“If leaders from government and civil society have the opportunity to discuss issues of mutual interest in a neutral forum, then they will be better able to develop practical solutions to critical problems.”
This report presents findings from the final evaluation of the project “Promoting Healthy State-Citizen Relations in Africa”, which was implemented by Search for Common Ground (SFCG) in Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania. The overall goal of the project was to enhance civil society leaders’ capacity to influence government policy agendas and to "shift the current, predominantly adversarial, dynamic between government and civil society to one where they can work together on key issues of common concern, while maintaining their integrity in their respective roles." The project was implemented in technical partnership with two African organisations: the West African Youth Network (WAYN), based in Sierra Leone, and the Resource Conflict Institute (Reconcile), based in Kenya.
As explained in the report, the project had three mutually reinforcing objectives: 1) to promote constructive interaction between civil society and government ‘champions’; 2) to develop the skills of a diversity of civil society leaders to effectively engage with government institutions on strategically identified reform agendas; and 3) to enhance experience sharing and network building among civil society groups to improve their collective capacity to negotiate with and influence government. Project participants thus included both civil society leaders and government officials in each country. Activities included: trainings on conflict resolution and training, dialogue forums, networking seminars, and support for all civil society organisation (CSO) partners to implement ‘follow on’ projects and e-initiatives around specific policy issues (such as using sms-based platforms to collect data for advocacy purposes or to communicate around particular policy issues).
The objective of the final evaluation was to capture the change brought about by the project in enhancing civil society leaders’ capacity to influence government policy agendas. More specifically, the final evaluation had three objectives: 1) to measure the state of the project’s indicators after implementation of the activities; 2) to analyse the project’s achievements under the evaluation criteria of efficiency, relevance, and sustainability; and 3) to extract lessons learned and recommendations from this experience to inform future programming for supporting civil society-government engagement.
The report outlines the results for each country looking at the evaluation criteria of effectiveness, relevance, and sustainability, and uses case studies from CSO project activities to demonstrate examples of impact in certain areas. Overall, the results show how, across all locations, the project was seen as very relevant, addressing crucial challenges and filling important needs on the side of both civil society and government. Important achievements were made under all three evaluation criteria and had a concrete positive effect for the large majority of the CSOs targeted by the project. The following are just a selection of findings from each country:
In Kenya, for example, the project’s approach on engaging government champions was considered particularly relevant as it eased tensions and was not confrontational. Most CSO leaders interviewed for the evaluation agreed that the approach used by SFCG within the project - creating forums for government and CSOs to discuss issues in a safe space - was both new and relevant for Kenya, as efforts to influence the government across the country are often limited to rallies and other forms of mobilisation that are generally focused on opposing policies (and officials). In terms of sustainability, the project led in several cases to the establishment of direct feedback between government officials and citizens, thus improving governance through social accountability. As stated in the report, this was not how the original theory of change had been designed, but it is a remarkable finding noneteless, which shows the great potential that such a project has for improving governance. In terms of advocacy efforts and e-initiatives, the findings showed that, while running parallel to each other and linked at the design level, they were not always effectively integrated. As explained in the report, "all partners appreciated the ability to work with new technologies, but there is no evidence that these tools amplified the impact of advocacy efforts. This finding appears due to several factors, including the fact that many organisations were unfamiliar with new ICT tools, that there were delays in receiving equipment, and that there was pressure in implementing the e-initiatives within a very short timeframe." What appears to have been missing from the process of designing e-initiatives was a communications strategy, an analysis that could match the use of ICT tools to a specific context.
In Nigeria, the project involved relevant stakeholders who successfully acquired significant skills and knowledge through the training component. In particular, the selection of government champions in Nigeria was done through a mapping process to identify the most relevant individuals to engage. This was a more systematic approach than the more informal approaches (often based on existing relationships) used in the other countries and it appears to have worked well. In addition, the training on non-adversarial advocacy and conflict resolution was found to be useful for participants and it promoted a more strategic relationship that was also results-oriented. Several partners highlighted that the training improved relations both with CSO and the government, abandoning the old fashioned adversarial approach and adopting a collaborative attitude. Some participants felt that the training received served to demystify the reputation of CSOs as watchdogs against the government, promoting instead the image of a likeminded institution with objectives that are complementary to the role of the government.
In Tanzania, all the participants stated that the project was very relevant for their roles and most of them also stated that the project involved the right people, at the right time, responding to specific needs of the time. Among the activities, the conflict resolution trainings were mentioned several times as some of the more useful activities. As stated in the report, overall, two years ago, CSOs had a passive attitude towards the government in Tanzania, while now they are more active. Participants also agreed that the trainings provided by SFCG were extremely useful and that the skills they acquired would assist them beyond the project. Several participants also said that they would continue their networking activities even after the end of the project.
The successes and the challenges that were experienced by the project highlight areas for improvement, as well as recommendations, for SFCG and its partners to inform the planning of future programmes. The following are just a selection:
- The project was without doubt successful in creating high level of trust between civil society and government and this work should be continued in the future.
- The project recommends more efforts to increase ownership and direct involvement of partners in all project phases. Project partners should be involved from the project’s design and a ‘lead’ civil society partner for each country (maybe even location) can improve the effectiveness of the project and ensure local ownership.
- SFCG should assist CSO partners in developing communication strategies that can ensure that e-initiatives are better integrated with all other project activities.
- Government champions should have the opportunity to reach-out more and to create durable relations with CSOs, especially through more systematised institutionalisation of CSO-government relations and specific dissemination activities.
- Improve project management and coordination through clearer communication mechanisms and planning.
SFCG website on December 6 2016.