Agenda 2030 is clear on the necessity of mobilising civil society organisations (CSOs) in implementing and upholding accountability for the Sustainable Development Goals. CSOs are important to development co-operation, both as development actors in their own right, and as implementing partners for members of the OECD/DAC. Figures from the DAC show that in 2017, DAC members allocated close to USD 20 billion for CSOs, amounting to 15% of total bilateral aid. Between 2010 and 2017 this amount increased by 15%.
This paper introduces a selection of key findings and recommendations from two 2018-2019 surveys complemented with DAC statistical data. The paper points to evidence of member effort to work with CSOs in ways that enable CSOs to maximise their contribution to development. However, evidence also shows that members need to continuously examine their practices to ensure coherence between objectives and the many advantages that CSOs are seen to bring to development.
In their policies and survey responses, members identify multiple objectives for working with CSOs and civil society, and articulate these objectives in a multitude of ways. Ideally, member objectives should reflect both that CSOs are both recipients and channels of aid, that they are development actors in their own right as well as programme implementers on behalf of members.
Study findings show that DAC members’ policies and practices in working with civil society are ever-evolving. On the whole, progress is being made towards the type of support that enables CSOs to maximise their contribution to development, though progress is uneven across members. There also remain some tensions that create a gap between aspirations for enabling civil society, through effective development co-operation, and members’ practices in their CSO support. However, these tensions are not unfeasible for DAC members to reconcile.
Members are more than ever engaging CSOs in dialogue and consultation, including through systematic, advance-planned dialogue fora as well as dialogue done on an ad hoc basis. The continuation of systematic dialogue and its expansion across members is encouraged, while, ad hoc dialogue is also welcome for the opportunities it provides for responsive, strategic, and often more informal dialogue.
Members can take further steps to support CSOs in strengthening their accountability in the partner countries they work in. CSO accountability is essential leverage to counter the trend to restrict the space for civil society in those countries. Important also as a point of leverage is members’ own transparency when it comes to their CSO flows.