Solidarity and freedom of expression – How can we protect and harness online spaces?

20th October 2021 by Sarah Pugh

Freedom of expression is a basic requirement for maintaining democracy and open societies where citizens are able to stay informed, express opinions and participate actively in public life. Over the summer the Solidarity Action Network (SANE) explored different aspects of freedom of expression through a series of curated conversations looking at the role that international civil society organisations (ICSOs) can play in protecting and increasing free expression and civic space, particularly in relation to digital space and freedoms. 

The first example came from Takura Zhangazha and Arthur Steiner from Hivos, who shared how Hivos has played an ‘incubator’ role in supporting young artists and makers to champion free expression, and to increase and even celebrate civic space. Through its R.O.O.M. Program Hivos has designed interventions that support young creatives, strengthening their resilience to remain critical and independent so that they can continue to challenge damaging narratives and shrinking civic space. Beyond the solidarity shown through this form of ‘incubation’ and direct support, Hivos has also made use of facilitation as a method of solidarity. The programme has facilitated the convening and connecting of young makers and creative hubs, enabling cross-fertilisation between these makers and other actors in support of Pan-African solidarity that can counter closing civic space. 

These forms of solidarity are brought to life through stories of R.O.O.M Program partners – in particular, the Magamba Network based in Zimbabwe. The network focuses on the arts, digital media, activism and innovation. It has opened up space for free expression online through supporting and incubating young bloggers and new media start-ups speaking truth to power, and has inspired the creation of other, similar hubs in Southern Africa. As one of its activities, the network has convened discussions around the topic of internet access and ownership, inviting makers and creative hubs across the region to discuss the rise in internet regulations, cyber-crime laws, internet shutdowns, and – in some countries – the increasingly prohibitive costs of internet access.

(Still from video: Who owns civic space? by Hivos featuring Magamba Network) 

How international actors can show solidarity through support to local civil society actors to maintain and defend freedom of expression online, and protect online civic space, led us on to the next curated conversation with Felicia Anthonio from Access Now. Felicia shared insights on the role that Access Now has played in coordinating and convening #KeepItOn, a global campaign and coalition that aims to end internet shutdowns.  

Members of the #KeepItOn coalition work together to prevent shutdowns through awareness-raising, advocacy, capacity-building and litigation. Access Now further builds resilience among affected communities through technical support and grassroots grants, and applies multiple forms of solidarity at local, national and international levels. 

(Graphic from: #KeepItOn update: who is shutting down the internet in 2021? by Access Now) 

The campaign uses public solidarity to tackle shutdowns, for example through advocacy at the global or national level calling for specific internet shutdowns to be ended. Tensions can arise between public solidarity on the one hand, and access on the other, and risks to access, staff or partners’ safety can act as barriers to ICSOs signing on to open letters or speaking out publicly on the issue of internet shutdowns. However, as the #KeepItOn coalition’s work demonstrates there is a spectrum of different modes of solidarity available to ICSOs.  

There are different examples of more ‘quiet’ acts of solidarity that ICSOs can take, such as helping to document restrictions in a particular context, or supporting local communities or groups affected by a shutdown. The coalition itself employs multiple modes and levels of solidarity; for example combining awareness-raising at the multilateral level with litigation or advocacy at the national level, alongside strengthening of local capacities to deal with the impacts of shutdowns. So, whatever their appetite or capacity for risk might be, ICSOs can contribute to the protection of digital space and freedoms, and joining the #KeeptItOn Coalition can be an effective first step. 

Further details about these two examples can be found in the Solidarity Playbook, in the case studies on Hivos and Access Now which cover strategies for the protection of online free expression, as well as its potential to bring about social change, revealing different strategies for solidarity in the face of closing civic space. We encourage you to delve deeper into these topics by reading the cases!  


Sarah Pugh

Research Consultant

RINGO Project

Sarah Pugh, Research Consultant, has worked with activists, grassroots movements and storytellers internationally. She has conducted research for both funders and civil society organisations, including human rights and women’s rights NGOs based in India and Burma, and has over a decade of experience in the human rights and social justice philanthropy sector, having worked with a variety of funder collaborations whilst based at Global Dialogue. She has managed pass-through grants and pooled funds for human rights and social change in the UK and globally, and supported the inception of the Funders’ Initiative for Civil Society (FICS). Sarah is currently acting as Project Manager for the RINGO Project - a systems change process aimed at reimagining the INGO.

Data Protection and Biometrics: Scanned by International Aid Organisations

20th October 2021 by Karl Steinacker and Katja Lindskov Jacobsen

NGOs and UN agencies have collected sensitive personal data of millions of people in the global South. With due prudence?

