CIVICUS believes that there is an urgent need to identify and track systematically enabling and disenabling trends in the contested environment for civil society. It has therefore proposed that a Civil Society Enabling Environment Index (EE Index) be designed.
For CIVICUS, designing the EE Index is a natural step forward from two strands of its work over recent years. One is the Civil Society Index (CSI), a participatory action-research project implemented with national partner organisations across the globe. The other is Civil Society Watch (CSW), a fact-finding, awareness-raising and advocacy project which has the goal of protecting the space for civil society to operate freely and optimally.
The findings from these projects made us see a necessity for a new tool in the form of the EE Index. For CIVICUS, the process of developing such an index, as well as the tool itself, is important for reasons described below. Therefore, this introductory paper makes an invitation for more stakeholders to join the dialogue.
CIVICUS would like to produce the EE Index as a regular global assessment of the key external dimensions affecting civil society with a view to identifying enabling and constraining factors, highlighting global trends and their implications, and foreseeing likely scenarios that potentially impact on the effectiveness of civil society.
Below are set out a few key premises for the EE Index. The draft Index will be made available on the CIVICUS website, as part of this consultation process.
- There is an acute need for producing reliable, robust and regular evidence on the state of civil society globally.In 2011, CIVICUS published Bridging the Gaps: Citizens, Organisations and Disassociation, which was based on the Civil Society Index findings from 2008 to 2011. This publication called attention to a growing disconnect between organised forms of civil society and active citizenry who are not directly associated with civil society organisations (CSOs), and served as a key source for the subsequent State of Civil Society report. CIVICUS highlighted in its inaugural State of Civil Society report, published 2012, that civil society organisations and citizen activists worldwide operate in “extremely dynamic and volatile circumstances.” The report described various “complex, rapidly changing factors” affecting civil society. It captured multi-faceted crises civil society is facing, and characterised them as a disenabling environment for civil society. For CIVICUS, the report was an important milestone that consolidated its day-to-day work in generating data and knowledge on the conditions for civil society.CIVICUS and a few other organisations that take seriously increasing threats to civil society space have, including through Civil Society Watch, vigorously been alerting the international community about the issue of volatile conditions for civil society in recent years. In a synopsis report published in late 2010, CIVICUS offered evidence of threats to civil society space in more than 75 countries. These included legal restrictions on civil society’s ability to exist and operate freely, policy and other measures to restrict civil society participation in governance processes, and other manifestations of threats such as physical attacks, harassments, imprisonment and assassinations of civil society activists, as well as crackdowns on protests and demonstrations. In our view, the situation has not improved, and if anything it has deteriorated in the last few years, as documented in last year’s State of Civil Society report and this current edition.
In producing these action-oriented research products, CIVICUS has identified a significant gap in the current research and systematic reporting on civil society, which became an impetus for producing the State of Civil Society report regularly. It also prompted CIVICUS to develop the EE Index as a source of reliable, international and comparative quantitative information.
Civil society in general, and CSOs that attempt to link action to research, face challenges around the rigour and neutrality of their research and analysis. CIVICUS is no exception. Civil society analysis of the kind CIVICUS undertakes faces queries and critiques as to the extent to which it offers true, incontestable evidence that describes the state of civil society. What these queries suggest is that there is heightened awareness yet a dearth of reliable information on the state of civil society. The knowledge base for civil society is growing globally, but it seems that civil society analyses are not always presented in such a way that best meet demands. But then we also need to ask, what is the demand?
We believe that the demand is that key civil society stakeholders want to know if we have an enabling environment for civil society – globally as a composite picture as well as in each and every country – as evidence for policy. Policy formation needs to be evidence-based, and information needs to be sound enough to withstand analytical scrutiny.
- Wider and more in-depth debate is needed on the enabling environment. CIVICUS believes that the enabling environment for civil society will be a central concept in discourse on civil society in the coming years. In the last few years, a number of civil society stakeholders are paying attention to this term, including multilateral institutions, bilateral donors and people and groups in civil society.From the CIVICUS point of view, this development demonstrates that the world has, in a way, caught up with our work. CIVICUS’ mission is strengthening civil society and citizen action. We believe that it is an end in itself rather than a means to an end. This latter instrumental approach of civil society has been prevalent, especially in international development; a strong civil society was viewed as a necessary ingredient for poverty reduction, gender equality, universal education, and other development goals. In the last few years, however, we believe that we are witnessing a shift in some quarters to appreciating the intrinsic value of civil society.Growing recognition of the enabling environment, as evidenced by the increasing use of the phrase, is a key part of this shift. If the strength and vibrancy of civil society is an end in itself, an essential ingredient is an enabling environment for it to flourish. But we have not yet progressed much from this important understanding. For example, while last year’s State of Civil Society report had a focus on the complex, contested and volatile environment for civil society, many did not see this as an over-arching trend.