Civil society: Operational implications


CSOs can have a legitimate role to play in development; they should therefore be part of country CD processes – both as recipients as well as providers of CD support. It is important to acknowledge the complexity and diversity of CSOs and take it into account to manage expectations on what they can achieve. This section discusses the implications that follow from the evidence described previously. It looks at operational challenges and potential behavioural changes across actors – donors, INGOs, partner countries governments, as well as CSOs themselves.

Implications for all actors – in donor and partner countries

  • Understanding and adapting to the context is crucial. CD processes are constantly affected by external forces and factors; CSOs capacity needs evolve as the context evolves. Local CD support providers bring an advantage because of their understanding, proximity of and linkages with the national and particularly the local context.
  • Providing support to CD – for CSOs, as well as by CSOs – calls for a demand-driven and comprehensive approach that goes beyond training and short-term support. Recent thinking is that CD efforts also need to be considered from a systems perspective, recognizing the dynamics and connections among CSOs, other actors, and the context they are embedded in (Court et al., 2006; OECD, 2009).
  • A long-term perspective. Strategic links can be shaped that connect short-term activities like training to long-term support and follow up for sustainable change inside CSOs  as well as to shape external factors affecting CSO performance and ability to use acquired capacities in their functions[1].
  • More joint efforts are needed by all actors to seek and promote context-based, coordinated innovative and flexible support mechanisms - including more flexible funding mechanisms. As suggested in the 2008 Bonn Consensus, mechanisms for funding CD support to CSOs should be impartially managed to guard against instrumentalisation of CSOs. Two examples of pooled funding to support CD of CSOs are offered in Box 14 below. Desirable features of pooled funding might include:
    • A pooled funding mechanism to support CSO CD that is agreeable by all stakeholders;
    • Impartial management of pooled funds - according to agreed standards;
    • The possibility to leave space for CSOs to define their agenda and contribution to the policy debate;
    • Safeguards against excessive donor and government influence in CSO decision-making.
  • A joint effort is needed to enhance availability and sharing of evidence on good and bad practices in CD support for CSOs and by CSOs, and on the impact of such interventions. It is vital to provide the necessary investment of time and resources, both human and financial. Efforts to learn about innovative and effective practices in this area must be stimulated[2].

Box 14: Pooled funding for CD Support to CSOs in Mali and in Ghana

Mali. In order to support CD of CSOs in Mali, the European Union, Denmark, Sweden, Canada and Switzerland have recently joint efforts and pooled their funds to establish the Programme d’Appui aux Organizations de la Société Civile malienne (Civil Society Organizations Support Program in Mali). The objective of the Civil Society Organizations Support Program in Mali is to support CD of CSOs to transform them into proactive stakeholders that engage the government in developing programmes and policies that are more responsive to the needs of the people. The programme is innovative as it targets CSOs in Mali operating in all development areas rather than in a specific sector. An independent management agency will be set up through a tender to implement the programme.

In Ghana, The Ghana Research and Advocacy Programme “G-RAP” provides grants to Ghana-based institutions that engage in pro-poor public policy research and advocacy. Specifically, G-RAP provides core grant support - as opposed to project support - to strengthen the capacity and funding base of these institutions as well as their autonomy to conduct evidence based research and advocacy that informs and monitors pro-poor policy processes and implementation. G-RAP offers access to multi-annual Core Grants to organisations with an established track record of influencing public policy processes. The size of a Core Grant is tailored to the needs and absorption capacity of each successful applicant, and can range between 25% and 40% of the institution’s total annual budget per grant year. Core Grants - sometimes called budget support - do not target specific projects or activities but go to support overall budgets of organisations. This implies that Core Grants may also be used to finance overhead or investment costs. A characteristic of Core Grants is that it allows beneficiary organizations a lot of space to prioritize the use of the funds. On the other hand, an institution receiving a Core Grant will have to report to G-RAP twice a year on its entire financial exercise (income and expenditure).