Aid and charitable organisations (hitherto referred to as NGOs) have gone digital in recent years. One aspect of this involves collecting and processing large amounts of data about the very people they assist and interact with. Such data is often very personal and may include health and educational data, family relations, religious and political believes. These data sets identify a person by name, address, picture, and increasingly also biometric features.

«Trust is the fuel of our societies» says the contemporary historian and philosopher Yuval Harari. This remark raises an important question, namely how digital data dimensions of the practices of NGOs affect this vital issue of trust.  Can their policies and practices stand public scrutiny and are worth our trust? Can we be sure that personal and often sensitive data has been obtained voluntarily from each of the data subjects that NGOs gather such data from? Is it right to assume that the people have a clear understanding of purpose, benefits, and risks related to the sensitive data they allow NGOs to collect, store and process?

Data Protection and Sovereignty in the Global South

In general, it can be said that NGOs fall under the jurisdiction of the country where they operate. That might reassure the public in the countries of the North where data protection laws have been passed and are being enforced. However, on a global scale, as more and more governments enact data protection laws, we are in the paradoxical situation that NGOs often face new obligations to disclose personal data in support of national sovereignty and security issues. Countries like Turkey and Rwanda have modelled their data protection laws following the example of the European GDPR and demand that personal data of their citizens and residents is kept exclusively on servers on their territory. But NGO data is sometimes also shared with donors to obtain funding or as part of specific data-sharing agreements. Each contractual arrangement with commercial service providers, be it outsourced IT services, such as the storage and data analysis, or simple bank and mobile pay transfers, disclose identity and information about aid recipients.

Those who manage the personal data, the senior NGOs managers and data protection officers, are aware of the issues at stake. They will mention the noble mandate and the non-profit character of their organisation. Some will point out that they have internal data protection policies and regulations. Especially the international NGOs, these are the western institutions led and funded from the global North, will claim that they follow the GDPR, as the current international gold standard in data protection, even in countries outside of Europe.

It is certainly true that data of their institutional and individual donors, including those who have been recruited in the High Street to donate every month 10 Dollars/Euros or so, is kept and processed in a GDPR compliant manner. The NGOs know that they have to gain and maintain the trust of that important segment of the public since their financial and reputational survival is at stake.

Refugees in Chad have to reveal biometric data to obtain an ID card. – CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid

Open questions regarding digital rights

But what about the people at the margins, those data subjects in the global South, that have surrendered their personal data to NGOs because they need protection and assistance in the face of war, natural disaster, or poverty? In such cases, specific questions need to be asked and addressed, such as:

  • Are these data subjects informed in a transparent and understandable manner about (real and possible) data use as far as mandatory data fields are concerned?
  • Have people, where informed consent is asked for, been educated, even genuinely informed in relation to the specific context, so as to meaningfully make that decision? What are the alternatives offered to them should they decide not to for example not register their biometric data with an NGO?
  • Are the consent rules and practices easy and possible to fully implement? Can consent be revoked?
  • Do individuals have access to their data and to query that data, demand corrections, and which recourse options are open to them? Is deletion of data even possible or is there a right to be forgotten?
  • Are data subjects always informed about data breaches and data sharing arrangements, especially with state authorities?

Unfortunately, answers to these and other questions are in most cases likely to fall short of even minimum standards of data protection. Organisational culture and practices in many NGOs often fail to put the necessary focus on and resources into conducting impact and risk assessments in a particular context before decisions are made to collect, store and process personal data. Financial audits are common while data audits remain an exception. Operations security processes and strategies for protecting critical and sensitive data are rare within organisations and absent at an inter-organisational level. Self-policing is the norm, rather than submitting to independent oversight.

Co-operation with Palantir cause a stir

Special mentioning is necessary of the large specialised UN agencies, such as IOM, WFP and UNHCR. These organisations have, like no other non-governmental bureaucracy, amassed personal data files of tens of millions of people around the globe. Their data subjects for example, surrender their biometric imprints (commonly a fingerprint or an iris scan) for a bar of soap, a sack of rice or a cash transfer, but also for a residence permit, or the opportunity to be resettled in another country. Unfortunately, their policies for safeguarding such sensitive biometric data and importantly the implementation of data protection remain largely opaque. Let’s take the example of the data-sharing agreement that UNHCR has concluded with the government of Bangladesh. Human Rights Watch alleges that personal data, including biometrics, collected jointly by UNHCR and the Bangladesh authorities from Rohingya refugees, who have fled genocide in Myanmar, has been transmitted to the government of Myanmar. Or WFP which has announced that it signed a contract with Palantir, a company specialised in data analytics and which is part of the data-military-industrial complex in the United States. Palantir was criticised recently by Amnesty International for its failure to conduct human rights due diligence around its contracts. These and other data related treaties, contracts, and practices of UN agencies escape public scrutiny and cannot be challenged in any national court because of their diplomatic immunity. Yet, various UN agencies routinely roll out large-scale data collection programmes in many countries whilst failing to ensure appropriate oversight bodies and recourse procedures for their data subjects.

