Welcome to the 3rd part of the e-Discussions, now focusing on “Civic engagement and civic space”, and on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected progress towards establishing more ‘just societies’, as envisioned by SDG 16, and what is needed for an equitable recovery from this crisis. The findings and experiences shared here will be consolidated into an overall synthesis report feeding into the Global Roundtable at the 2021 High-level Political Forum, and your contributions will be acknowledged in the report.

Civic engagement and civic space

The global health, economic and social crisis generated by the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically highlighted the vulnerability of certain populations which have been disproportionately affected. Existing structural problems and inequalities have been exacerbated. The World Bank estimates that, in a worst-case scenario, an additional 115 million people will fall into extreme poverty due to the pandemic.

In this challenging environment, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) play an essential role. CSOs that connect to and work with marginalized communities with a  focus on advocacy and accountability are key to ensuring that human rights, transparency and citizen's participation are safeguarded. Furthermore, in an environment where governments face unprecedented economic negative shocks and need to decide what trade-offs to make, civil society organizations that focus their work on research and analysis are essential to promote decisions that are evidence-based. Without organizations that represent a wide range of people, we cannot build just, peaceful and inclusive societies that ¨leave no one behind¨.

Yet, even before the pandemic, civic space had been shrinking worldwide.  According to the 2020 CIVICUS Monitor, only 3.4% of the world’s population lives in countries with open civic space. Governments’ efforts to curb infections have affected people’s civil and political rights, such as the freedom to assembly. While restrictions may be justified when their temporary nature and proportionality are ensured, there is also evidence that, in many contexts, the current situation has been used as a pretext to limit civil society action in a targeted and unjustified manner.

In this discussion, we invite you to share your reflections on the opportunities and risks that the pandemic has generated for civic engagement and civic space. What role do civil society organizations play in the current context and how does this, in turn, affect the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals? What is at stake?

To facilitate the discussion, we propose the following framing questions:

  1. In many cases, CSOs have taken a protagonist role in ensuring accountability, supporting marginalized communities and promoting evidence-based decision-making during the current social, economic and health crisis. Can you share good examples of effective engagement between civil society and government that highlight the important role CSOs play in society?  What recommendations do you have in order to make these good practices sustainable?
  1. How have COVID-19 related measures taken by governments across the globe hindered civic engagement, social movements and the right of protest and freedom of expression? Has this happened in your region? In what ways? Could this have permanent or long-lasting effects? What recommendations do you have to address these challenges?
  1. A shift to remote work and broader use of technologies to interact, request public services and access education has incentivized the active participation of youth but has excluded groups that don´t have access to these tools. Overall, has this shift generated new online spaces to promote participation that strengthens civil society? Or does this create more exclusion?

To kick us off, Southern Voice members have written two articles presenting evidence from Uganda and Latin America. We will explore their findings together during this e-discussion, but I invite you to take a look at them and add your perspectives on the issues they touch on, in the thread.

The moderators for the e-discussion are:

Welcome message from Cristina Ordóñez

We look forward to hearing your ideas and to an engaging conversation!

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Comments (54)

Cristina Ordóñez
Cristina Ordóñez Moderator

Hello everyone and welcome to the third e-discussion on civic engagement and civic space. My name is Cristina Ordóñez and I am a Research and Evaluation Specialist at Grupo FARO, an Ecuadorian think tank that generates evidence to influence public policy and promotes social transformation. It is a pleasure to co-moderate this e-discussion with Julia Kercher and Emanuele Sapienza for the next two weeks.

Given the current restrictions imposed by governments due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is necessary to reflect on the impact this has had on civic space and the role that civil society can and should play in the post-COVID-19 recovery. In the case of Latin America, for example, some social mobilization processes were halted due to the pandemic but have regained strength in recent months, so it is important to analyze collective action and the promotion of a new post-pandemic social contract.

We are happy to initiate this interesting exchange and look forward to learning from your ideas and contributions to address the challenges facing civil society and civic space at this new juncture.

Emmanuel Justima
Emmanuel Justima

What a great and important topic! Looking forward to exchanging with others on the link between civic engagement and civic space and community development or country development. Specially in light of the effect of incivility on civil discourse in many countries, which ultimately weakens the very democracy that enables incivility to emerge at the first place. Why do people feel civility doesn't pay and does not make the news? If one needs any sort of change, it must be in your face type of provoqued change?

Cristina Ordóñez
Cristina Ordóñez Moderator

Hi Emmanuel Justima, and welcome to the start of the discussion on this topic. Thank you very much for your contribution and reflection on incivility and discourse. It is very important to analyze the discourses and narratives generated around civil society and social movements, especially in times of conflict, and how these narratives affect and influence public opinion and, as you mention, democracy itself. Can you comment a little on how to influence the change of discourse and narratives on social change and incivility?

Julia Kercher
Julia Kercher Moderator

Dear Colleagues,

Welcome to our Third E-Discussion - on Civic Engagement & Civic Space! I am Julia and my work for UNDP's Oslo Governance Centre focuses on SDG 16 learning and research, including on stakeholder engagement. I am excited to be co-moderating this important exchange with Cristina Ordóñez and Emanuele Sapienza!

As Cristina flagged, civic engagement and civic space are challenged and at risk, in general but even more so in the current global emergency, and we are keen to hear from you what this looks like in your countries (see Framing Question 2).

At the same time, crisis situations can also hold potential and opportunities. For example, a recent study (Elgar et al 2020) finds that social capital derived from civic engagement is associated with lower levels of mortality from COVID-19. Have you come across examples of effective engagement between civil society and government, whether in the current situation or before, e.g. to ensure accountability, support marginalized communities or promote evidence-based decision-making (see Framing Question 1)?

We look forward to your reflections!

Emanuele Sapienza
Emanuele Sapienza Moderator

Hello everybody. My name is Emanuele Sapienza. I am a Policy Advisor on governance based in UNDP's Regional Hub in Panama. I am very much looking forward to co-moderating this e-discussion with Cristina Ordóñez and Julia Kercher.

As Cristina and Julia mentioned, we are interested in hearing perspectives about the challenges that COVID19 has generated for civic space (and how it may have accelerated preexisting negative trends) but we are also keen to hear about the opportunities it has brought in terms of reimagining civic engagement and state-citizens relations.

In addition, we hope that the consultation will provide an opportunity to discuss the policy implications of the COVID-19 experience so far. As mentioned in the framing questions: what recommendations do you have to address the short and long term effects of COVID-19 on civic space? And what can be done to enhance the sustainability of successful civic engagement practices that emerged during the pandemic?

We look forward to your thoughts!



Ulrich Graute
Ulrich Graute

Remote work and the spiral of silence on the internet

It seems as if there would be only one trend on the internet: more and more exchange. This has many advantages and the Corona pandemic further enforced this trend. Now it is standard for citizens, CSO and IO to exchange through Zoom, MS Team, Skype etc. That means that advocacy e.g. by CSO is increasingly rely on communication where they entrust data and information to internet tools and infrastructure they don't control. This makes it increasingly difficult to guarantee privacy and confidential exchange. Cybersecurity is challenged globally and in some countries does not exist at all.

The sad thing I observe is how communication changes when oppression in countries grows. To give an example. Last year during the protests in Belarus I had a booming network in Belarus. Today the situation is very different. There are still a number of communications but many activists live in exile now and comment the situation as outsiders while CSO and citizens in the country are falling silent. Inducing fear silenced a lot of communication channels and all of a sudden, many advantages of remote work and cooperation turn into a danger for friends and partners.

Long before the internet was invented, the German political scientist Elisabeth Nölle-Neumann proposed the SPIRAL OF SILENCE, both a political science and mass communication theory.  It stipulates that individuals fear isolation, which results from the idea that a social group or the society in general might isolate, neglect, or exclude members in response to the members' opinions. As far as I recall Nölle-Neumann analysed mainly the case why millions of Germans fell silent during holocaust and didn’t speak up. However, the spiral of silence still exists and governments around the world use it as an instrument to opress citizen engagement and reduce the civic space. 

For international development cooperation this generates a new challenge: While increasingly relying on IT communication and remote work they must always be able to provide other channels of communication e.g. through field staff. Where IT communication becomes too risky or even a threat for users, open dialogue, creativity and cooperation will be in danger. Silence would kill first dialogue and then cooperation. The UN cannot afford that.

Julia Kercher
Julia Kercher Moderator

Thanks so much for this important contribution, Ulrich. I fully agree that many of us feel the 'zooming' of engagements has been democratizing exchanges - where conferences and consultations tended to be exclusive to those who could afford travel, we feel we can now all participate in so many (sometimes seemingly too many) online gatherings and take the microphone just by the click of a button.

But, as you illustrate so well, this impression is one from within a bubble - the bubble of connectivity and freedom to be able to enter these spaces. While it is easy to see those in the bubble, those left outside are invisible and, as you say, silent.

How do we deal with this? Today, I came across the Solidarity Playbook by the International Civil Society Centre which 'captures 18 examples of resilience and solidarity mechanisms [...] to address civic space restrictions and changing operating conditions for civil society'. So, is civil society solidarity a way forward?

Ulrich, you point another way: What is the UN's role where civic space is shrinking? In another zoom event I joined today, colleagues had suggestions: the UN should fund CSOs so they can exist and it should help negotiate spaces in which civil society can engage. What do others think? 


Ulrich Graute
Ulrich Graute

Thank you, Julia.

You bring up the point if the UN should fund CSOs. I would say no. It would overstretch the possibilities of the UN and it easily can be interpreted as interfering with internal affairs. In addition, the selection of whom to provide with money and whom not can indeed be very tricky. Instead it deems preferable to have well funded country offices and agencies which can comment on and support national development from a position of independence. As part of this the UN should support activities enabling the development of CSO through capacity development and funding of thematic activities. If that includes financial support for CSO institutions (like project staff) that would be okay but don't start a simple money distribution mechanism. Even if a country would accept financing of CSO as part of Host Country Agreement I would suggest to be careful. Otherwise the UN may end up financing CSOs of 'friends of the president' while the government gets an excuse to do nothing by itself.

