By: Heng Pheakdey
Civil society is often defined as the aggregate of non-governmental organizations and institutions that manifest interests and the will of citizens. It is recognized globally that these civil society organizations (CSOs) are instrumental in combating poverty and improving livelihoods of poor people.
CSOs’ scope of work is broad and diverse including raising awareness, promoting human rights, protecting the environment and building local capacities. Given their experience working at the grass-root level, the engagement of CSOs in policy making is critical to ensure relevance, effectiveness and sustainability of those policies.
Civil society plays a key role in pushing for new laws, policies or strategies, advocating for democratic practices and good governance, and holding government accountable for its commitments, thus ensuring accountability in all stages of decision making,
CSOs contribute to policy development in a number of ways. They form networks with other organizations, organize campaigns, lobby the government on a particularly policy change, provide training seminars to build local capacities and offer expertise throughout policy-making processes.
But, recent studies suggest that despite all the work that they have done, CSOs often fail to influence policy processes. This seems to be because of the political context on the one hand, and the lack of capacity of the CSOs on the other hand.
To meaningfully engage civil society in policy development, a two-pronged approach is necessary. Firstly, there is a need to create an enabling environment for CSOs to freely contribute. Policy processes must be made transparent, information made fully accessible, a culture of openness embraced and open and honest communication practiced.
Secondly, CSOs need systemic capacity building to maximize chances of policy influence. To increase their legitimacy and voice, unity among CSOs is also called for. CSOs need to enhance their credibility by providing policy suggestions which are evidence-based, relevant, objective and practical.
Civil society plays a crucial role in national policy planning and development. They should be engaged in a more informed, strategic and coordinated way. They represent the voice of underrepresented citizens who lack a political voice and are often forgotten in the process. Thus, their participation ensures that national policy-making takes into account the interests and views of all stakeholders.
Heng Pheakdey is Deputy Director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia and founder of the Enrich Institute, a Phnom Penh-based training organization.
Note: This article originally appeared in KhmerTimes.
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