When two months ago western military and civil organisations evacuated their personnel from Afghanistan, large amounts of sensitive personal data, including biometric data, was left behind. Only time will tell whether that data has been adequately protected and cannot be abused. Closer at home, the German Red Cross received the 2018 edition of the Big Brother Award from a civil society organisation for its digital system of asylum shelter management. The Red Cross software instituted humanitarian surveillance and total control of the asylum seekers and refugees by movement tracking to and within the shelter, detailed recording of medical checks, food consumption, relationships, religious and ethnic affiliations and much more. The question is not whether there are similar systems in different setting and places elsewhere in the world but rather how many of them exist.

ICRC and Oxfam work on biometric policies

Looking ahead, we see the contours of different trends: Some civil society actors recognise the emergence of unforeseen risks relating to the use of personal data that have been collected in many different contexts. They now increasingly advocate for intensified discussions of approaches to responsible uses of personal, in particular biometric data. Indeed, the ICRC and Oxfam have defined red lines for the use of biometrics and discuss their data policies and practices with the people they protect and assist.

On the other hand, however, the trend towards surveillance and biometric overkill continues. The most worrying example is the use of DNA by the US Immigration Service ICE. Here a precedent is set where biological features are not only used to uniquely identify an individual but the biological relationship of several persons. Meanwhile, UNICEF and the Gates Foundation are looking into ways of using biometrics for infant and child healthcare in Africa. Newly set-up start-ups suggest introducing biometrics for school kids in Africa so as to control their school attendance.

But there is resistance too. Political organisations working among Rohingya refugees living in camps in Bangladesh are campaigning among their fellow refugees not to deliver their personal data, notably biometrics, to the United Nations and the Bangladesh authorities out of fear that such sensitive personal data could end up in the hands of the military dictatorship in Myanmar. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Middle East (UNRWA) failed in introducing biometric ration and cash cards: The Palestinian refugees wouldn’t have any of it and simply refused to collaborate.

Biometric Surveillance in a Civil War

And so it is not surprising that personal data can also become a weapon. A case in point is Yemen where two competing governments fight a civil war for control of the country. Since 2019, WFP rejects the lists of beneficiaries put together by the government based in the capital Sana’a. The agency demands that itself should be put in charge to biometrically register those eligible to receive food aid. The competing government, supported by the US and Saudi Arabia, allowed WFP to biometrical register food aid recipients in their areas of control. As a result, the bulk of food aid goes to the areas where WFP was able to register the population.

Accordingly, widening current debates and including a broad range of stakeholders will be crucial as we move forward. If it comes to sensitive personal data and trust, charitable intentions, progressive mandates, and a non-profit posture are noble starting points but unfortunately account for little. What happens to the personal data of the so-called data subjects is what matters. For years NGOs have been discussing concepts like do no harm and accountability. Many claim that they are accountable to the people they assist, protect, and seek to empower, rather than to their donors. Now the opportunity has come to implement and showcase meaningful accountability: Give those who are marginalised and in need of protection and assistance the digital rights they are entitled to.

This article was published first in German by on 8 October 2021

Karl Steinacker

Digital Advisor

International Civil Society Centre

Karl Steinacker is currently the Digital Advisor of the International Civil Society Centre. He studied political science at the Free University of Berlin and international law at Cambridge University. He then spent three decades working for the United Nations (UNDP, UNRWA, DPKO, UNHCR) in the fields of development, peacekeeping and refugee protection. At the UN Refugee Agency, he held positions in Africa and at its Headquarters and was responsible for Registration, Statistics, and Data and Identity Management as well as for Camp Coordination/Camp Management.

Katja Lindskov Jacobsen

Senior Researcher

Centre for Military Studies at the Institute of Political Science at the University of Copenhagen

Katja Lindskov Jacobsen holds a PhD in International Relations from Lancaster University and works as a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Military Studies at the Institute of Political Science at the University of Copenhagen. The focus of her research is on security policy and interventions.