Implications for donors and international NGOs

  • Support sustained and active CSO engagement and participation in national CD processes – both as recipients as well as providers … with arm’s length oversight. Support to CSOs participation in development processes should be meaningful and well informed. CSO engagement should not be imposed as a as a donor requirement. Donor efforts could focus on facilitating the creation of enabling conditions that allow CSOs to come in and gradually engage according to their comparative strengths and areas of expertise and over long time periods – beyond the timeframe of donor support.
  • A full appreciation of the context and dynamics shaping state and non-state actor interactions in any given country must include an understanding if the potential for changes in state-citizen-CSO relationships that the provision of CD support might create. Donor increased focus and resources devoted to providing support to CSOs could potentially undermine state capacities – for example in terms of skilled staff transfer from state institutions to donor/INGOs-financed CSOs. Although this is true everywhere, it is of particular importance in least developed countries and post-conflict situations, where it is fundamental “not to push”, to recognize existing capacities, manage expectations and anticipate limitations of what CSOs can achieve (Hamill and Ali-Ahmad 2007).
  • Coordination by donors and INGOs of their CD support to CSOs is fundamental to avoid duplication and overburdening the CSOs absorptive capacity – for example channelling fund through pooled funding mechanisms. Harmonization and alignment to targeted institution needs and priorities are relevant for effective CD support to CSOs as well as other state and non-state actors.

Box 15: Example of 4 initiatives to enhance effectiveness of CD service delivery to local organizations

A ten-month study commissioned by USAID and conducted by Pact’s Capacity Building Services Group analysed the system of interactions that delivers capacity building interventions to the local organizations that work directly with communities in need.  The research focused on defining, measuring, and fostering action around performance improvement of supply-side and demand-side issues that affect local service providers in our case study countries of Zambia and Ecuador. The study cited four examples of initiatives to enhance effectiveness of CD service delivery to local organizations – including CSOs. These are:

  1. Capacity Building Accounts (CBAs) are small grants, provided to local NGOs to obtain capacity building services from the provider of their choice. CBAs give local organizations greater control over their own organizational development, and help to foster a vibrant local marketplace that links those needing high quality capacity services with those capable of delivering them.
  2. Linking NGOs with Capacity Services (LINCS) is a unique approach for mapping the needs of local organizations, and connecting local demand for capacity building services with local supply. The centrepiece of LINCS is an event, modelled on a ‘silent auction,’ that brings NGOs together with local capacity building service providers in a real-time marketplace.
  3. Service Provider Associations assist local capacity service providers to build social capital and access potential consumers, as well as other national and international actors in the value chain. Collaborating together, local providers are able to engage in activities that improve the standing and brand power of local organizations and individuals.
  4. SAGE Market Monitoring is a tool to assess demand and supply for local capacity building services. SAGE is comprised of four key measures identified as catalytic for the development of local capacity service markets – Service Quality, Assets, Agility and Efficiency

Elaborated from” Building Dynamic Local Service Provider Communities: A Value Chain Approach”.  USAID, 2006

  • Development partners – such as donors and INGOs - should support atransparent market for CD support services, based upon a clear understanding of the supply and demand dynamics for CD support and a good knowledge of the local CD market place. Such market should be open and accessible to local providers. The potential of Southern CD providers – including local CSOs- should indeed be acknowledged and made use of. To this end, it is essential to support the development of think thanks, South-South cooperation mechanisms and civil society service providers for CD (Bonn Consensus report, 2008). Box 15 above shows 4 examples of initiatives to enhance effectiveness of CD service delivery to local organizations.
  • INGOs still play an important role as intermediaries between local CSOs and donors. Donors-INGOs-CSOs relationships should be rethought - starting with donors and INGOs thinking through and clearly articulating their own strategies, incentive systems, motivations and methods to support CD for CSOs. Behavioural changes as well as changes in the incentive structure for CD providers should lean towards promoting sustainability and local CSOs ownership of their CD processes – which also entails the identification of appropriate phasing-out and exit strategies for INGO support. INGOs should therefore consider internal change processes which improve the quality of CD support design and implementation practice in line with evolving understanding of good practice. At the same time, donor approaches in contracting INGOs and CSOs should provide the right incentives and allow sufficient time and resources to provide effective and sustainable CD support.

Box 16: A changing role for INGOs

CARE Programme on Supporting Women on the Move in Niger offers an example of how the role of external support organizations such as INGOs can change over time. In this case, CARE support evolved from a ground level testing and frontline service to an upper-tier training and advisory organization. Such evolution has allowed CARE to move to the background as local groups have stepped up, promoting local learning and ownership of the program and ensuring that the growth of women groups continues to be driven by local demand.

