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Developments in Mapping Civil Society Organisations

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23 September 2013

It has been a year since the European Commission adopted ‘The Roots of Democracy and Sustainable Development: Europe’s Engagement with Civil Society in External Relations‘ Communication, which promotes a more strategic engagement of the EU with civil society. EuropeAid’s Virginia Manzitti reviews the progress made in mapping civil society, and provides practical advice going forwards.

The Communication emphasises the role of civil society (CS) in governance, as well as in sustainable development. Specific knowledge of the CS arena is needed to successfully implement this policy, and to help obtain that, a new generation of the so-called “civil society mappings” is underway.

“The new policy provides us with an ambitious and challenging agenda,” said Virginia Manzitti, Head of Sector in the Civil Society and Local Authorities unit at EuropeAid last week, reviewing the three priorities outlined in the Communication: 

•Active support to a more conducive environment in terms of legal and regulatory frameworks, to allow space and partnerships for CS with public authorities. 

•Support to CS action in policy-making processes, in domestic accountability and in transparency.

•Support to local organisations to develop their capacity and sustainability.


To understand who the actors are, how they interact with one another, with the government, with donors and so on, and to identify what is at stake in the civic arena in a given country, the European Commission (EC) undertakes a process called ‘mapping’ of civil society. The EC started to develop mappings early in 2000, and is seen to be a front-runner in this practice. 

“The first generation of mappings was more functional to designing and implementing the support programmes for CS under the European Development Funds,” said Manzitti. 

“But with a more ambitious agenda, mapping is also becoming more ambitious,” she said.




It is a quick changing landscape for civil society. In some countries, CSOs face a wave of restrictive measures while in others, new spaces and opportunities are opening. The new mappings focus on context analysis, while assessing the connections between civil society and other actors.

To improve the process, the EC recently completed a review of its mapping studies, which will feed into the updated guidance being prepared to respond to the growing interest and demand from EU Delegations (LINK).

Beatriz Sanz Corella, the expert who conducted this review, recently presented the main conclusions at the DEVCO seminar for delegation staff, ‘Implementing the New Policy on Civil Society Organisations”.

She identifies these “top-ranking changes or innovations” when mapping civil society, which will enhance the quality of the mappings and lead to better engagement.

1.“It is not just about the actors,“ she said. Civil society works in a context where they interact with the government at national level, with local authorities, with the donors, with the private sector, etc, and those relationships and interactions need to be considered.“We have to look at the context. In particular, there is one straightforward question we need to consider: is the environment enabling?” she continued. In some the contexts, it could be difficult or even harmful to look at certain CSOs and give them too much visibility. Being realistic about what can be achieved in any context is also key. 

2.Mappings can be tailored, with specific questions posed depending on how the information will be used - be it for programming exercise or if a budget support programme is being set up, and the most appropriate CSOs to engage with need to be identified. “There are no ready-made recipes for mapping and that is something that is very relevant for Delegations to consider, “ said Sanz Corella. “It is also important to always question yourself, and reassess your hypotheses.”

3.Take the civic arena into consideration. Sanz Corella cited the example of citizen empowerment seen in the wave of street protests and different ways of expression, supported by social media and ad hoc alliances, where people are joining together various causes: those actors are becoming more relevant. “It’s not just about what you see that is visible, there is much more to it than that,” she said.  

4.The process is just as important as the outcome. “You have to be very respectful to the actors and give something to them,” explained Sanz Corella. ”In addition, they have to benefit somehow from the process of mapping, not just the study that will come afterwards.” To get actors interested and build ownership for them in the process of mapping, choose questions that are relevant to them, and not simply relevant to the EU.

5.There are new governance tools and frameworks available, which are more sophisticated and adapted to suit different contexts. Participatory methods are also on the rise.

Yet, despite this progress, some major challenges remain, said Virginia Manzitti.

The quality, relevance and soundness of mapping is very important from a governance perspective. “The exercise therefore needs to be credible, handled with professionalism and with proven methodology,” she said.

Importantly, mapping is no longer the exercise of “focal persons” in delegation; it needs to have the participation of all sections of the delegation.  Equally important from a process perspective is the fact that CSOs are dynamic:  a mapping may soon become obsolete if there is not an easy way to update it. “This is an important lesson learned,” advised Manzitti.

Finally, the EU agenda for civil society requires increased coordination with EU Member States and with other international partners. As far as possible, make mapping a shared and multi-donor exercise. 

“At country level, EU roadmaps for engagement with civil society organisations - as outlined in the policy - will help promote a more strategic engagement with CS, mixing soft elements as dialogue, political support and diplomacy with operational support, funds and more “traditional” development work,” said Manzitti . 

“Keep in mind that a good mapping is a key ingredient for a good roadmap.”

There is more information about EC engagement with civil society in the Public Group on Civil Society.

This collaborative piece was drafted with input from Virginia Manzitti, Erika Pasquini and Bea Sanz Corella, with support from the Coordination Team.


DISCLAIMER: This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission, or any other organisation.


It  seems that the scope of the mapping is limited to civil society (as defined by EU in earlier documents). Or am I right in inferring that the EU is not  going to conduct a mapping exercise of Non-State Actors, which is a far broader and more complex category?

Civil Society is a concept that has some limitations in its application to the study of developing countries. Hence, if the new mapping methodology is to be applied only to  the study of civil society, the outcome of the study is going to be similarly limited.

A good example of a mapping of non-state actors in Ethiopia carried out by EU in 2008(Framework Contract Benef. Lot N° 7
Request for Services N° 2007/146027 ) is an excellent example of EU's knowledge leadership.

I hope  that  the innovations introduced in the mapping exercises shall not take non-state actors,  not falling under the mainstream definition of civil society, just as" part of the civic arena" i.e. mere background information.  That will certainly impoverish our understanding of the role of the a rich tapestry of traditional,non-traditional, state affiliated, tribal or community-based self-help associations in a developing country setting.

The question is interesting. The new generation of mapping integrates a comprehensive approach with a governance perspective, where CS actors are looked at in a broader perspective. There is also growing attention for new forms and emerging actors, including social movements, the scope of mapping is therefore expanding.

I saw in the video feed a document entitled Mapping and Society Assessments, and was wondering how I go about obtaining a copy -- if it is available?  This would greatly help my work on civil society engagement.

The document "Mappings and Civil Society Assessments - a study of past, present and future trends" is published in the DEVCO Tools and Methods Series and is available via the link below:

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