Tools for inclusive futures: Futures Frequency: A workshop method for building alternative futures

29th September 2021 by Vicky Tongue and Lena Tünkers

Members of the Scanning the Horizon community recently met online to continue our exploration of ‘tools for inclusive futures’, engaging methods to democratise futures conversations in organisations, using digital tools which do not require previous experience from either facilitators or participants. These tools have been highlighted in our recent Sector Guide on Strategic Decision-Making in a Whirly World.

Futures Frequency

This time, we wanted to find out more about Futures Frequency, from the Finnish innovation and futures fund Sitra. The idea behind Futures Frequency is that it inspires thinking and action towards positive, preferred futures and can be ‘used and applied by anyone’. You can check out an intro video here.

We decided to use it to explore futures of human diversity, and felt that a group of 9-12 is a good size to allow the discussion parts to take place in threes. No advance preparation was requested from participants, just encouragement to join with an open mind, and be ready to ‘enjoy the ride’, go with the process and put their heads in a different, more creative and playful space.

Setting the stage

We started with some relaxed individual reflection about the big ‘what if’ question – in relation to futures of human diversity in 2050 – which occurred to us. Then we introduced ourselves and our big question in plenary and it was already really interesting to see the different angles which people had already come up with – from gender fluidity, to intergenerational working with people living longer, to racism being history, to humans being seen as just another part of nature. Just this initial sharing already encourages you to open up and expand your own thinking more.

First stage, challenge your assumptions about the future

Then we had to activate our imagination muscles more by moving into the first main stage of the Futures Frequency method, challenging assumptions. We were given an audio drama snippet to listen to individually and then as a small group, we discussed what assumptions we heard in the piece and how it connected to our own assumptions or what felt familiar. This was a really interesting process to go through, surfacing both small assumptions or questions but also bigger ones about when in the future the conversation was set or whether we were just defaulting to assumptions about things in this future were still working in a similar way to the present. From a facilitation angle, you could either use one of the many supporting resources which Sitra provides for this, or you could create your own snippet – audio or written – linked to the theme you’re exploring.

This process does highlight biases you weren’t aware of in your own thinking and how your brain tries to ‘fill in the gaps’ around incomplete information you have on a situation. It also helps you better understand and appreciate how those you are working with are also thinking. This would be particularly important in a very diverse group, or especially if exploring potentially sensitive topics together. This stage increases your awareness of why you think certain things, before you then move onto imagining preferred futures.

Second stage, imagine your preferred futures

In this stage, you again start with individual reflection to imagine what the theme – for us, human diversity – might look like, without boundaries, with new possibilities, and envision a mental snapshot of the future you personally prefer for this, trying to engage different senses to bring this image to life. Then moving into Miro or another digital whiteboarding space, each person in the group writes up their personal vision in one sentence on a post-it and shares it with the others in the group. Then you all work together to combine your (three) different visions into a new statement which integrates the main ‘spirit’ of each. We didn’t really have enough time for this as we were primarily exploring the method – rather than the topic – fully, but in a full session this stage clearly needs a good amount of time to complete. Again, all this has templates from Sitra.

Take action towards your preferred futures

The final stage involves thinking through actions which you can take towards bringing this vision about.  First, we were guided through an individual brainstorm to come with ideas that would lead us to our vision. Time was the creative constrain here. In our small groups we were then tasked with coming up with a news headline from the future which captured what would have happened in the intervening period. We imagined we were living in 2030 and working as reporters for ‘Future News’, sharing our headline and a short explanation of the actions that had taken place and answering any questions from the other groups. And we could add visual images to represent the story as well.

Final reflections on the method

It’s recommended to add further methods to this final phase if you want to build out the process into more of a detailed action planning process. For instance, you could use backcasting or future literacy labs. But from a first experience, it really is a very useful way of getting the participants into a different space to share ideas and inspire others, appreciate the diversity of perspectives in the group and be encouraged to use your imaginations, within a simple but effective framework. It really does feel like a universal method which anyone can just pick up and use!

Vicky Tongue

Head of Futures and Innovation

International Civil Society Centre

Vicky Tongue is the International Civil Society Centre’s Head of Futures and Innovation, leading our core initiatives on future trends, horizon scanning and civil society innovation. Vicky has more than 15 years’ senior programme management with several leading UK-based ISCOs, including Marie Stopes International, Article 19, CAFOD, ODI and Save the Children.