Cristina Ordóñez
Cristina Ordóñez Moderator

Thank you Ulrich Graute and Julia Kercher for sharing your thoughts. Regarding access to virtuality, I would like to add that, although the internet, with the risks it entails, has indeed made it possible to overcome the lack of face-to-face activities and has allowed many people to access events, trainings, webinars and organize collective actions from their homes, in many countries there is still a huge digital divide that does not allow, for example, people from marginalized communities, grassroots organizations or CSOs located in rural areas to access these resources.

Digitalizing civic space implies reflecting and taking action on the digital divide, censorship, cybersecurity, among others.

Cat Botto
Cat Botto

Hello all. My name is Cat Botto and I am an SDG16+ Analyst working with the Global Alliance for Reporting Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies. The question around what the UN can do has been raised in a few of the previous comments. The recent Global Alliance blog, Civic Space: Why it Matters, tackles some of the questions posed by drawing on the recent UN Guidance Note on the Protection and Promotion of Civic Space. In addition to continuing to strengthen the meaningful participation of civil society in UN processes, the UN system has an important role to play in both the protection of civil society actors and the promotion of civic space in national decision-making processes.

The increased reliance on digital technologies does provide challenges, many of which outlined above, but I would love to hear people’s thoughts on the opportunities that come with this as well for the post-pandemic future. Through the pandemic we’ve seen the innovative development of digital mechanisms that have led to new ways to exercise the freedoms of association, assembly and expression. The future of civic space will certainly be shaped by these new paradigms, and has the potential to reach more constituents and to reinforce people-centered decision-making. However, civic space risks shrinking further if the digital divide is not addressed. How can we tap into these innovations post-pandemic, while mitigating risks and barriers?

Cristina Ordóñez
Cristina Ordóñez Moderator

Thanks Cat Botto for your comment and for sharing these interesting documents on the role of UN in a shrinking civic space.

On the same topic, Chapter 5 of the 2021 State of Civil Society Report that Civicus has just launched, is dedicated to civil society in the international arena, where, among other things, the role of civil society in the international system is analyzed and present proposals for greater civil society participation after the disruption caused by the pandemic.

Along these lines, we would like to hear more ideas about the role that civil society can play in this new context, learn about examples of challenges that COVID19 has generated for civic space in different regions, but also learn about successful civic engagement practices that emerged during the pandemic around the world.

Saranbaatar Bayarmagnai
Saranbaatar Bayarmagnai

Dear colleagues,

Thank you very much for initiating this important and timely discussion.  I am Baatar from Civic Space Unit at OHCHR.

@Cat Botto, many thanks indeed for bringing up the recently adopted UN Guidance Note on Civic Space, which is an important milestone framework on civic space.  I also just wanted to highlight the Secretary-General's Call to Action for Human Rights, which identified participation and civic space as one of the seven thematic areas.  But in essence, civic space is cross-cutting to all other thematic areas of the Call to Action, as well as all three Pillars of the UN, and humanitarian action.  More can be seen here:  https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/CivicSpace/Pages/UNRoleCivicSpace.aspx 

UN's plays an important role in protecting and promoting civic space (specific actions or recommendations could be found in each of the "3Ps": Participation - Protection - Promotion), but without going into details of issues covered by the Guidance Note and the Call to Action, I would like to contribute a few thoughts to the discussion:

  • Yes, UN should promote an enabling environment, safe and free civic space, which values contributions and role of civil society as "real agents" of change, and their unhindered access to resources, which is vital for their full and independent functioning.  In many instances UN does provide direct funding support to CSO, and increasingly so on civic space related projects.  For example, in 2021, UNDEF approved 40 projects all relevant to the pandemic and civic space.  The UN Peacebuilding Fund’s Gender and Youth Promotion Initiative issued a call for applications for projects on civic space from 22 countries.  These are just few examples.  Of course, it is unrealistic to expect that the UN system in its entirety will be a long term and sustainable source of funding, and @Ulrich Grauter made a very valid point that UN country teams should be strengthened and adequately resourced.
  • In relation to "3Ps" of civic space (Participation - Protection - Promotion), including both online and offline space, it is important to note that all three Ps are inter-connected and interlinked.  The effectiveness of one depends on the effectiveness of the others.  These three Ps should be approached, understood and implemented in a holistic and integrated manner.  We can't really talk about effective, free and diverse participation of civil society, if people are afraid to speak up, are not protected, and persecuted (jailing of journalists, killings of defenders etc.).  And the participation and protection are not possible without an active promotion of safe, free and enabling civic space, guided by international norms and standards.
  • Lastly, joint strategizing, solidarity and equal partnership between the UN and civil society is key.  However, there is a tendency to have a siloed approach and focus on specific groups and issues, depending on the mandates and institutional objectives.  This is usually the reality, but we need to collectively (UN and civil society) promote effective and common channels for all peoples to participate, be protected.  Siloed approach, if taken too far, risks creating competition, and often hostility, among groups and/or issues, undermining the overall and common objectives of promoting human rights and civic space.

There are many other things that could be said, and am happy to continually contribute to the discussions.  These are my own views however.


Gazbiah Sans
Gazbiah Sans

Dear Colleagues,

I am Gazbiah Sans and I worked on PVE in the context of Boko Haram affected areas.

Ulrich Graute brings up a valuable point about funding CSOs. In this context, my team and I carried out a diagnostic on the freedom of the media and CSOs. We learnt time and time again, from various and relevant stakeholders, that funding CSOs created a financial dependency and capacity building programs were leveraged by individuals for upward mobility, and therefore typically served individuals and not the organizations, which in turn did not support the country’s needs (understandable from the individual’s perspective, yet equally frustrating for retaining talent at the organization and country level). This donor financial dependency created a need to then incorporate: (a) income generating activities for the CSOs to become self-reliant and (b) flexible talent retention solutions for funding CSOs (happy to share more details, if UN does decide to fund CSOs).  

We also learnt that the media and CSOs were restricted and limited in their ability to hold government accountable for their actions. In particular, CSOs were fearful, given the vagueness of the country’s counter-terrorism laws, which hindered their safety and, in some cases, violated human rights. As a side note, many counter-terrorism laws (worldwide) need reformulating to clearly define the scope of terrorism at the national level to remove the impunity from governments using these counter-terrorism laws to reduce dissent and criticisms. Perhaps, there is a scope for using Technical Assistance programs to help countries (re)formulate their counter-terrorism laws to appropriately reflect the rule of law and hold governments themselves accountable?    

In light of these findings, and in response to farming question 1, I have also seen positive interactions between local government and traditional leaders supporting marginalized communities. For example, the community led program, which I managed, supported grassroots initiatives to foster social cohesion, human security, and religious freedom to build community resilience to counter/prevent violent extremism. These initiatives were carefully designed to include women, youth, marginalized groups to ensure citizens were aware of their civic rights and to promote evidence-based decision making to ensure citizens’ needs were being met. In tandem, we advocated and educated traditional leaders and local government representatives on championing citizen’s rights, specifically honing in on accountability and transparency programs. This led to the creation of CSOs with the aim to promote peaceful dialogue and to reduce community tensions in the context of Boko Haram/ISIS West Africa insurgency and included support from both traditional leaders and local government representatives.

Once CSOs were created, communities were eager and felt empowered to hold government accountable and even wanted to oust members of the government for not taking citizens’ perspective in budgetary allocation. This experience functioned as a learning tool for both citizens and government—enabling citizens to express their interests and report on their needs for the use of the budget and local government were able to use this evidence-based information to provide better services to their communities.   

The good practice, in this instance, was the use of educational tools to instill the importance of civic responsibilities for both citizens and leaders.

In this context, the foundation for the creation of CSOs were laid prior to COVID-19, however with strict restrictions, curfews, lockdowns and unreliable internet, communities relied heavily on informal activism, using churches and markets as platforms for discourse in open spaces during government approved timings. This was a significant shift from using traditional and social media.

On Julia Kercher’s point of connectivity, many of us here, in this forum, have reliable internet, access to laptops/desktops, etc. and time to allocate—three important parameters that are not always available to those living in developing countries and in particular, crisis affected areas. I believe, P/CVE programs should support cross-cutting solutions, such as, reliable energy, ICT infrastructure, etc. for a platform such as this to be more inclusive and ultimately serve as a “town hall,” representing the most vulnerable.    

Saranbaatar Bayarmagnai
Saranbaatar Bayarmagnai

I also wanted to contribute to the discussion on online participation.

Civic space is rapidly moving online, and the use of online or virtual means for meetings and events have increased exponentially, especially in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Online meetings and digital tools, despite posing certain risks, naturally complement offline or physical processes, and can bring diversity of voices to the table, especially in the decision-making processes and meeting of the UN, at all levels.

However, ensuring safety and accessibility of digital technologies, as well as ensuring greater and more diverse participation in all kinds of public debates, including within the UN system, remains a challenge.  This is particularly true for civil society engagement with the UN and other contexts.

