Peer reviews of DAC members

Partnering with Civil Society: 12 Lessons from DAC Peer Reviews


Civil society is the multitude of associations around which society voluntarily organises itself and which represent a wide range of interests and ties. “CSOs can be defined to include all non-market and non-state organisations outside of the family in which people organise themselves to pursue shared interests in the public domain. Examples include community-based organisations and village associations, environmental groups, women’s rights groups, farmers’ associations, faith-based organisations, labour unions, co-operatives, professional associations, chambers of commerce, independent research institutes and the not-for-profit media (OECD, 2009).”

All DAC members work with civil society organisations and both are well placed to be partners for development. DAC members’ policies and practice in engaging with civil society are part-and-parcel of an enabling environment for civil society worldwide. CSOs and DAC members often share the same objectives of reducing poverty and inequality in developing countries and encouraging democratic processes, including strengthening civil society. DAC members value CSOs as partners when they have grass-roots knowledge of needs in developing countries, expertise in specific sectors, knowledge of public opinion and as advocates for human and civil rights, fighting poverty and environmental degradation, improving public governance and making international policies more development-friendly.

Despite the obvious advantages of partnerships between DAC members and CSOs, working together can be challenging. DAC members face challenges in navigating and understanding the complex world of civil society and in balancing respect for the independence of CSOs with the conditions they attach to funding. To increase effectiveness and gain efficiency, the administrative costs linked to complicated funding requirements need to be reduced and synergies found. CSOs have problems with donor conditionality and inflexibility as well as lack of clear policies and opportunities for meaningful dialogue. Moreover, policy dialogue and co-operation between DAC members and CSOs, and CSOs’ role as independent watchdogs, can be compromised by relationships that focus narrowly on funding for development projects and programmes. At the same time, CSOs acknowledge that they also need to be more predictable, transparent, driven by results and accountable. The Istanbul Principles for CSO Development Effectiveness are a welcome contribution by CSOs and their implementation should be monitored.

These 12 lessons are based on evidence and experience, and identify common ground for dialogue and action while respecting the distinctive objectives and roles of official donors and CSOs. They focus on how DAC members and CSOs can create stronger, balanced partnerships to reach common development goals.


Further reading on how DAC members work with civil society organisations

Aid for Civil Society Organisations

Statistics based on DAC Members’ reporting to the Creditor Reporting System database (CRS), 2016-2017

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How DAC members work with civil society organisations

In the Accra Agenda for Action (2008), donors and developing country governments committed to deepening their engagement with civil society organisations (CSOs). This requires a broad understanding of CSOs as development actors in their own right, and as aid donors, recipients and partners. The book, How DAC members work with civil society organisations: An overview, examines why donors think it is important to work with CSOs, the ways they provide funds and the challenges they encounter.

Although donors have made progress in developing policies and strategies for working with CSOs, clarifying and streamlining processes, strengthening mutual accountability and engaging in meaningful dialogue on development policy remain challenging. The book points to areas where donors, developing country governments and CSOs from developing and developed countries can improve the way they work together towards development objectives.


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