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Four Steps to Build Dialogue Between Government and Civil Society

Cuatro pasos para construir el diálogo entre el gobierno y la sociedad civil

Kersty McCourt|

Governments who want to build a more constructive relationship with civil society often want to know the best place to start. Civil society comprises different types of organisations, expertise, and geographic spread, so understanding and engaging with this diversity can be daunting. But when done right, engaging with civil society brings unparalleled strength to government policy.

This has been demonstrated through OGP itself. Government and civil society dialogue and co-creation are, of course, fundamental to the OGP model. And evidence over the past decade has shown that civil society engagement throughout the OGP process is associated with more ambitious commitments, higher rates of implementation, and stronger early results.

The Democratic Freedoms Learning Network is exploring different themes around civic space with the aim of building a cohort of reformers who progress and learn from experiences across different regions. In December, the Network gathered a small group of European OGP members to look at how governments have taken these first steps to engage with civil society and the structures they have implemented. What emerged were a number of building blocks, different approaches to create spaces for exchange, and a note on necessary safeguards.

The Building Blocks

1. Develop a model for collaboration that is co-created by government and civil society and lays a framework for engagement. Examples include a set of values and principles in Ireland, a framework for participation in Estonia and a model for collaboration in Sweden. In some cases, the principle for collaboration is set out in legislation, and in others a jointly agreed document is endorsed by Parliament.

2. Foster the skills and knowledge necessary for effective collaboration. Examples include a civil society academy in Finland designed to train civil servants and training programmes in Estonia for government and civil society together, to ensure a common understanding and skill level. The skills for effective facilitation were also seen as critical but generally under-developed.

3. Create spaces aimed at broad conversation on the diversity of policy areas impacting civil society. A few characteristics to consider in the development of these spaces include:

  • a co-designed structure and rules of engagement
  • a balance between government and civil society membership, and a rotating chair;
  • administrative support provided by the government;
  • civil society ownership of their representation; and
  • joint deliberation on topics for discussion and work plans.

Examples include the Finnish Advisory Board on Civil Society Policy; a newly established Civic Forum in Ireland; the National Dialogue and Consultation body, NOD, in Sweden; and the Fundamental Rights Platform of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency.

4. Take extra steps to ensure the inclusion of a diverse range of organisations. One of the main challenges in implementing these structures is reaching under-represented and vulnerable groups and less structured civil society organisations. Often a small group of capital based organisations are the most engaged and targeted efforts are required to identify and create inclusive spaces. (See more OGP recommendations on the topic of inclusion here.)

Safeguards

To ensure that spaces for dialogue remain open, uncensored and spaces for critical reflection, governments can consider:

  • co-designing clear principles for engagement at an early stage with civil society;
  • ensuring that mechanisms are co-led and don’t revert to civil society simply participating in government-led mechanisms. Considering an intermediary body like the Estonian National Foundation can be a useful option;
  • reaching out to a diverse range of civil society organisations through open calls for participation and civil society-led nominations and proactively reaching under-represented groups; and
  • ensuring a regular model of evaluation that allows for government and civil society to assess whether the mechanisms are fulfilling their aims.

The discussion provided a rich exchange of experiences, challenges and ideas for building stronger dialogues between government and civil society. The initiatives demonstrate the need for experimentation, an open approach, and reflection and revision.

The Democratic Freedoms Learning Network plans to organise similar discussions in other regions and will look at ways to foster further exchange as governments test out new approaches.

Comments (1)

Mateo Alfreco Castillo Ceja Reply

Uno de los retos para un dialogo armonizador entre sociedad civil y gobierno a favor del medio ambiente, será la Democracia Socio-ambiental, donde la democracia no solo esta centrada en los derechos del ser humano, si no también en los derechos del resto de los seres vivos.

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