Ensuring online participation channels are accessible, meaningful and safe requires more than identifying good technical tools.  Especially with regard to civil society, a number of important conditions must be met and put in place, especially by UN entities:


  • No meaningful participation in meetings or processes is possible without effective access to information. Therefore, online platforms should avail information on meetings and events in a timely manner and easily accessible formats, including different languages whenever possible, and communicate procedures for participation in advance and clearly.
  • To ensure inclusive channels that can be accessed by those at risk of being left behind, give priority to online platforms that are easy to use independently of the location, type of device used (personal computers, mobile or portable devices etc.) and operating systems. The selection and use of particular online or digital participation platforms and tools should not pose any barriers to participation (e.g. technological, financial etc.), especially by marginalized and traditionally excluded population groups.
  • Ensure that criteria for accreditation and registration of participants in online meetings are clear, objective, inclusive, non-discriminatory, and such criteria must be easily accessible and easily understandable.
  • Participation can only thrive if channels for contributing to discussions are safe. Safety and privacy are particularly critical for closed meetings when they involve testimonies from persons at risk such as witnesses or victims of violence. Online participation channels must therefore be designed taking into account specific risks and challenges faced by different people and population groups.
  • New technologies expand opportunities for exchanging information and handling large quantities of data and information prior to, during and after online meetings. Online participation channels should take full advantage of interaction opportunities for civil society to express themselves, assemble and contribute to the work at all stages, including through online opinion polls, virtual surveys, analysis of trends and priorities etc.
Ana Patricia Munoz
Ana Patricia Munoz


Thank you for bringing up this important topic. The pandemic has revealed how fragile our economies are. This is specially true in Latin America where many countries are classified as middle income which implies, among other things, a cutback in internacional cooperation and financial aid. This is very detrimental to CSOs that play a very important role at all times and particularly in difficult ones. The global crises we are experiences should also bring about changes in the international cooperation system where local organizations are seen as long term partners.

Julia Kercher
Julia Kercher Moderator

Thanks so much for the very useful and complementary reflections so far! Several revolved around our Framing Question #3 on technology and the 'zoom' effects on civic space. Ulrich Graute spoke about the spiral of silence while Cat Botto asks about opportunities that come with online engagement. Saranbaatar Bayarmagnai usefully shared guidance on how to make online participation channels accessible, meaningful and safe.

Another question that has come up is the role of the UN in ensuring civil engagement and civic space. With regard to funding, @Ana Patricia flagged the detrimental effect of decreasing UN funding to civil society, while Gazbiah Sans  shared an illustrative example on how UN funding can create dependence and Ulrich Graute flagged the risk of bias towards certain organisations and of substituting for governments' own efforts. Colleagues also discussed the perhaps most relevant resource on this question, the UN Guidance Note on Civic Space with its "3Ps" (Participation - Protection - Promotion). 

Gazbiah Sans also brought our Framing Question #1 on effective engagement between civil society and government in focus by providing an example from West Africa where educational tools were used to instill the importance of civic responsibilities for both citizens and leaders. What other examples are out there, e.g. of civil society ensuring accountability, supporting marginalized communities or promoting evidence-based decision-making during the current  crisis? And how can we sustain these efforts?

Emanuele Sapienza
Emanuele Sapienza Moderator

Many thanks Cat Botto, Saranbaatar Bayarmagnai for several important points on the role that the UN system can play in protecting and promoting an enabling civic space.

To complement that, I think it would be interesting to hear about the role that could be played by other actors, within and outside the sphere of the state.

For instance, the Marrakech Declaration on “Expanding the civic space and promoting and protecting human rights defenders,with a specific focus on women" provided new impetus to the engagement of national human rights institutions.

At the same time, there is a growing debate on the role of the private sector, as well as media actors.

Any thoughts?


Julia Kercher
Julia Kercher Moderator

Word Cloud for Week 1

Many thanks to everyone who contributed to this discussion so far! The word cloud shows how many aspects have come up already. Here is a brief SUMMARY of our first week:

On the first framing question, on effective engagement between civil society and government, colleagues flagged:

  • Research on a possible positive a connection between social capital derived from civic engagement and lower levels of mortality from COVID-19 (Elgar et al 2020).
  • An example from West Africa where educational tools were used to instill the importance of civic responsibilities for both citizens and leaders.

The second framing question, on how COVID-19 related measures affect civic engagement, key points were:

  • The “Spiral of Silence”, whereby individuals fear being isolated or excluded because of their opinions, as a strategy used by governments to hinder civic space, and an example from Belarus.
  • The role of counter-terrorism laws and that vagueness which can affect CSOs’ safety, lead to human rights violations, and serve as a tool for governments to reduce dissent and criticisms.

On the third framing question, on new online spaces to promote participation, participants brought up:

  • The development of innovative digital mechanisms has provided new channels to exercise freedoms of association, assembly and expression, and helped democratize exchanges – but only for some.
  • Risks include cybersecurity, the on-going digital divide (especially for already marginalized groups and even during the pandemic) and censorship. Channels of communication which are not dependent on technology must be available when IT communication becomes risky for users.
  • Suggestions to ensure accessible online participation may include cross-cutting solutions (reliable energy, internet and ICT infrastructure), promoting effective access to information, prioritizing accessible platforms, facilitating accreditation and registration of participants, ensuring safety of participation channels.

Another important point has been the role of the UN in ensuring civil engagement and civic space, e.g.

  • The cutback in international cooperation and its negative effects on CSOs.
  • Examples of UN funding CSOs projects, such as by the UNDEF and the UN Peacebuilding Fund’s Gender and Youth Promotion Initiative
  • The risk of long-term funding of CSOs by the UN stretching UN capacities, creating dependency, substituting for the government and being seen as biased.
  • The UN Guidance Note on the Protection and Promotion of Civic Space suggests three Ps (Participation - Protection – Promotion). In addition, it was suggested that the UN focus on well-funded country teams that can support from an independent position; on capacity development and funding of thematic activities.
  • The need for joint strategizing, solidarity, and equal partnership between the UN and civil society, given that siloed approaches might lead to competition and hostility among groups and/or issues.

We look forward to your thoughts this week - in particular, we would interested in hearing more about:

On the first framing question: What other good examples are out there of civil society ensuring accountability, supporting marginalized communities or promoting evidence-based decision-making during the current crisis? And how can we sustain these efforts?

Overall, what role could other actors play, within and outside the sphere of the state, such as media and private sector?

Cristina Ordóñez
Cristina Ordóñez Moderator

Thank you Thomas Davies for sharing these interesting resources with alternative approaches to development and examples of concrete actions of civic engagement. I think the pandemic has allowed us to discover new forms of solidarity and engagement to face adverse times around the world, and this is something to be rescued. Any thoughts on how to sustain these initiatives in the medium and long term?

Thomas Davies
Thomas Davies

Cristina Ordóñez Thank for the thoughtful reply. There was an interesting discussion about this at this seminar: https://edgefunders.org/weaving-systemic-alternatives-global-south/

One of the questions that came up was about how to provide support, to which this response was provided: "many of the alternative economy and political processes ...find it hard to get support because they can be ‘controversial’, also because a lot of them are not about ‘visible structures’ on the ground but more about human processes (e.g. mobilising people), honoraria for people doing the work rather than for ‘capital’ investments. Another important element in the funding of radical alternatives is time. Some of the processes require time to build trust and respect and bridge language and cultural differences. Funding cycles have to make allowance for this. It is possible to have output oriented goals but those can promote false and fast solutions. We [sic] need to talk together as processes and funders about how to have a rigorous process and be outcomes focused too."

Cristina Ordóñez
Cristina Ordóñez Moderator

Thank you for your comments Thomas Davies . Indeed one of the bases of social processes is trust and this is also influenced by the narratives or discourses on which Emmanuel Justima  commented above.
On trust, I would like to contribute with data coming from the 2018 Latinobarometro study (https://www.latinobarometro.org/latOnline.jsp). Faced with the question of "How much trust is there in that NGOs and multilateral/international organizations operate to improve the quality of life?", the survey reveals that in Latin America real efforts must be made to strengthen trust.
Regarding NGOs, 46.5% mention that they have a lot or some trust that NGOs work to improve the quality of life, and 53.5% have little or no trust. Regarding multilateral/international organizations, only 36.6% have a lot or some trust, and 63.4% have little or no trust.
As you rightly point out, the time factor is essential to generate structural changes and build trust, and this is something that must be adopted by funders.

Mandeep Tiwana
Mandeep Tiwana

Great to join this group. 

Civil Society responses and key trends in relation to COVID-19

As the full force of the COVID-19 pandemic hit countries around the globe in 2020, civil society organisations (CSOs) responded as they always have in the face of a crisis: with ingenuity, courage and commitment. CIVICUS’s Solidarity in the Time of COVID-19 report highlights numerous examples from various parts of the world where CSOs took on crucial roles. These included filling gaps in services by providing critical healthcare provisions and psychological support; distributing food and sanitary equipment to underserved communities; addressing disinformation by public outreach programmes on effective prevention measures; and notably calls to action and engagement with decision makers to focus attention on the needs of the most vulnerable including in relation to post-pandemic recovery and future resilience. 

Yet, even as CSOs proved their effectiveness amid a global crisis, challenges posed by adverse civic space conditions appeared to accelerate. Two policy briefs developed by CIVICUS in April and October 2020 reveal a plethora of measures to limit the space for civil society to operate and discharge their vital contributions. Key among these are: (i) ramping up of censorship along-with official propaganda which has serious implications on the public’s right to access to credible information, (ii) enhancement of surveillance infrastructures ostensibly to deal with the virus but which have serious implications for the right to privacy and security of those engaged in efforts to ensure accountability of powerholders, and (iii) increase in coercive capacities of law enforcement agencies through COVID-19 induced emergency and related measures, and their repurposing to persecute activists and organisations critical of the official response.

By the end of 2020, the CIVICUS Monitor, a participatory research platform that measures the core civic freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression around the world reported that 87% of the globe’s population were living in countries with serious civic space restrictions. Civic freedoms are included in the bills of rights of most constitutions and are enshrined in international law. All of this has serious implications on the ability of civil society to support transparency, accountability and participation, including with regards to the achievement of Agenda 2030 and universal sustainable development goals. Moreover, grave violations of civic freedoms are a threat to multilateralism and a rules based international order.

