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Do International Organizations Listen to CSOs?

John Garrison's picture

This was a central question posed by CIVICUS in its recent report, “Beyond our Two Minutes: State of Civil Society / Intergovernmental Organization Scorecard.” This first of a kind report considered the mechanisms for and effectiveness of the civil society engagement policies in ten prominent international organizations, including the World Bank Group (WBG). It was published as part of the “State of Civil Society Report for 2014” which has become an annual flagship report on the status of civil society worldwide.

The IGO Scorecard assessed the following IGOs:  FAO, OHCHR, ILO, UNAIDS, UNDP, UNHCR, UN Women, WBG, WFP, WTO.  The study assessed the civil society outreach policies and practices of the IGOs around four aspects and specifically: access, policy, programs, and empowerment.  The perception survey was based on two online questionnaires which CIVICUS sent out earlier this year, one geared to CSO representatives and the other for IGO staff.  CIVICUS received a total of 462 responses from CSOs (including 52 which commented on the WBG), and some 200 responses from IGO staff (including 26 from WBG staff).

Overall, the study found that global governance has undergone “incredible transformation” over the past 20-30 years, and there is much more space for civil society to access global organizations today.  It notes that “where once IGOs had to justify the inclusion of CSOs in their work, today it is the exclusion of CSOs that requires justification.”  It cites as an example the fact that the number of CSOs accredited with the United Nations grew from less than 100 in 1950 to over 3,900 today.  Yet, the report found that it is not clear how seriously IGOs take civil society outreach and how much influence CSO leaders exert beyond their ‘two minute’ plenary speeches at UN conferences.  The Scorecard found that IGO civil society ‘focal points’ also express concern about how effective their own outreach is, as well as feel that CSOs often lack the technical capacity and skills to influence IGO policies.