Elaborated from Campbell and Stapenhurst, 2005

Implications for Partner Country Governments

  • Commitment from partner country governments is crucial to strengthen their own capacities to engage with and value the contributions of CSOs. This also includes the capacity to set a conductive enabling environment, such as the legal recognition of CSO rights, suitable legal and regulatory frameworks for CSOs operations or maintaining open channels of communication with CSOs[3]. It is desirable that CSO-state relations move beyond the individual level – e.g. personal relations between a political leader and CSOs – to be institutionalised and formalised.
  • Partner countries governments can also play an important role in supporting and promoting coordination and complementarities across CSOs and with other development actors operating in the country – for example facilitating dialogue and providing the right incentive to coordination arrangements.
  • Easily accessible and readable informationhas been pointed out by many CSOs as fundamental for their capacity to effectively contribute to development polices and processes[4]. Partner country governments have an important role to play in facilitating access to information.

Implication for CSOs

  • CSOs ownership of and leadershipin defining their own capacity needs and strategy and in managing CD expectations is vital for the sustainability of CD processes. An example from Guatemala (Box 17) shows the importance of local actors’ leadership in CD - with the donors playing a supportive role. 

Box 17: CSOs taking the lead in Guatemala

A case study on Guatemala’s CSOs community shows the importance of local actors’ leadership and donor coordination in rebuilding capacities in post-conflict situations.  An assembly of CSOs played a key role in starting to rebuild a country devastated by civil war. They were assisted by donors, which devised a coordinated strategy, with one agency acting as facilitator. The careful construction of a process of dialogue, capacity mapping and eventually the commissioning of pilot development projects helped foster an atmosphere of trust that led to civic regeneration.

(Guatemala case study in Lopes and Theisohn, 2003)

  • As the number of actors in the development arena rises, so does the competition for available aid resources. The capacity to assess their own impact and effectiveness and to use such evidence to make the point for their own existence assumes therefore great value for CSOs, together with the capacities to pursue suitable survivability and sustainability strategies – including financial sustainability.
  • Networking and collaborationacross CSOs at the national and regional level should be promoted to facilitate joint learning and experience sharing in relation to CD practices[5]. CSOs should seek the assistance of donors and governments to support South-South cooperation across CSOs and CSO consortia. As CSOs are increasingly engaging in the provision of CD support, they should join efforts with other development actors in the North and the South to share experiences, consolidate lessons learnt and identify good practices in CD.
  • CSOs might face the dilemma of being effective and showing results quickly versus the mandate of being representative of the voices and responsive to the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable – which might require longer timeframes to show results. A balance need to be found between a contracting culture – in which CSOs are accountable for results and deliverables mainly to donors and  INGOs – versus a culture in which CSOs are valued for their capacity to reach out to the poorest and most vulnerable (effectiveness vs. representation dilemma).



[1]A successful example of long-term Donor-CSO relations for CD in Cambodia is described in the publication Beyond the Budget – The Linkages between long-term donor-NGO relations and capacity development in Cambodia (written for VBNK by Jenny Pearson, 2010).

[2]An example of effort in evaluating the effectiveness of CD interventions is provided by a recent initiative launched by the Dutch Ministry of Foreigner Affairs in cooperation with several partners including various Northern and Southern CSOs (SNC, CDRA, Cordaid among others). For further information: http://www.pso.nl/en/content/report-event-evaluation-capacity-development. Furthermore, a recent evaluation on Belgian NGO partnership to support  CD was carried out by HIVA/ACE Europe/IOB consortium at the request of the Special Evaluation Office (SEO) of the Belgian Federal public Service of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation (May 2010).

[3]For detailed discussion of the critical conditions for an enabling environment for CSO development effectiveness, look at Draft International Framework for CSO Development effectiveness (November 2010) as well as Tomlinson and Wanjiru (2010).

[4]Access to information was one of the key concerns raised by CSOs representatives at the September 2010 Global Assembly of Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness.

[5]An analysis of CSOs capacity support in Iran revealed that although much has been learned, there are no structures in place to help CSOs, both old and new, to learn from each other, disseminate goo practice, reward achievements, or learn from successes. CSOs are still in the process of developing a culture of sharing and mutual support that would strengthen their effectiveness (elaborated from Squire 2006).