In the face of challenging civic space conditions, civil society infrastructures are vital. The Rebuilding for Good paper developed by the Affinity Group of National Associations, Charities Aid Foundation and CIVICUS identifies good examples in relation to COVID response such as leveraging national volunteer and youth services in support of CSO activities, granting special tax exemptions for donations to CSOs,  and including CSO representatives in presidential and ministerial taskforces. The paper urges governments to publicly acknowledge the value of diverse, vibrant and resilient civil societies; support civil society to meet essential operating costs; provide flexibility in accounting and tax requirements; and make provisions for civil society in economic stimulus and recovery packages. Notably, the paper calls for leveraging assets and endowments to create new streams for core and flexible resourcing for civil society along-with a call to open decision-making spaces to civil society participation with an eye on structural reforms and developing alternatives to unsustainable economic models.

Julia Kercher
Julia Kercher Moderator

Mandeep Tiwana, thanks so much for sharing these useful resources and a powerful message, not only on examples of civil society action but also on practical ways to support and sustain this action. The issue of reliable funding was already brought up in the discussion by several colleagues - what is your view on the options Mandeep flags, Ulrich Graute, Saranbaatar Bayarmagnai, Gazbiah Sans and @Ana Patricia?

Elizabeth Lockwood
Elizabeth Lockwood

Dear all,

On behalf of the Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities I’m sharing some thoughts in response to question 1 on the role of CSOs.

The Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities (SGPwD) carried out research on the experiences of persons with disabilities with COVID-19 in May and June 2020 with 93 leaders from the disability movement from all over the world. The research highlighted exacerbated and new barriers for persons with disabilities in several areas. At the same time, the role of organizations of persons with disabilities became increasingly important. To address lack of information and other gaps in government services, organizations of persons with disabilities (OPDs) stepped in and played a role to address gaps in government services. Many OPDs became sources of vital information, raised awareness with their members, and provided accessible materials in different formats. Moreover, in many countries, governments provided sign language interpretation and live captioning for news briefings, but not consistently. Often, the implementation of these full services were a direct result of advocacy efforts led by the Deaf community and OPDs, and sometimes with support from international organizations.

Furthermore, the SGPwD carried out a second phase of research led by local and regional researchers with disabilities in Bangladesh, Bolivia, and Nigeria from February to April 2021. The research in Bangladesh found that as a result of being left out of government programs, OPDs came forward to support persons with disabilities with food and cash. Communities, community-based organizations, CSOs, and corporate entities supported persons with disabilities through organizations of persons with disabilities (OPDs). This has strengthened the relationship between OPDs and other organizations, and thus, collaboration among OPDs has significantly improved, which could benefit the disability movement.


Julia Kercher
Julia Kercher Moderator

Thanks a lot, Elizabeth Lockwood, for these useful recommendations as well as illustrative and encouraging examples of action by organisations of persons with disabilities during the pandemic! The examples touch on a point made by Ulrich Graute before, namely the risk of civil society substituting for government. I therefore wonder whether you - or anyone else - has come across examples where ad hoc (response) action by civil society has led to more systematic and on-going dialogue with government (e.g. during recovery)?

Elizabeth Lockwood
Elizabeth Lockwood

To respond to question 3, the Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities’ COVID-19 research overall has found that online spaces are creating more exclusion and additional barriers for persons with disabilities.

The first phase of research on the experiences of persons with disabilities with COVID-19 took place in May and June 2020 with 93 leaders from the disability movement from all over the world. The research highlighted exacerbated and new barriers for persons with disabilities in several areas. Two of the most common barriers that emerged from the research included: (1) lack of access to COVID-19 information for all persons with disabilities and (2) barriers in receiving social protection measures and employment (formal and informal, losing employment first, and accessibility barriers in the virtual working environment).

Overwhelmingly, there was lack of accessible information for persons with disabilities related to COVID-19. This included lack of information in national sign languages, Braille, easy read and other alternative formats. In some places, information did not reach communities in rural and remote settings, which impacted indigenous peoples, refugees, and persons in institutions, impacting older persons and persons with disabilities in these communities.

Furthermore, the SGPwD carried out a second phase of research led by local and regional researchers with disabilities in Bangladesh, Bolivia, and Nigeria from February to April 2021. All three studies indicated that two of the most significant barriers were again (1) lack of access to information and data, and (2) lack of accessible technology, transport, and virtual settings. Adding to these barriers, many people lacked financial resources or technical skills to gain access to information via phones and the internet.

Some online platforms have worked diligently to add accessibility features during the pandemic, such as Zoom, but this does not create inclusion for people who do not have the ability or means to access the internet.

Julia Kercher
Julia Kercher Moderator

Thanks, Elizabeth Lockwood, your research underpins the concern of widening inequalities and a deepening of the digital divide through measures around the pandemic. I want to come back to the question Cat Botto asked earlier: Has anyone  seen encouraging examples of online spaces improving participation of marginalized people? You already mention businesses such as Zoom, that can play a role here. Who has thoughts on other actors we may need to engage with more to improve online (or alternative ways of) inclusion in the future?

Cristina Ordóñez
Cristina Ordóñez Moderator

Many thanks to all who have contributed to the discussion on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on civic engagement and civic space.

The discussion will be open for contributions until Monday, June 14 and we would still like to hear more examples on the role of civil society during this crisis in, for example, ensuring accountability, supporting marginalized communities and promoting evidence-based decision making, as well as the role of other actors within and outside the sphere of the state, such as the media and the private sector.

Remember that the inputs and examples shared here will be consolidated into a synthesis report that will feed into the Global Roundtable at the 2021 High Level Political Forum, and your contributions will be acknowledged in the report.

Pytrik Dieuwke Oosterhof
Pytrik Dieuwke Oosterhof

Hello and thanks for inviting me to comment on this interesting initiative! I am an experienced sustainable development consultant and founder of O-Land Consulting. We carry out research and analyses on key priorities of the 2030 Agenda, including on the follow-up and review process. To this end, I would like to comment on the question on the role of the UN in ensuring civil engagement and civic space by looking at SDG reporting. The VNRs are recognized as a strong engine to drive sustainable development through inclusive, participatory and effective multi-stakeholder engagement approaches. As rightly framed by this e-discussion, considering the role of civil society for achieving the SDGs is critical, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Increasingly we are seeing contributions made by civil society to SDG and SDG 16 reporting in the form of Spotlight- or Shadow Reporting. This type of reporting often helps support government accountability for making progress on the 2030 Agenda. It complements VNR reporting and provides critical assessments, information and feedback, demonstrating the value of civil society in achieving sustainable development.

Given the non-official status of Spotlight Reporting, exploring ways to better utilize and sharing feedback from CSO reporting could help strengthen civic engagement and space in our overall efforts to achieve sustainable development. One option would be to foster integrated reporting on the SDGs, which considers the reporting efforts of multiple stakeholders, including civil society. These type of multi-stakeholder reporting processes may be encouraged through dedicated awareness raising, peer exchange and global learning using existing UN formats such as the HLPF, the Regional Forums for Sustainable Development or UN expert groups meetings for specific SDGs. Another option is to institutionalize approaches to strengthen more inclusive reporting, e.g. by integrating findings form Spotlight Reports into VNR Reports. Better connecting VNR- and Spotlight Reporting findings can: shape a more holistic picture of national SDG implementation, produce more citizen-oriented measures, and stimulate the sharing of experiences and best practices e.g. on strengthening the role of civil society. A third suggestion is to establish a UN platform or a database for civil society reporting on the SDGs. This could help collect and disseminate Spotlight Reports as well as facilitate joint guidance, enable analyses and document lessons learned. Furthermore, the VNR common guidelines could call for examples of meaningful CSO engagement (incl. considering spotlight reports) and their added value to achieve sustainable development in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These are just a few ideas that can help open up avenues for effective stakeholder engagement and civic spaces through SDG reporting that I hope can inspire the discussions ahead!

Emanuele Sapienza
Emanuele Sapienza Moderator

Thank you Pytrik Dieuwke Oosterhof for bringing up this very important point about VNRs and more generally the way in which global frameworks can be leveraged to achieve local impact. I feel similar considerations could be made for regular submissions to human rights treaty bodies as well as the Universal Periodic Review. What do others think? If possible, it would be great to hear examples of how these processes provided opportunities to address issues specifically related to civic space.

Julia Kercher
Julia Kercher Moderator

Thanks a lot, Pytrik, for these helpful recommendations on how to strengthen civil society participation in / around VNRs specifically. An example of integrated VNR reporting you mention is Finland's 2020 VNR where for each goal the government assessment is followed by a civil society assessment. The Partners4Review VNR analyses, incl. on civil society engagement, you authored in 2019 and 2020, include other useful examples. Joern Geisselmann from P4R may have additional thoughts.

The current Voluntary Common Reporting Guidelines for VNRs indeed already highlight the importance of civil society participation by asking countries to include information on how civil society was involved in preparing the report (section 4.).

Here are two more resources that can be useful when engaging civil society before or after a VNR: 

This UNDP / DESA 'Analytical Framework to analyse and strengthen the quality of stakeholder engagement practices' around VNRs or other SDG processes. It is based on three key principles reflected in SDG 16 (participation, inclusion and accountability) and offers a downloadable review matrix and user guide with tips for the current pandemic or similar crises. French and Spanish versions are available. 

TAP Network and the Global Alliance for Reporting Progress on Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, developed the Mainstreaming SDG 16: Using the Voluntary National Review to Advance More Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies. While focused on SDG 16, I would argue that its chapter on 'Ensuring Civil Society Engagement' is relevant for VNR follow-up on all SDGs. John Romano from TAP and Priya Sood from the Global Alliance may have points to add.

