Roadmaps to Engage Civil Society
For European Union delegations and member states, working effectively with civil society organisations presents different challenges. In Chad it takes five days of desert travel to reach organisations in the north; in Azerbaijan there are about 3000 registered NGOs; in Trinidad & Tobago some CSOs find that their insights are not being recognised and validated sufficiently; and until recently in Bangladesh knowledge was mostly available only on groups involved in service-delivery.
Hence why more than 40 EU staff from Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific met in Brussels last month to exchange ideas on how best to prepare their first "EU Country Roadmap for Engagement with Civil Society", due by the end of July 2014.
The Roadmaps are envisaged in the 2012 Communication from the European Commission on The roots of democracy and sustainable development: Europe’s engagement with Civil Society in external relations. The purpose is to develop a common strategic framework for the engagement of EU Delegations and Member States with civil society at country level, with a view to improving the impact, predictability and visibility of EU actions. There are a number of stages, including: evaluating the state of local civil society and the current level of EU engagement, setting EU priorities and actions, and finally, monitoring.
According to the Communication, “the roadmaps should be developed taking into account the views of civil society, be regularly updated and where appropriate, made publicly available and shared with national authorities”.
EuropeAid programme manager Thomas Hansen said thorough consultations with civil society are an essential step, though this will take different forms in different countries.
“The Roadmap doesn’t come with new money,” Mr Hansen said. “It’s a question of putting your house in order, so to speak. We have the different thematic programmes, we have the bilateral support, we have the regional programmes. They all interact with civil society in one way or another and the idea of the Roadmap is to have an overarching strategic framework - what is it we really want to achieve?”
More information on the objectives and Roadmap process is available in this short video with Thomas Hansen and Beatriz Sanz Corella, team leader of a facility set up by EuropeAid to support the delegations in the Roadmap process.
A common theme at the seminar in Brussels was the importance of providing ongoing feedback to civil society organisations.
“Every organisation we meet we take minutes and we send them the information, and we try every time to highlight what has been new for us,” said Laurent Le Danois, an attaché with the EU Delegation to India.
Not all transparency is good however, and Mr Danois said another lesson was the need to reveal funding levels only once these were confirmed, to avoid raising expectations.
Roadmaps are being developed on the basis of a wide range of existing documents. These include EU Human Rights country strategies and concept notes developed for the Thematic Programme Civil Society Organisations and Local Authorities. In some cases mapping studies may also be available. For instance, the EU Delegation to Trinidad & Tobago had already mapped civil society organisations in 2012, giving it a head-start in preparing its Roadmap.
“We conducted a mapping exercise where we found out who is doing what, where, and what capacity they had,” said Monica Paul-McLean, a programme officer with the EU Delegation to Trinidad and Tobago. “We said ‘we are trying to get a sense of where you all are [and] what your needs are strategically, before we start funding all these ad hoc activities’.”
After the delegation provided detailed feedback on that consultation, Ms Paul-McLean reported many civil society organisations were quite pleased with the result.
“They shared a lot of the sentiments and the recommendations, so that mapping informed a lot of what we are going to put in the Roadmap activity.”
Participants also discussed how to evaluate whether a country has an enabling environment for civil society. This is one of the issues analysed in the Roadmaps and many Roadmaps are expected to include specific priorities on this important issue.
According to Katerina Hadzi-Miceva Evans from the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law this depends on three factors, measured against international standards: the content of legislation, the process of how legislation is prepared, and how laws are implemented.
“Oftentimes we will have situations when the governments will consult groups who are closer to them and say ‘yes, we did a consultation’, even though they have marginalised those who are really important in the process,” Ms Hadzi-Miceva Evans said. “For the sector it’s important to speak about those cases and to point out those cases - to not allow for legitimisation of the policy or the law, even when it is adopted.”
This collaborative piece was drafted with input from Thomas Hansen and support from the capacity4dev.eu Coordination Team. Teaser image courtesy of Cambodia4kids.org - Beth Kanter.