Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) play an important role in influencing policies and practices to make them pro-poor. In the ever changing and complex world of policy advocacy CSOs are increasingly recognising the need to understand policy processes better, use evidence to engage with them more effectively and develop strategies in order to engage with policymakers in a more systematic way so as to make their contributions have sustained impact on development policy.
The Commonwealth Education Fund (CEF) is a collaboration between the UK Government, leading UK development agencies - Action Aid, Oxfam and Save the Children - and the private sector. The uniqueness of CEF lies in the fact that it is aimed not at supplying immediate educational needs (such as new schools and textbooks) but at creating a social and political environment in which education becomes the number one national priority for developing nations. CEF works strategically with civil society organisations in countries likely to miss the education and gender MDGs, in order to make education a sustained domestic priority and to make public schools work effectively for all children. The CEF builds and supports national coalitions and networks so as to enable them to advocate for education policy in support of quality basic education for all.
The specific objectives of the workshop were to:
- Enrich advocacy knowledge and skills among CEF member organisations
- Enhance the awareness amongst member organisations of the latest theories and practices about policies processes and policy influence
- Implement practical knowledge from the field visit to the policy level strategies
- Explore the types of policy/advocacy tools and frameworks and their application
- Identify opportunities and limitations for influence in the education sector
- Design and develop advocacy strategies and key messages, with agreed work plans
While it is clearly possible for CSOs to influence policy, the policy context in Africa and Asia are unique and the complexity needs to be addressed, keeping in mind local capacities and strengths of the partners. It was also quite obvious to see that few CSOs have well developed policy advocacy skills and therefore a systematic sharing of knowledge is needed. Participants at the workshops made a number of suggestions for further work by ODI to help them to promote pro-poor approaches to policymakers in the education sector, including practical training, information about policy options from other countries, key background information on macroeconomic and other related issues and ongoing support for the full development and implementation of policy influencing strategies.
Naved Chowdhury, from ODI's Civil Society Partnerships Programme (CSPP), facilitated the whole workshop, with Mohammad Muntasim Tanveer, CEF's Bangladesh Coordinator, co-facilitating. Emily Lungano, CEF Africa Regional Coordinator also enriched the workshop with her experiences from Africa. Participants were mostly from South Asian Countries: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. 26 participants attended the five day long workshop along with the representative from CEF-UK and Africa Regional Coordinator.
The five-day workshop was divided into two parts - two days on policy entrepreneurship and three days on advocacy and action planning. A one day field trip to a project was included in the workshop to enable participants to try out some of the questions and practical tools to collect information about the problems faced by the project, its context and the policy implications of their work.
Key elements covered during the workshop included the RAPID framework; lessons from the CSPP; RAPID's Policy Entrepreneur Questionnaire; group work on different tools and methods; advocacy rules; and monitoring and management knowledge basics. Various types and characteristics of different CSOs were also explored in great detail. The policy entrepreneurship sessions covered theories of practice and policy influencing; the field visit; an introduction to the various practical frameworks, tools and approaches available to maximise policy impact; various communication tools; and the key elements for developing a communication/advocacy strategy. Finally, the education context was mapped and linked with advocacy and policy influencing processes.
Naved Chowdhury described the definition, functions and types of CSOs and presented a linear logical policy model to identify problems and evaluate results. In the keynote speaker session, a researcher and a policymaker shared their experiences on producing policy relevant and credible evidence, and on the needs and pressure of policymaking. This helped workshop participants to understand the current role of CSOs in the sector. Group work enabled the participants to identify different strategies for policy implication.
On the whole, the workshop was very successful and the participants felt that it was of high quality and value as well as relevant to their work. The challenge remains with the CEF's member organisations to follow through the issues raised and develop an action plan that will yield desirable results in influencing the attainment of CEF Projects in South Asian countries.