Pytrik Dieuwke Oosterhof
Pytrik Dieuwke Oosterhof

Many thanks Emanuele and Julia for your comments and for sharing the additional resources. To the comment on the VNR guidelines, perhaps I can clarify a bit further. Section 4 of the guidelines is about the methodology and process for VNR preparation, referencing mechanisms and practices for stakeholder engagement from a government perspective. My recommendation is to provide more space for the perspectives of stakeholders, including CSOs e.g. by showcasing CSO perspectives/initiatives as well as integrating findings from Spotlight Reports. The guidelines refer to considering Voluntary Local Reviews, however, they don’t mention the review efforts of other stakeholder groups. Considering Spotlight Reports can help shed a realistic light on the situation from a CSO perspective not only in the VNR process, but also in the overall SDG implementation efforts. Particularly the sharing of experiences and lessons learned from COVID-19 should be encouraged to enable analysis of potential set-backs CSOs have experienced due to the pandemic.

In addition to the resources highlighted, please also see the analysis of SDG 16 in VNRs and Spotlight Reports that I authored for GIZ and the TAP Network. This report provides a number of examples and recommendations for integrating SDG reporting efforts.

Priya Sood
Priya Sood

Thanks Julia  in giving the Global Alliance a chance to engage in this dynamic e-discussion.

The Global Alliance for Reporting Progress on Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies with our CSO partner, the Transparency, Accountability and Participation Network recently launched the ‘Mainstreaming SDG 16. Using the Voluntary National Review to Advance Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies’.  The Guidance examines a critical issue of how we can ensure that the VNR is maximized for SDG 16 impact, recommending the need to ensure VNR recommendations are fed into national priorities and plans and included in improved subsequent reporting.  Please allow me to elaborate on some recommendations and key findings from the guidance on civil society engagement:

  • Fundamental to accountability and to the whole-of-society approach is civil society engagement – in VNR design, delivery and follow-up. This is particularly true amidst shrinking civic space. Meaningful and diverse civil society participation in VNR and post VNR processes not only reflects inclusive and effective governance and decision-making, but also helps to ensure that SDG 16-related provisions in a VNR are taken forward.
  • A foundational tenet of the 2030 Agenda, the promise to “leave no one behind”, highlights the importance of inclusion, engagement and impact from the ground up. Local and regional governments (LRGs), with strong, democratic and accountable institutions, are prerequisites for achieving SDG 16. Particularly now as communities globally continue to struggle with COVID-19, it is critical to focus on and engage local community based organization and to focus on localizing SDG 16 (i.e. linking VNRs with Voluntary State Reviews (VSRs) and Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs)).
  • Data partnerships between national statistical systems, youth organizations, civil society, LRGs, international organizations and others provide another channel.  Many SDG 16 indicators lack age disaggregated data for example, which risks not disclosing information on the 1.85 billion young people globally, one out of four of whom is affected by violence or armed conflict. To this end, data that is disaggregated (based on gender, disability, rural communities, indigenous populations etc.) should be recognized and incorporated into VNRs.
  • Civil society engagement can also take the form of ‘Spotlight Reports’ and related follow-up. Spotlight Reports, as generated by civil society and, at times, in partnership with NHRIs, academia and other stakeholders, help to ensure an independent and robust assessment of progress. They can challenge, complement, or question member state reports, promote government accountability, provide a global platform for local civil society voices and set the stage for follow-up action, often with or alongside government partners. They are particularly important in contexts where civil society would otherwise have little or no opportunity to engage in VNR processes and thereby expand civic space. Spotlight reports can be included as a supplementary addendum to a country’s official VNR or can be presented separately through HLPF events and side-events.

In terms of VNR preparation and through consultations, civil society positions may be included in a country’s VNR under specific SDGs listings, as was the case for Finland in their 2020 VNRMalawi also took a very comprehensive approach and engaged with a wide and diverse spectrum of populations.

Meaningful and diverse civil society participation in VNR and post-VNR processes not only reflects inclusive and effective governance and decision-making, but also helps to ensure that SDG 16-related provisions within a VNR are taken forward. This process in itself has the potential to expand civic space. The degree and quality of inclusion in VNR and post-VNR processes matter. They should not be tokenistic, but rather reflective of a true multi-stakeholder process, embedded in human rights. Further, leveraging and empowering civil society and their proximity to local communities and grassroots groups further bolsters government responsiveness to various segments of society, ensuring that a greater diversity of voices is heard in keeping with a LNOB approach.


Cristina Ordóñez
Cristina Ordóñez Moderator

Tkanks Priya Sood and Pytrik Dieuwke Oosterhof for sharing these resources and practical recommendations, very useful from a civil society perspective. It is necessary for civil society to be aware of these resources to demand from governments that civil society participation in the development of VNRs is truly inclusive and not a mere formality that governments comply with, as part of a process.

SDG 16 Hub
SDG 16 Hub

Sharing below a contribution from Mandeep Tiwana :

Thank. We'd like to bring up another aspect of civil society action: public mobilisations. The 2021 State of Civil Society Report shows that decentralised movements for racial justice and gender equality are challenging exclusion and demanding a radical reckoning with systemic racism and patriarchy. Threats posed by economic inequality and climate change are enabling people to connect across cultures, spurring mobilisations in every inhabited continent. In the United States, the decentralised Black Lives Matter movement is spurring action on racial justice and the unprecedented prosecution of police officers engaged in racist acts of violence against Black people. The movement not only helped dispatch a race-baiting disruptive president at the polls, it also had a deep impact beyond the United States by spotlighting racism in places as diverse as Colombia, the Netherlands, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Notably, women-led movements are challenging gender stereotypes, exposing patterns of exclusion, and forging breakthroughs to lay the groundwork for fairer societies. Concerted street protests by women in Chile helped win a historic commitment to develop a new justice-oriented constitution by a gender-balanced constitutional assembly that will also include Indigenous people’s representation. In Argentina, legislation to legalise abortion and protect women’s sexual and reproductive rights followed years of public mobilisations by the feminist movement.

Our research finds that, in country after country, young people are at the forefront of protest. Young people have taken ownership of climate change to make it a decisive issue of our time. The Fridays for Future movement which began with a picket in front of the Swedish parliament on school days now has supporters organising regular events to demand urgent political action on the climate crisis on all continents.

Present day movements are deriving strength by taking the shape of networks rather than pyramids, with multiple locally active leaders. Unsurprisingly, powerful people’s mobilisations are inviting sharp backlash. Protest leaders and organisers are often the first to be vilified through official propaganda and subjected to politically motivated prosecutions. Many of the rights violations that CIVICUS has documented in recent years are in relation to suppression of protests. Persecution of dissenters, censorship and surveillance to stymie public mobilisations remains rife. They are all part of a tussle between people joining together in numbers to demand transformative change, and forces determined to stop them. Yet, the principled courage of protestors who mobilise undeterred by repression continues to inspire.

Protests are about challenging and renegotiating power. To succeed they need solidarity and allies across the board. The responsibility to safeguard the right to peaceful assembly enshrined in the constitutions of most countries and in the international human rights framework rests with all of us. History shows us that when people come together as civil society great things are possible.

Julia Kercher
Julia Kercher Moderator

Thanks, Mandeep Tiwana for reminding us of the power of protests and the backlash protesters can face. This connects with earlier comments from Thomas Davies on protest movements on these topics that seem to increasingly draw on virtual means and cross-country collaboration. I notice that the notion of solidarity has come up repeatedly too now and wonder whether the concept (or feeling) is experiencing a renaissance, after it has sounded outdated for some time. What do others think?

SDG 16 Hub
SDG 16 Hub

Sharing below a contribution from Joan Mudindi Vwamu :

We have been implementing the Strengthening Accountability and Integrity Systems (SPAIS) project in Kenya which aims at strengthening the capacities of key stakeholders towards transparent and accountable governance. Under this project Citizen Engagement and participation of civil society, faith-based organizations, media, and private sector to inform public, monitor service delivery and promote public accountability strengthened

Through this component 8 CSOs were selected to implement pilot interventions on transparency and accountability in the health sector. The 8 identified CSOs are:

i. Amnesty International.
ii. Transparent International.
iii. Human right Agenda(HURIA).
iv. HAKI Africa.
v. Youth Agenda.
vi. Health NGOs Network (HENNET).
vii. Emerging Leaders Foundation (ELF).
viii. Community Advocacy and Awareness Trust (CRAWN).

Each organization was granted USD 30,000 to implement initiatives that would have potential for scaling up. The following results were achieved:

A. Amnesty in collaboration with the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK) implemented the Wapi Nduru initiative which aimed at strengthening professional integrity and Human Rights within members of the accounting profession. This targeted accountants and was able to train 362 accountants under the umbrella of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK). The accountants were trained on Professional integrity and Human Rights. Out of those trained, a community of practice made up of 28 members was formed to provide support for members who wanted to whistle blow and Amnesty International under the ‘Wapi Nduru’ procured consultancy services to develop Whistle blower protocols to be used by ICPAK members. Out of a total of 1114 members of ICPAK who completed the baseline survey, 595 (53%) registered to attend the training, 430 (72%) attended more than half of the online sessions, 189 (32%) attended all the sessions without fail. 360 (60%) participants graduated after successfully completing their assignments on the Amnesty Academy and attending more than half of the classes.

From the implementation, a notable change in knowledge, attitudes and practice for members of the accounting profession who went through the training was observed. ICPAK whistleblower protection policy was also reviewed with a view of strengthening the internal protection environment for members at risk. Efforts were put in place to re-energized engagement with parliamentarians in order to table the Whistleblower Protection Bill. Amnesty International officially joined other partners in the fight against corruption through a Human rights Lens

B. Enhanced capacities of the beneficiaries on promoting Social Accountability and public Participation. The HEALTH NGOS NETWORK (HENNET) recruited 20 Accountability Health Champions from Mombasa and Nairobi counties who engaged the County Health Management Teams (CHMTs) on issues around accountability; public participation and the need to work with Accountability champions to enhance accountability. The Accountability Health champions also participated in a meeting organized and facilitated by the Nairobi Metropolitan Service (NMS) to discuss ways of enhancing public participation in delivery of health services in Nairobi City. HENNET realized several achievements that included enhanced capacities of the beneficiaries, coordinated forums, engagement of the selected health stakeholders, and development of tools for social accountability, media strategy and overall pushing for accountability in the health sector both in Mombasa and Nairobi counties. HENNET used virtual platform throughout the lifespan of the Project.

