinating collaboration between the LSE and The Asia Foundation, in which TAF gave LSE researchers access to its country programmes and asked them to study their use of ToCs. That means Craig has been able to observe their use (and abuse) in practice.

What this paper helps answer is the question I raised a while ago – will ToCs go the way of the logframe, starting out as a good idea, but being steadily dumbed down into a counterproductive tickbox exercise by the procedural demands of the aid business?

What’s the Best Way to Measure Empowerment?

Duncan Green's picture

Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) used to send me into a coma, but I have to admit, I’m starting to get sucked in. After all, who doesn’t want to know more about the impact of what we do all day?

So I picked up the latest issue of Oxfam’s Gender and Development Journal (GAD), on MEL in gender rights work, with a shameful degree of interest.

Two pieces stood out. The first, a reflection on Oxfam’s attempts to measure women’s empowerment, had some headline findings that ‘women participants in the project were more likely to have the opportunity and feel able to influence affairs in their community. In contrast, none of the reviews found clear evidence of women’s increased involvement in key aspects of household decision-making.’ So changing what goes on within the household is the toughest nut to crack? Sounds about right.

But (with apologies to Oxfam colleagues), I was even more interested in an article by Jane Carter and 9 (yes, nine) co-authors, looking at 3 Swiss-funded women’s empowerment projects (Nepal, Bangladesh and Kosovo). They explored the tensions between the kinds of MEL preferred by donors (broadly, generating lots of numbers) and alternative ways to measure what has been going on.

Strengthening Active Citizenship After a Traumatic Civil War: Dilemmas and Ideas in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Duncan Green's picture

I went to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) last week to help Oxfam Italia develop advocacy and campaign skills among local civil society organizations. They have their work cut out.

Firstly, there is a crisis of trust between the public and CSOs, which are poorly regulated, often seen as little more than ‘briefcase NGOs’, only interested in winning funding, and under constant attack from politicians. Many CSOs seem pretty disillusioned, faced with a shrinking donor pot and public hostility.

I think there’s a strong case for the CSOs to take the lead in putting their house in order, practicing what they preach on transparency and accountability, and working with government to sort out the legitimate organizations from ones that have registered (there are some 10,000 in the country) but do nothing, (or worse).

Meanwhile, Oxfam is working with some of the more dynamic ones to develop the advocacy and campaign skills of what is still a maturing civil society network (after decades of state socialism, followed by a devastating war, and then an influx of donor cash that had mixed results). Two days of conversation and debate with some great organizations working on everything from disability rights to enterprise development to youth leadership identified some big issues and dilemmas:
 

How 4 Million People Signed up to a Campaign to End Violence against Women: Case study for your comments

Duncan Green's picture

Next up in the draft case studies on ‘active citizenship’ is the story of an amazing campaign from South Asia and beyond. Please comment on the draft paper [We Can consultation draft May 2014].

We Can End All Violence Against Women (henceforward We Can) is an extraordinary, viral campaign on violence against women (VAW) in South Asia, reaching millions of men and women across six countries and subsequently spreading to other countries in Africa, Europe and the Americas. What’s different about We Can (apart from its scale) is:

  • It is not primarily concerned with changing policies, laws, constitutions or lobbying the authorities. Instead, it aims to go to scale, by changing attitudes and beliefs about gender roles at community level. A special feature is the ‘Change Maker’ approach, which comes with a ritual in the form of the “We Can” pledge to reflect on one’s own practice, end VAW in one’s own life and to talk to 10 others about it.
  • It seeks to involve men as well as women, with remarkable success
  • Its origins lie in a South-South exchange: We Can’s methodology was developed from VAW community programmes in Uganda.

Launched in 2004, by 2011 We Can had signed up approximately 3.9 million women and men to be ‘Change Makers’ – advocating for an end to VAW in their homes and communities. Unexpectedly, about half the Change Makers were men. An external evaluation in 2011 conservatively estimated that ‘some 7.4 million women and men who participated in “We Can” and related activities, have started transforming their perceptions of gender roles and VAW, as well as their behaviour.’

Campaign Art: The Power of Water

Roxanne Bauer's picture

People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Globally, unclean water and a lack of sanitation pose significant risks to the health and wellbeing of people as well as to efforts to end extreme poverty and disease in the world’s poorest countries. 

The following video by Water.org illustrates the tragic nature of the water crisis and their drive for new solutions, financing models, and greater transparency.

The Power of Water

Reformers vs. Lobbyists: Where have We Got to on Tackling Corporate Tax Dodging?

Duncan Green's picture

The rhythm of NGO advocacy and campaigning sometimes makes it particularly hard to work on complicated issues, involving drawn-out negotiations where bad guys have more resources and staying power than we do. Campaigns on trade, climate change, debt relief etc often follow a similar trajectory – a big NGO splash as a new issue breaks, then activists realize they need to go back to school (I remember getting briefings on bond contracts during the 1998 Asia financial crisis) or employ new kinds of specialists who can talk the new talk. And then for a while we get geeky, entering into the detail of international negotiations, debating with lobbyists and academics. When it works (as in the debt campaign), we contribute to remarkable victories or to stopping bad stuff happening (which I would argue was a big civil society contribution at the WTO).
 


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