CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation

CIVICUS – the World Alliance for Citizen Participation, is an international alliance of over 1000 members from 105 countries that has worked for over a decade to strengthen citizen action and civil society throughout the world, especially in areas where participatory democracy and citizens’ freedom of association are threatened. CIVICUS has a vision of a global community of active, engaged citizens committed to the creation of a more just and equitable world. This is premised on the belief that the health of societies exists in direct proportion to the degree of balance between the state, the private sector and civil society. CIVICUS provides a focal point for knowledge-sharing, common interest representation, global institution-building and engagement among these disparate sectors. It acts as an advocate for citizen participation as an essential component of governance and democracy worldwide. CIVICUS seeks to amplify the voices and opinions of ordinary people and it gives expression to the enormous creative energy of the burgeoning sector of civil society.

Ensuring not just more – but better – development aid, by Finn Heinrich

The international aid system is currently witnessing, albeit far too belatedly, a crucial shift, at least at the level of rhetoric at this stage, towards greater accountability, transparency, synergy and coordination. Indeed much gets written these days about aid harmonisation. Exemplified by the focus on the quantitative Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the use of measurable indicators for various development dimensions is currently much in vogue, some might even say to the point of obsession.

The most complicated issues we face in development aid is determining the impact of aid interventions.

Given a much more informed citizenry in several rich countries in the world, some of the questions that international aid agencies are beginning to ask themselves are: How can we assess whether an intervention, or an intervention strategy, has had the desired impact? How do we know whether it has caused a positive or even a negative impact? Even when we can identify the effects of our work, how do we know whether they have warranted the resources we have spent on them? Could we have done better? Could we have been more efficient, successful, and sustainable in our intervention?

Interestingly, private aid agencies and multi-lateral and bi-lateral donors seem to share the need for better tools, methods, approaches and theories to evaluate the impact of development work. The so-called Dutch Co-Financing Organisations (Novib, Cordaid, Hivos, ICCO, Plan) recently invited CIVICUS and Social Watch, an international NGO coalition measuring the achievement of social development goals since the time of the Copenhagen Summit on Social Development in the mid-1990s, to brainstorm how existing methodologies for assessing civil society (CIVICUS Civil Society Index) and social development (Social Watch Indicators) could assist them in their difficult task of evaluating the impact of their work.

The workshop threw up a number of important challenges. What became clear was that northern NGOs are in a better position to define the key issues and areas of potential impact if programmatic planning is more strategic and systematic, and design take place from the outset. Also, the current state of impact measurement tools and the lack of data on many development issues means that watertight proofs of impact still can’t be made. Albert Einstein’s advice which has informed the CIVICUS Civil Society Index, that ‘not everything that counts can be measured and that everything that can be measured, counts,’ is a helpful reminder of size of the challenge of measuring impact.

The workshop participants agreed that our aim should be to identify convincing arguments and plausible stories that link donor interventions to areas of social change and that a key factor in more effective, credible and sustainable development aid is improved impact assessments.

Given the increasing calls for more development aid, I believe that the international development community should ensure that when donors do live up to their promises of more and better aid, it should be used in the most efficient, effective and sustainable way. Better data on development indicators and better tools for analysing the link between aid and development outcomes is at the very heart of an improved aid system. Best wishes, Finn Heinrich, CIVICUS Civil Society Index Programme Manager. To see more go to civicus.org

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