The 2030 Agenda recognizes that the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals
(SDGs) can only be successful with strong global partnerships and cooperation. Civil
society organizations (CSOs), due to their direct connection with poor, vulnerable and
marginalized communities, are recognized as key partners in the successful
implementation and monitoring of the SDGs. In the face of this increasingly urgent
agenda, the Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling
Environment (Task Team) commissioned a research study focused on the identification
of factors that help and hinder the engagement of CSOs in the implementation of the
The study was undertaken by the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), a
renowned higher education and research institute of social science that is part of
Erasmus University Rotterdam under the leadership of the principle researchers
Professors Kees Biekart and Alan Fowler. Key messages highlighted here are derived
from the Synthesis Report coming out of this study. The report synthesizes evidence from
21 case studies in six countries, selected because of differences in their freedom or ‘space’
available for CSOs. The countries are: Costa Rica, Ghana, Hungary, Lao PDR, Nepal &
The research design applied an ‘SDG’ lens as the empirical way to find out about CSO
experiences when facing different degrees of constraint. The below findings span open
to closed civic spaces and are grouped according to each part of the Task Team’s FourPart Framework for CSO Development Effectiveness and a CSO Enabling Environment.
PART 1. MULTI-STAKEHOLDER DIALOGUE (MSD)
? Many CSOs are not sufficiently engaged in formal SDG processes or
consultations. CSOs that are part of the aid system and present in an
urban location are much more likely to be engaged in MSDs
? Not recognizing the need to diversify the types of CSOs engaged in
MSDs, perpetuates the participation of the same group of urban and
? The degree to which CSOs are state and/or party aligned, acts as a filter for their inclusion
or exclusion in MSDs.
? Familiarity with the SDGs and SDG dialogues are less visible and/or present in rural areas.
? There is little presence of businesses in SDG-related MSDs.
The research question:
“What factors in a country’s environment help or hinder effective CSO participation in
SDG-related processes and how is this practically felt/experienced?”
PART 2. CSO DEVELOPMENT EFFECTIVENESS, ACCOUNTABILITY &
? For a segment of CSOs, the SDGs appear to provide a positive shared
language and agenda for action.
? The lack of consistent availability of resources results in irregular
engagement of CSOs in the SDG processes.
? Civic space determines the extent to which CSO self-regulation is
politically tolerated and practically viable. Even when conditions permit,
there are few indications that the SDG targets and measures provide
reference points or performance measures for CSO accountability.
? The SDGs are not providing a mechanism for CSOs to learn from each other in areas like
navigating constraints, negotiating with funders and improving implementation.
PART 3. OFFICIAL DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION WITH CSOs
? There are few indications that the SDGs have led to any significant increase in
collaboration between and coordination amongst donors.
? The SDGs do not appear to alter funders’ conditions and modalities for CSO
support. Unequal effects continue to favor large (inter)national entities with little
activity found at lower (local) levels.
? Opening of civic space seems to be associated with a reduction in the
contribution of official aid to CSOs for SDG engagement. In more open spaces,
there is a growth of private funding to CSOs.
? Experiences of donor countries, which are themselves prioritizing their own domestication
of SDGs, do not seem to be feeding into their own aid and CSO policies.
PART 4. LEGAL AND REGULATORY ENVIRONMENT
? The influence of the legal and regulatory environment appears to be
crucial for all elements in the Task Team’s Four-Part framework. In that
sense it is probably also the most important, with ‘trickle down’ effects
? Laws and regulations seldom formally inhibit government from
collaborating with CSOs; this is more determined by government’s
attitude and policies than by the legislation as such.
? Except perhaps in civic spaces that are very open, legal provisions do not automatically
entitle CSOs to undertake any SDG-related activity of their choosing. Sovereign
governments retain both discretionary power and SDG decision-rights.
? Legislation to constrain CSOs is often used to encourage their self-censorship and policy
compliance rather than serve as an instrument for day by day control.
? There is a general government interest in the additional resources that CSOs can bring to
the table, but within narrowing rules, limiting their autonomy as ‘independent’
|Place of Publication||The Hague|
|Number of pages||37|
|Publication status||Published - 2020|
|Series||Task Team CSO Studies|