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Civic Space: Freedom of Association

ARCHIVAL – For Historical Reference




On 19 September 2018, our team held a public consultation on how to represent the theme of freedom of association in OGP’s upcoming flagship report. (For more background and justification, see here.) Our aim was to present our preliminary research and to hear what we were missing, who we should talk to, and how we should frame the topic. We also received written feedback. The goal of this page is to summarize what we heard and to establish another channel for feedback.

What we heard from you:

What would be useful from us

  • Case study or data looking at freedom of association through the labor rights angle
  • Building on existing research on specific pressures on association
  • Bringing in the private sector on this subject

Important issues for us to consider:

  • Labor rights movement: the right to organize is under a lot of threat. Important to link this conversation with that around NGOs. Even where there is progress on NGO laws, there might still be challenges for the labor organizing workers’ rights laws.
  • Red tape: Often unclear who in government makes decision on nonprofit regulations
  • Private sector: could play a significant role in taking a stance and setting standards
  • National security justifications used by governments to defend crackdowns
  • Transparency regulations: challenge is determining the appropriate level
    • Tension between laws that govern freedom of association, NGO registration / operation, and access to information / lobbying
    • Transparency laws are sometimes used to curtail the operation of civil society
  • Regulation of financial flows: linked to work of Financial Action Task Force
  • Definitions: Distinguishing between NGO, CSO and non-state actors

Case studies / examples

  • Cotonou Agreement between EU and ACP, incorporating non-state actors
  • Pakistan: red tape and difficulty identifying the right government agency
  • Austin, Texas: Occupy Austin tested the city’s civic assembly rules on different types of spaces (public / limited / private)
    • Protestors assembled all day for ~6 months until city issued assembly rules
  • Estonia: OGP commitment from NAP3 on increasing transparency of NGO funding

Who / what else should we consult?

  • Solidarity Center, ICNL, UCNL
  • Report on business support for civic freedoms, human rights defenders by Business and Human Rights Resource Centre and International Service for Human Rights

How we plan to address / incorporate your feedback:

  • During our upcoming research phase, we will study some of the main issues raised during the call, such as: freedom of association through the lens of labor rights; the role of the private sector in protecting civic freedoms; and the challenge of balancing transparency regulations with civic space.
  • We will continue to reach out to stakeholders and review the existing literature to ensure that the OGP flagship report builds on existing research instead of asking questions that have already been raised previously.
  • In terms of case studies, we will look to highlight some of the challenges that countries face on this issue, as well as concrete examples of relevant reforms.

What’s next?

  • We will update our approach and framing, which is currently in the “Thematic Strawmen” document linked above.
  • We welcome your feedback below (in the public comment box) or to our email at We are going to close comments on Wednesday, 31 October. If you would like to talk to us again, please reach out to the email above to schedule a phone call.
  • For the areas that require further research, we will commission research by partners to help inform the final report.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the consultations during the live sessions and in writing!  

Open Government Partnership