C. Humanity Activism Knowledge Integrity (HAKI) Africa undertook the social audit of Mombasa County Government’s Covid-19 funds. The audit assessed levels of service provision as opposed to doing the financial audit of how the funds were utilized. This followed public concerns over utilization of Covid-19 funds both at the county and national levels. As part of its efforts to ensure transparency in the utilization of public funds, HAKI Africa approached the County Government of Mombasa to collaborate and undertaking a social audit on the use of its Covid-19 funds. The social audit process adopted a human rights-based approach meant to ensure full participation of all stakeholders. The process engaged both the county government personnel as well as communities by bringing them to work together and follow up with beneficiaries and service providers in assessing the efficacy of the services provided and utilization of the county Covid-19 funds. The social audit concluded that: the county government did well in certain areas and needs to improve in others; the county did well in health facility preparedness (93%), provision of health services (75%) as well as food and nutrition (73%) and that the County should improve on management of Covid-19 related stigma and transparency (61%) and accountability in management of Covid-19 funds (56%).

D. Youth Agenda through a programme dubbed WAJIBIKA (Wajibika is a Swahili word meaning take responsibility) sought to promote prudent use of public resources, compliance with the legal frameworks on public expenditure and increased transparency in the administration of the COVID 19 response funds in Nairobi county. The project enhanced Citizen Engagement and Participation of Civil Society, Faith-Based Organizations, media, and private sector to inform the public, monitor service delivery and promote public accountability. This ensured that all stakeholders adhered to the Legal Framework on public expenditure as per the Public Finance Management(PFM) Act 2012. The project resulted in at least 26 county officials (Executive and Assembly), 27 Youth Serving Organizations and 17 youth who acquired knowledge on Open Contracting. 11 Youth Serving Organizations were directly involved in assessing the level of Open Contracting in Nairobi county; and 17 youth from 17 sub counties of Nairobi county directly involved in conducting a citizen perception survey to establish status of access to procurement information by the citizenry and measures put in place by the county to facilitate ease access to information.

The initiative saw 60 young people trained and equipped with knowledge on open contracting which through the Open Government Partnership (OGP), (The Open Government Partnership is a multilateral initiative that brings together government reformers and civil society leaders to create action plans that make governments more accountable, inclusive and responsive to the citizens they serve) it focused on commitments to promote transparency, fight corruption, empower citizens, and harness new technologies to improve governance. In the spirit of multi-stakeholder collaboration, OGP is overseen by a Steering Committee including representatives of governments and civil society organizations. In a bid to promote transparency and accountability, the project-initiated discussions to develop the Nairobi county Open Contracting Portal. If well executed, Nairobi County will be the third county in Kenya after Makueni and Elgeyo Marakwet to implement Open Contracting.

E. Transparency International (TI) Kenya developed a national level online Covid-19 web platform which allows any member of the public to access and interact with the information on resources allocated towards COVID-19 response interventions. The project focused on analysing government’s response to Covid-19 through an accountability lens. The initiative highlighted governments adherence to legal standards and established practices on transparency and accountability in pandemic response. This was to improve understanding and strengthen advocacy efforts in accountability in pandemic response. TI Kenya facilitated training of 25 investigative journalists on investigative journalism skills within the context of a pandemic. Three (3) journalists were supported in undertaking investigative stories on covid-19 response, transparency, and accountability. TI Kenya also conducted regular informative social media postings creating public awareness and generated public discourse on issues integrity in Covid19 and also stimulated public action against corruption and ineffective strategies responding to the crisis. The initiative State proposed future focus on integrity in disaster response and humanitarian aid through lobbying, knowledge creation and partner support; capacity strengthening of government systems on social accountability across several departments and strengthening oversight institutions to provide better oversight over use of resources. In conclusion it was noted that there is urgent need for greater interventions in the health sector to be initiated to promote good governance and improved service delivery; there is need to support/initiate policy, legislative and institutional reforms to enhance greater accountability, good governance and disaster preparedness and need to facilitate movement building at grassroot level to enhance greater citizen involvement, awareness and action for good governance.

F. The Community Advocacy and Awareness (CRAWN) Trust conducted research studies on social accountability through undertaking a baseline survey which provided valuable information on Maternal and Child Health Care (MCH) within Nairobi County. Health/wellness is a great contributor and determinant of a nation’s development outcomes. Kenya in its 2010 constitution states that all citizens have the right to the highest attainable healthcare. Women make up over half of the population in Kenya yet are still not able to access affordable and quality Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health Services leading to alarming statistics in this sector. The project documented findings on the status of Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health in Nairobi County providing evidence-based data/ findings. Through the advocacy forums conducted a wide cross section of citizens were sensitised. Nationally reaching about 2,557,000. In Nairobi County 705,000 and 1,865,000 people were reached by the project. In addition, 225 beneficiaries were reached directly through the project forums; the beneficiaries comprised of 164 Women, 61 Men, 138 Youths and 24 PWDs. Through the sensitisation forums the foundation for a scale up for the monitoring and oversight of anti- corruption interventions was set up. It was recommended there is need for citizens to engage in advocacy on health rights, starting from identification of gaps, mapping of like-minded institutions and engagement in oversight of health service provision. Key policy recommendations to be taken up in the scale up including standardization of health covers such as National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) to ensure that all contributing citizens have access to all covered services at all accredited health centres. This also includes harmonization of various schemes and clarity on what services are covered. There were concerns about adequate staffing and renumeration in the health centres to ensure quality of care. Finally, it was highlighted that there is great need for empowering and facilitating citizens to conduct citizen’s audits on service provision to curb corruption.

G. Human Rights Agenda (HURIA) implemented this project that covered six sub-counties of Mombasa County to strengthen citizens’ capacity to demand for accountable and effective service delivery by the state in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The focus during this period was centered around the fight against corruption and service delivery by integrating anticorruption strategies, awareness, and undertaking surveys to understand the depth of the corruption allegations and information within the public domain. The project conducted a mapping exercise in all the six sub-counties of Mombasa County, namely Mvita, Likoni, Changamwe, Jomvu, Kisauni and Nyali targeting respondents and beneficiaries of both the County and National COVID-19 programs.

The mapping exercise also purposed to measure the impact of COVID -19 on the beneficiaries as well as audit and check on pilferage of funds and ascertain the level of corruption within the initiatives. Further, it also focused on assessing the level of accountability and integrity during the implementation of the COVID-19 initiatives. The key targets in the survey included youth, women, artists and PWDs who were either direct or indirect beneficiaries. The exercise reached out to two hundred and five persons (205) disaggregated at eighty-five (85) male and one hundred and twenty (120) female. Additionally, HURIA administered two online surveys targeting members of the public and mostly beneficiaries of the COVID-19 programmes and key community actors and decision makers.

The surveys were meant to assess the level of satisfaction of members of the public on the plans and the role the county and National Government to cushion the effects of the pandemic on the citizens. More importantly, the surveys intended to audit and question the beneficiaries and key actors on the mismanagement of the funds and complaints from the public concerning the way the programs were run. To enhance engagement and project visibility to community members there were toll free numbers (Free anti-corruption reporting and advisory call platform) to which stakeholders would share feedback.

H. Emerging Leaders Foundation (ELF) My Sister’s Keeper (MSK) was a partnership between UNDP and ELF- Africa aimed at promoting accountable leadership in the health sector. This was achieved by strengthening the capacity of young female health practitioners between 18-35 years of age practicing within Nairobi County. MSK aimed at positioning young women to take leadership & accountability through existing frameworks and actively participate in decision making through skills and knowledge transfer. This would then enhance: Self-Awareness which triggered awakening among fellows on the power they hold toward effecting positive change in the health sector through active participation and leadership; and empowers fellows to gain deep understanding of own self, character values and purpose in their life and profession. Speaking Truth to Power, Social Accountability, Youth engagement & Advocacy triggered consciousness in holding leaders and key stakeholders accountable in providing exemplary health care services to citizens; Policy & Budget Cycle and Ethics, Integrity and Advocacy increased youth engagement dialogue and civic participation to health advocacy at community level and interrogation of budgetary allocations and expenditure of the same. In that regard mentorship was key between young female health practitioners and their older, more experienced counterparts. This bridged the gap and promoted intergenerational knowledge sharing ensuring that best practices are absorbed and replicated across the system, experience shared among the young and older health practitioners positions young practitioners.

ELF , identified and mentored 100 young health practitioners in partnership with Reproductive Health Network Kenya (RHNK), a network of health professionals within private and public facilities committed to Comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, advocacy, and service provision, formed to provide evidenced-based information and quality comprehensive reproductive health services in Kenya. MSK in partnership with Reproductive Health Network Kenya (RHNK), a network of health professionals within private and public facilities committed to Comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, advocacy, and service provision, formed to provide evidenced-based information and quality comprehensive reproductive health services in Kenya. The programme also identified Forty (40) mentors, all of them specific to the needs of MSK fellows having used tools like pre-training & Post-Training Surveys and mentorship needs form. Some of the fellows’ mentorship need was unique (not in line with current practice) e.g., Communications & Public Speaking. Seventy-seven (77) MSK Fellows were paired to mentors according to their areas of interest / need. ELF will monitor and follow-up on mentoring progress for a period of six months and document stories on progress and share the successes.

