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Disrupt & Innovate

Solidarity in Times of Scrutiny: Key Learnings for Civil Society Coalitions

9th June 2020 by Eva Gondorová

Presented below are key learnings for civil society coalitions from our Solidarity Playbook pilot case studies, authored by Deborah Doane and Sarah Pugh.  The case studies review best practices, challenges, and lessons learned from three ICSOs’ internal mechanisms and three coalition’s responses to scrutiny and attacks. The key learnings for coalitions focus on best practices and challenges. You can also view the key learnings for international civil society organisations. 

The civil society coalition case studies analysed in Solidarity Playbook pilot case studies show clear patterns of challenges and lessons to consider when working in coalition:

BEST PRACTICE

  • Trust – CSOs are, in some contexts, coming together for the first time to act in coalition across thematic sectors. There are differences in approach, agenda, appetite and attitude, and it takes time to overcome those differences and learn to work together. Principles such as ‘one member – one vote’ and ‘everyone contributes according to their capacity’ can help in allowing for organisations of all size and style to feel comfortable within a coalition, and can help to build trust and good working relationships.
  • Clear governance and structures – setting out the protocols, processes, membership criteria and mandate of the coalition helps groups to work together. For example, having clear guidelines on how decisions are made helps to maintain trust.
  • Coordination – information-sharing is useful in and of itself, but it is vastly elevated when there is a coordination function that can synthesise information and identify gaps and opportunities. A dedicated coordination mechanism, whether that entails staff within an independent entity or dedicated staff time from member organisations, drives the work of a coalition forwards. Good coordination can enable bi-lateral connections between members and enable formalised joint work and projects.
  • Common ownership – individual organisations can struggle to feel comfortable signing up to ‘someone else’s coalition’; suspicion and concerns that the work will not align with their own mandate stalls collaboration. Avoiding the language of leadership, and instead working hard to find the common ground and concerns that resonate across organisations can create a sense of common ownership and buy-in that ensure the sustainability of the collaboration.

CHALLENGES:

  • Maintaining collaboration – civil society coalitions have crystallised in the face of direct attacks and restrictions, giving groups something concrete to coordinate around. Maintaining that coordination and collaboration during relatively quieter periods, when there is not a direct and immediate threat to resist, can be difficult. How can coalitions continue to shift between short term priorities of resistance and longer-term priorities for resilience, and ‘plan for peace times’?
  • Opening civic space – civil society is experienced in resisting restrictions and fighting back against scrutiny and attacks; however, it is less clear on how to coordinate a response to opening’ civic space. When a country has been closed for some time and there is a sudden opening for civic action, how can ICSOs coordinate to support civil society in that context, to ensure space remains open and that opportunities are taken?
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Eva Gondorová

Project Manager

International Civil Society Centre

Eva coordinates the project Solidarity Action Network (SANE) which aims at strengthening resilience of and solidarity among civil society actors.

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