The thoughts from a recent webinar
Many may describe true collaboration between CSOs and government in Africa as impossible or non-existent, depending on country contexts. But according to a recent Twende Mbele hosted webinar, those point of views and descriptions are inaccurate and need further exploration.
Twende Mbele, a peer learning programme by African governments working together to strengthen their M&E systems, has recently been working to improve collaboration between CSOs and Government in the WASH and Health Sectors. Given the urgency of connecting data systems and responding to countries’ pandemic needs, a discussion on some success stories for collaboration was needed.
The webinar, “Effective Collaboration Between Civil Society and Government” brought together presenters from Ghana and South Africa – Ms Dede Bedu-Addo, Ms Matodzi Amisi and Ms Wilmi Dippenaar. All three presenters brought valuable insights from their experiences in government, CSOs and M&E systems more broadly.
Ms Dede Bedu-Addo, the coordinator for Ghana Monitoring and Evaluation Forum (GMEF) spoke to the significant role CSOs play in country-level evaluation ecosystems. She described CSOs as being a good source of evidence generation because of their proximity to citizens, and that they often have robust monitoring systems, generating significant amounts of data (and evaluation evidence) for decision-making.
Ms Bedu-Addo spoke of a recent project with Twende Mbele exploring how CSOs and Government collaborate in the sanitation and waste management sector. In Ghana, the government agenda for sanitation had been diffferent to CSOs, due mainly to limited budget allocation and capacity. The CSOs in this sector have played a key role as change agents, using evidence-based advocacy campaigns that are influencing government to use evidence for service delivery improvements.
In terms of what facilitates CSOs collaboration with government, Ms Amisi pointed to the importance of institutionalising collaboration through the constitution, national legislation and in administrative requirements. Another approach is through creating spaces for dialogue, like in South Africa with the National Council for GBV, created to support victims and survivors of gender-based violence and address all forms of violence against women and children.
The most prominent barrier for government and CSOs to collaborate is developed from a mutual suspicion which stems from antagonistic relations, where government will dislike CSOs for the methods of rising funds and CSOs for they part will oppose government actions and policies. In the case of building a robust evaluation ecosystem, an existing barrier lies in the type of administration whether it is politically or legislatively closed, and not open to CSOs input.
For her part, and speaking from the experiences of a CSO, Ms Dippenaar, Director for The Seven Passes Initiative reinforced that collaboration with government is important because it gives the organisation credibility, enhances its reputation and legitimizes it services. For her, aligning the organisations values and principles to that of government policies has been helpful in finding the right government agency to collaborate with and it also proved to be the key to a long successful relationship.
But, collaborating with government is not without it challenges. At times, government policies are not communicated well and her organisation has had to make use of ‘brokers’ to help translate government policies into digestible directives and actions for CSOs. Another challenge faced by her organisations and many others, is that of not being equal partners with government; although NPOs and NGOs like The Seven Passes Initiative do the bulk of the DSD work, DSD makes most of the decisions. In her opinion, a growth area in the relationship with government is in the government-wide M&E system, of which in her opinion, focuses on numbers and not on the quality of the programmes i.e. reporting on how many days a child attends our programs rather than the outcome of attending.
A major take home from the webinar was that, although a lack of trust characterises relationships between CSOs and governments across the continent as well as, a lack of capacity for effective engagements, best practices are still cropping up, particularly in Twende Mbele partner countries. Ghana, South Africa and Uganda have led the way with their response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, which has supported existing partnerships, encouraging CSOs and government to work more closely together for the benefit of their citizens.
By Parfait Kasongo and Cara Waller