I. Africa’s Voices deployed its innovative approach to civic engagement through the ‘Common Social Accountability Platform’ (CSAP) which used interactive radio shows to achieve meaningful spaces of mediated public discussion between citizens and authorities. The project targeted the urban poor settlements of Nairobi and this was done through a series of weekly interactive radio shows in three popular radio stations over a period of 2 months (8 shows per station for a total of 24 broadcasts over 8 weeks).The project convened large-scale, plural and inclusive accountability dialogues between authorities and citizens in urban poor settlements of Nairobi with a view to promote and uphold public accountability and enhance the role citizens play in countering corruption. This aimed to strengthen citizen engagement in the monitoring of healthcare service delivery in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and to provided trusted spaces for an exchange on matters related to the provision and quality of healthcare services.

It also envisioned to draw rich insights from citizen voices and share recommendations for future programming. Through Africa’s Voices Common Social Accountability Platform (“CSAP”) approach, the project leveraged on increasing the scope and quality of citizen engagement, provide a canvass for citizen feedback and influence decision-making to enhance public dialogue between citizens and duty bearers. It also advanced accountability of authorities for informed decision-making. During implementation large-scale, plural, and inclusive accountability dialogues were convened between authorities and citizens in urban poor settlements of Nairobi with a view to promote and uphold public accountability and the role that citizens can play in countering corruption. Consequently, this can then serve to enhance citizen perceptions of voice and efficacy, government recognition of and interaction with civic engagement, and ultimately the forging of trust between citizens and authorities.

Citizen engagement was strengthened in the monitoring of healthcare service delivery in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic providing trusted spaces for exchange on matters related to the provision and quality of healthcare services. Rich insights from citizen voices was drawn and recommendations made to be adapted in future programming in regard to the needs and opinions of citizens regarding tackling corruption. The Common Social Accountability Platform - Africa’s Voices interactive radio approach was an effective citizen engagement/public participation tool that increased the scope and quality of citizen engagement, fostered public dialogue between citizens and authorities; enabled citizen feedback and influence on decision-making and advanced accountability of authorities for decision-making and action.

Julia Kercher
Julia Kercher Moderator

Joan Mudindi Vwamu  , thank you so much for sharing the details of this large-scale initiative of UNDP Kenya which provides very useful examples on our first framing question. It seems that all but the first organisation focused on health, and more specifically, Covid-19-related accountability processes - was this the initial purpose or did it evolve this way? Also, it would be super useful to know whether you have started seeing similarities or complementarities in results and approaches taken by the CSOs that could help formulate recommendations for different actors and to see how to sustain these efforts?  

Joan Mudindi Vwamu
Joan Mudindi Vwamu

Julia Kercher, initially the intervention was not meant to be on Covid- 19 but the entire health sector but in the process Covid -19 happened! we therefore focused on the same since that was the greater need. Currently we are working hard to fundraise for continuity of this and also integrate other sectors in the same. Under this initiative one of the most unique intervention was one with Amnesty International where we were building capacity for the accountants to whistle blow. We are currently embarking on the next phase where we are focusing on open contracting. 


Alice Wadström
Alice Wadström

Dear All, my name is Alice Wadström and I work as a Programme Analyst in Conflict Prevention and Civic Engagement in the governance cluster at UNDP Tunisia. I'd like to share some reflections from our CO on civic engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I invite Eduardo Lopez-Mancisidor and other colleagues to share their perspectives as well.

In Tunisia, as has been the case globally, the pandemic has put a strain on government capacity to respond to the multifaceted socio-economic and health repercussions of COVID-19. Among the challenging factors facing Tunisia were the strict lock-down starting March 2020, limited capacity of the health system and a significant informal economy heavily impacted by the measures taken by government to contain the spread of COVID-19. In Tunisia’s ‘post-transition’ context, civil society plays a significant role in strengthening democratic, inclusive and participatory governance and in bridging the gaps in the service chain between public institutions and citizens. The SDG16+ approach to the COVID-19 response consisted of reinforcing governance while targeting the most marginalized and promoting equal distribution of aid and access to public services.

Spanning geographically from Tunis in the north to Tataouine in the south, the following interventions involving civil society were implemented as part of the SDG16+ Portfolio’s reponse to COVID-19 (through the projects on Security Sector Reform, Support to Civil Society and Prevention of Violent Extremism):

• Local Security Committees – a mechanism supported by UNDP that includes civil society representatives, and which carried out some 110 actions in response to COVID-19. These actions complemented State interventions, and conveyed important information about the pandemic, provided protective equipment and other essential services to citizens such as emergency financial aid or food packages. For instance, in Ben Guerdane, the Local Security Committee along with the regional health Bureau and civil society organizations coordinated the efforts of a variety of actors such as local public authorities, civil society, the private sector, and volunteer health and psychological experts. They helped not only in managing and evacuating the large crowds stranded at Ras El Jedir, but also in the delivery of emergency first aid and assistance to marginalized groups.

• A network of civil-society organizations was mobilized to carry out 26 initiatives to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in partnership with the Ministry of Youth and Sport. The interventions focused mainly on awareness-raising, preventing the spread of COVID-19 and social and financial support to marginalized communities. This is an example of how CSOs that normally worked to develop the partnership between the State-run youth centers and civil society, redirected their activities with the support of UNDP to engage with government in responding to the pandemic.

• Between May-September, 6 actions involving 14 civil society partners in Medenine, Tataouine and Gabès were adapted to strengthen trust between citizens and government institutions, strengthen solidarity and prevent a surge in violence as a result of the health and socio-economic crisis that followed the pandemic. Local authorities, civil society and citizens of Gabès, Médenine and Tataouine worked closely together to strengthen social cohesion and address citizens’ fragile trust in the State for a more efficient response to the pandemic.

These interventions in response to COVID-19 in Tunisia are examples of effective engagement between civil society and government and furthermore showcase the role that UNDP can play in enabling these partnerships, in allowing for flexibility to respond to unforeseen crises and to adapt interventions to ensure their relevance and impact. A recommendation for the sustainability of these collaborations would be to further build on the mechanisms and platforms that may have emerged to respond to ad hoc situations, and make sure to strengthen the connections between the different actors who were involved and capitalize on these for future common actions.

Cristina Ordóñez
Cristina Ordóñez Moderator

Alice Wadström thanks for sharing these examples of interventions between civil society, government and UNDP in Tunisia, which complement the examples discussed earlier by Joan Mudindi Vwamu on Kenya. It would be interesting to know whether, in the wake of the pandemic, government support for such actions has increased and if bridges between these stakeholders have been strengthened in times of crisis. Any thoughts?

Sondre Nave
Sondre Nave

Dear all,

Sorry for joining the discussion at late stage, but I want to share some experiences from Norway and our VNR process as a good example of effective engagement between civil society and government during the pandemic, as well as some challenges. I work in the Norwegian Forum for Development and Environment and has coordinated civil society’s assessments for the Norwegian VNR this year.

The Norwegian government invited civil society to contribute with assessments of all the 17 SDGs in the official VNR report. Forum for Development and Environment was given the task to coordinate the process and we organized 17 working groups, one for each SDG. The assessments will be presented unedited alongside the government’s assessments. It was an open process where all Norwegian CSOs could contribute to the assessments.

The Norwegian government was inspired by the Finnish model from 2020, showing a willingness to learn from other countries and the ability to engage non-state actors in reporting processes. The good example from Finland enabled us to jump from advocating for been included in the process, to start discussing how we can make the engagement of civil society meaningful.

Being included in the report and being given the task to coordinate civil society’s assessments is in many ways strong stakeholder engagement and a sign of trust between the government and civil society. However, there are some challenges to make the engagement as meaningful and inclusive as it can be.  

We were given a tight timeframe and short deadlines, and it was difficult to engage as many from civil society as we wanted to. In the spirit of leaving no one behind, we acknowledge that we as civil society should strive for representation in our joint initiatives and always ask ourselves if our processes are inclusive and participatory enough. We are happy with the number of organisations and the diversity of organisations we brought together for this VNR given the timeframe, but we also see room for improvement.

Another challenge is to make the VNR report politically relevant and a contribution to future policy development. At this point it is difficult to see if our assessments will be used in the planning or implementation of Agenda 2030. We hope at least that the government learn from this experience and use it to implement strong mechanisms for inclusion, participation and accountability in the forthcoming National Action Plan, which they will present before summer.

To avoid the challenges described above, we proposed for the Ministry for Local Government, responsible for the VNR report, to use the framework developed by UNDP Oslo Governance Centre and UN DESA, to analyse the process and stakeholder engagement in the beginning of the VNR process, but unfortunately the tight timeframe made it difficult to conduct an analysis. Even though the ministry did not want to use the framework in this process, I used the principles of the framework in our feedback to the ministry, asking for more inclusive, participatory and accountable processes in the future. 

Julia Kercher
Julia Kercher Moderator

Thanks a lot, Sondre Nave , for providing useful insight into Norway's VNR preparation process (thus another example of what Pytrik Dieuwke Oosterhof called integrated reporting), an example of how the UNDP / DESA framework can be used (= framing input) and of how the VNR process may leverage post-VNR engagement. Has anyone witnessed successful post-VNR engagement and can share recommendations on how to keep the conversation going once the VNR is submitted?

Sarah Rattray
Sarah Rattray

Thanks colleagues for another great discussion on such an important issue for SDG 16. I have enjoyed reading the contributions and wanted to elaborate on two points before the discussion closes.

Firstly, building on the comments from Emanuele Sapienza about National Human RIghts Institutions (NHRIs) and the Marrakech Declaration, more focus should be placed on these institutions and the important role they can play (if they are independent, pluralistic and working in line with the Paris Principles) particularly on working on civic space issues and supporting civil society. 

