Civic voice. It’s not new. The question we ask at the Commonwealth Foundation is: what value are we adding to the discourse? At the heart of the Commonwealth Foundation’s work in participatory governance is to support strengthening civic voices to promote peaceful and inclusive societies. The landscape of people’s participation in governance is changing as different actors, change makers, and influencers shift modes of engagement, often supported by technology.
The work of organised civil society continues to be important but there are less-heard voices and informal collectives which remain in the margins that would like to engage more in civic activism and make significant contributions to policy processes. The spectrum of civic voices that the Foundation support include: formal civil society organisation; less-formal collectives; and individual voices (the latter is specifically located in creative expression and its transformative potential).
‘Strengthening civic voices is a complex process that takes place within human, social, and political systems’
Accountability is the ‘central’ lever of effective and responsive governance, which requires processes and mechanisms that offer citizens a means to engage in decision-making and democratic processes. Governance that is inclusive increases the potential for effective decision-making by ensuring broad consensus, civic ownership, and by making institutions more responsive to citizens. This is in keeping with the following Sustainable Development Goal 16 targets:
- Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels
- Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory, and representative decision-making at all levels
- Ensure access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.
In the Foundation’s strategy 2017-21, we are drawing attention to the need for institutionalised arrangements and opportunities for those in the margins. But we also acknowledge the importance of informal spaces and platforms that raise awareness of and call for accountable and inclusive governance. So how does the Foundation contribute to strengthening civic voices in governance?
‘We facilitate processes for partners to identify the change they what to achieve, self-assess their strengths, and plan the pathway to change’
Responsive and principled accompaniment
Our capacity development framework offers the view that strengthening civic voices is a complex process that takes place within human, social, and political systems. To us, change means over the long term. Thus, the Foundation is committed to enhancing existing knowledge, skills and craft, acknowledging that one size does not fit all. We facilitate processes for partners to identify the change they what to achieve, self-assess their strengths, and plan the pathway to change instead of imposing outside analysis and interests.
Our approach to strengthening civic voices is through partnerships. We don’t implement directly, rather we co-convene, imagine and reimagine with partners, designing and facilitating processes with them. Building trusting relationships underpins this process.
Access to spaces for constructive engagement
As an intergovernmental organisation, we are able to facilitate and support civic voices in being able to access formal and informal spaces. These range from policy-making spaces in the Commonwealth and beyond, such as ministerial meetings and UN conferences to platforms in the public sphere that may include dialogues and conversations, movements and campaigns, and digital platforms that demonstrate how technology can enable inclusion and participation.
Serious consideration of gender and its intersectionality
In all our work we promote an understanding of the different intersecting systems of oppression and the recognition that gender inequality is shaped by these intersections. This principle guides us in strategically supporting the civic voices located in the margins due to multiple layers of discrimination.
These are only some of the salient features of our approach to strengthening civic voices. The Foundation has only just begun.
Myn Garcia is Deputy Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation.
Have you worked with the Foundation? Or on a project that uses similar methodologies in the service of stronger civic voices? Share your thoughts on Facebook and Twitter using: #StrongerCivicVoices and @commonwealthorg