We have just launched a new global Study on COVID-19 and National Human Rights Institutionswith OHCHR and GANHRI which really zooms in on the what these institutions have been doing during the COVID-19 pandemic which has been a time of immense challenges for human rights - with backsliding noted in over 60 per cent of countries globally in the last year. Based on reviewing the practices and experiences of 75% of NHRIs globally, some key findings are: 

  • NHRIs have worked tirelessly during the pandemic to put people first
  • The most vulnerable and marginalized populations have been top priorities for NHRIs as they try to reach the furthest behind first by receiving and acting on complaints, monitoring places of detention and supporting outreach, advocacy and communications to populations on their rights
  • NHRIs have provided vital advice to Governments to help ensure that human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled while combatting the pandemic
  • NHRIs have also been severely impacted by the pandemic with curtailed operations, methods of working and day-to-day functionality
  • As front-line human rights defenders, they have faced intimidation and reprisals as a result of carrying out their mandates
  • NHRIs have been resilient: finding a range of innovative ways to fulfil their vital mission to promote and protect human rights, including in partnership with civil society

I recommend you can watch a short 2 minute video here and I also recommend you tune into this podcast to hear directly from the NHRIs of The Gambia and Armenia (English), and the NHRI of Mali (French) on the types of work they are doing and the challenges they are facing. Civil society partners also reflect on their role here. We have been working with the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions in the context of follow-up to Marrakech and within our Tripartite Partnership to support NHRIs with OHCHR and GANHRI  on model laws of civic space and HRDs etc (regional tools to come out later this year)

The second point is linked to this but far broader than NHRIs and it is on the role and the increasing risks that Human Rights Defenders are facing globally. The statistics are deeply concerning @MandeepTiwana speaks to this in relation to backlash against protesters but unfortunately it is a broader trend that we are seeing escalating over the last 5 years and particularly civil society and human rights defenders acting in the environmental space.

At least 331 human rights defenders promoting social, environmental, racial and gender justice in 25 countries were killed in 2020 alone - with scores more beaten, detained and criminalized because of their work - according to FrontLine Defenders (Global Analysis 2020 | Front Line Defenders). See here www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/feb/11/human-rights-defenders-murder-2020-report

The recent report (referred to above) found: 

  • Indigenous activists made up nearly one third of the total of 331 human rights defenders killed worldwide, even though indigenous peoples comprise only about 6% of the global population

  • A significant number of those murdered were working to stop extractive industry projects and 13% of all those recorded killed were women

  • Six transgender human-rights defenders were killed in 2020, all of them in the Americas

In this respect and as partners of HRDs we have a duty of care in our dealings with HRDs but in general need to strategizing on the best ways to support HRDs particularly in cases of reprisals.

Best regards,




Cristina Ordóñez
Cristina Ordóñez Moderator

Thanks Sarah Rattray for commenting on Emanuele Sapienza's point above. It is gratifying to hear that NHRIs have been resilient and have worked to protect vulnerable and marginalized populations, however, the data you present on human rights violations is alarming. In restricted civic spaces, the participation of the international community is essential to support civil society, social movements and HRDs. If anyone is interested in this topic, more contributions can be found in the 2nd e-discussion on "Accountability, rule of law and human rights".


Gabriell Duarte
Gabriell Duarte

Debido a las medidas de movilidad impuestas por los gobiernos se han prohibido las concentraciones y manifestaciones ciudadanas en un momento de mayor tensión y descontento ciudadano ante el mal manejo de la crisis de la pandemia. 

En Guatemala, durante noviembre se realizaron convocatorias a manifestar en contra del gabinete presidencial y del Congreso de la República, ese día se documentaron casos de excesivo uso de la fuerza policial y represión hacia ciudadanos y periodistas; incluso dos personas perdieron un ojo. 

Las medidas impuestas pareciera que buscan evitar que los ciudadanos puedan manifestarse en espacios públicos, incluso se ha prohibido abiertamente que existan concentraciones. 

En ASIES Guatemala realizamos una encuesta virtual para conocer la percepción de los ciudadanos en las áreas de educación, seguridad, economía y gobernabilidad y evidenciamos cómo el cierre de estos espacios se ve reflejado en un desencanto por la democracia. Más información acá:



De cara a la era pos COVID-19 (en algunos países aún no podemos hablar de pos) y a promover espacios cívicos se hace necesario formar alianzas con otras organizaciones de sociedad civil para exigir una mayor transparencia en el presupuesto público y el fortalecimiento de las instituciones públicas, ya que se evidenció la necesidad no solo de los servicios de salud sino también de mecanismos de apoyo para que las personas puedan recuperar su vida pre COVID.

Cristina Ordóñez
Cristina Ordóñez Moderator

Hola Gabriell Duarte , muchas gracias por comentar sobre la situación de Guatemala y por compartir el estudio con datos actualizados sobre varias temáticas de interés de esta conversación. En los próximos días publicaremos el resumen final de esa discusión. Por si es de tu interés, desde el día de hoy se está desarrollando la última discusión online sobre la prestación de servicios públicos transparentes e inclusivos, seguro desde ASIES tienen mucho que aportar en esta temática.

John Romano
John Romano

Hi all - Joining the conversation a bit late here, but the positive about joining at this stage is that so much has already been said! I think the main thing I'd add to what's already been said is that because the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed how we've worked (digitally) over the past year, we need to ensure that we're learning from and building upon some of the great things that this virtual engagement has led to - namely bringing many more voices to conversations that otherwise have been driven by some of the same institutions and organizations that have had access to the UN and global meetings/conferences. We will need to take these methods and build upon these going forward, even after we've "recovered" from the pandemic to help us ensure that these voices and partners are consistently engaged. 

I think there's also been some significant challenges related to this obviously, namely related to how we work in-country to support our partners through capacity-building, coordination, advocacy, etc., which we'll have to fundamentally re-think in a post-pandemic world. This is part of the rationale behind the approach we've taken with the Mainstreaming SDG16 Resource - providing detailed guidance for colleagues that work at the national and local level to take up on their own, where they hopefully find it useful enough learn from, in the absence of direct in-country support. Of course we're hoping to still take some of this support forward in different ways going forward, but I think we'll have to really think about how we frame resources and platforms to maximize learning amongst partners going forward, especially in the absence of the "traditional" ways of doing this (ie. workshops, conferences, etc.). 

Going forward, we'll also be launching our SDG16+ Civil Society Toolkit at the 2021 HLPF, which we also hope will be a useful resource for civil society partners to unpack SDG16+ in their own contexts, and help colleagues think about how to utilize and maximize SDG16+ work to enhance the great work that they're already doing. This resource will provide a lot of detail on things such as spotlight reporting approaches, how to work with parliaments, how to engage the media, working with budgeting process and much much more. We will also feature the resource on an online platform as well to ensure that it's very user-friendly and so that colleagues can navigate the content in an easier way than just through a static report. Having all of this content online will also allow for translation into different languages through plug-ins and browser extensions, to make the resource more accessible beyond the english-speaking community. Finally, having an online resource will also allow us to solicit and collect content from users to be able to showcase on this platform, which we hope will provide ample opportunities for sharing and learning. We look forward to launching this Toolkit in July at the HLPF, and to engaging with many of you around its content in the months ahead as well! 

Dian Kuswandini
Dian Kuswandini

Dear All,

Thanks for this interesting discussion! I've been following since last week, but hadn't thought of sharing few words since everything had been well said and perfectly elaborated here!

I know it's a bit late to share few words now, but just this morning I suddenly remembered one occasion where UNESCO invited Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, the UN Special Rapporteur  on Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association to one of our HLPF events. Through him, we've got to introduced to the work of ICNL, which promotes civic freedoms. 

This latest effort by ICNL during this pandemic might interest you as well: COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker: https://www.icnl.org/covid19tracker/

The Tracker monitors government responses to the pandemic that affect civic freedoms and human rights, focusing on emergency laws. Hopefully this can be a useful resource for the Global Alliance community. 

Emanuele Sapienza
Emanuele Sapienza Moderator

Dear All,

Many thanks for all of your contributions and for a very rich, stimulating and informative week 2 discussion!

We have touched on a number or critical issues: from further analysis of the negative impact of COVID-19 related measures on civic space (including protest movements) to the opportunities for voice and accountability opened by global processes such as VNRs; from additional examples of civil society resilience and ingenuity (as in the case of organizations of persons with disabilities) to the leadership role played by national human rights institutions in many contexts. Furthermore, we have heard about examples of UN support to civil society actors (as in the cases of Tunisia and Kenya) and reflected on how how alternative models of solidarity and development require alternative modes of economic organization.

We are very grateful for the time each participant took to engage in this conversation. This is the end of the third segment of our e-discussion but just another step in an on-going dialogue and we look forward to continuing to exchange on this issue of critical importance!

In the next days we will post the final summary of this segment. In the meantime, we invite you to join the 4th and final segment of the e-discussion which will focus on Transparent and inclusive public service delivery.

With warm regards.

Emanuele (on behalf of the co-moderators)


Ulrich Graute
Ulrich Graute

I know the discussion is closed but I found this and think that it may be of interest for you.

The OECD is now producing Civic Space Scans. The first is launched now and it is on Finland.

Civic Space Scans focus on four key thematic areas: 1) civic rights and freedoms, i.e. freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association, access to information, and protection for activists and human rights defenders), 2) media and digital rights and freedoms, i.e. the right to a free press, an open Internet, privacy and data protection, and issues related to emerging technologies), 3) the enabling operational environment created by the government for civil society organisations (CSOs) to operate in and flourish, and 4) civic and CSO participation in policy making and decision making. Cross-cutting issues, such as inclusion and non-discrimination, emergency laws, civic literacy and the impact of COVID-19 are also key concerns.

You can find the Civic Space Scan on Finland here:


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