Lena Tünkers

Co-Founder and Partner


Lena Tünkers is an entrepreneur, process designer and facilitator, guided by the purpose of empowering people to cheerfully move towards the future. She has designed and executed a variety of strategy and innovation processes in Denmark, Kenya and Germany and applied the method Futures Literacy and Futures Frequency to the topics of education, collaboration, leadership and culture. From her work with the UN, Spotify, HelloFresh and Hugo Boss, among others, Lena brings experiences in business model design, strategy as well as innovation development. She is a board member of Founders of Tomorrow and hosts the House of Beautiful Business in

Podcast: Strategic Decision-Making in a Whirly World

13th September 2021 by Adriana Sahagún Martínez

Listen to Miriam Niehaus and Vicky Tongue discuss our Scanning the Horizon Sector Guide on ‘Strategic Decision-Making in a Whirly World’, the culmination of our 18-month learning journey on complex and uncertain futures.

The Guide brings together insights from interviews with strategy leads from 14 ICSOs and global movements from this community, and a review of more than 60 management and academic literature resources on leadership, complexity, uncertainty, strategy and systems thinking from the past year.

We would like to thank our two cooperation partners – Direct Impact Group and Ford Foundation – for kindly supporting our Scanning the Horizon work over the past 18 months.

Read and share the Sector Guide:
Discover the Scanning the Horizon Community:
Learn more about intergenerational fairness:

Click on the button to load the content from

Load content

Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre

Podcast: How can social changemakers get better at not just adapting to change, but actively engineering it?

13th August 2021 by Adriana Sahagún Martínez

Click on the button to load the content from

Load content

Foresight practitioner Krizna Gomez has written JustLabs’ new ‘Guide to Foresight in the Social Change Field’ and is a passionate advocate of why foresight needs to become part of the DNA of the social change field. In this episode, Krizna shared some of her insights from leading futures work with organisations in the social change field around the world, as well as activists and creatives, and why this new guide is needed to ‘demystify’ foresight. Krizna also presented some simple visual outcomes of applying these steps to look at the future of media and information, and the kind of areas of new exploration this can generate for social change organisations and leaders.

Download JustLabs Guide to Foresight in the Social Change Field.

Krizna Gomez works as an independent consultant, using design thinking, foresight, systems thinking and other methods normally not employed in the social change field, to help partners tackle long-standing problems with a fresh perspective, and opening them up through working with experts from other disciplines such as neuroscience, tech, marketing, and design. She is a recipient of the Joseph Jaworski Next Generation Foresight Practitioners Award (Humanitarian Special Award) by the School of International Futures. See Krizna’s full bio here.

Find out about the Centre’s Scanning the Horizon civil society futures community here.

Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre

ICSOs and intergenerational fairness: Why long term thinking is important and empowering in today’s whirly world

28th July 2021 by Vicky Tongue and Julie Jenson Bennett

The Centre’s new Scanning the Horizon Sector Guide on ‘Strategic Decision-Making in a Whirly World’, explores five main strategic pointers for civil society decision-making and adaptation in complex, uncertain ‘never normal’ futures. To further explore the fifth strategic pointer, ‘Rethink adaptable strategies to embrace emergent change with-in a long-term view’, we recently ran leadership and strategy events with two of our strongly recommended resources, including the School of International Futures (SOIF)’s exciting work on intergenerational fairness.

In this blog, Vicky Tongue, the Centre’s Head of Futures and Innovation, and Julie Jenson Bennett, Practice Lead, Intergenerational Fairness, School of International Futures, reflect on how ICSOs can contribute to and benefit from long-term intergenerational thinking and practice.

Intergenerational fairness as an important skillset for a whirly world

Embracing the ‘Long Now’ is one strategy to help navigate a ‘whirly’, uncertain world, stretching responsibility over longer timescales – beyond a human lifetime – and giving a bigger picture to short-term turbulence. It helps crisis decision-making to elevate long-term equity and extends ‘legacy’ thinking to help identify what should be kept from the past, what should be unlearned in the present, and what is still needed to avoid future-loading major risks from important decisions made today.

All big current global issues have huge intergenerational fairness and equity dimensions, both between different generations alive today but also not yet born. Intergenerationally fair policies and strategic decisions allow people of all ages to meet their needs, and meet the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. ICSOs have an important role in ensuring that decision-makers take such considerations into account beyond current political cycles. But they also have a responsibility to ensure that their own organisational decisions are also fair for all generations.

The intergenerational fairness topic is particularly fascinating. As an organisation embarking on its strategy, this is particularly relevant in order to ‘disturb/disrupt’ current decision-making, to ensure long-term strategic choices for an alternate future.

Shahin Ashraf, MBE, Head of Global Advocacy, Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Interest in intergenerational fairness as a growing trend

Signals around equity between generations as a growing issue have been getting stronger since the 2008 financial crisis, further amplified by increasing mobilisation on climate change, and with the global pandemic. Younger generations have been getting more active in suing their governments to establish rights and duty of care towards the future. There is increasing interest from citizens, politicians and policy-makers around intergenerational cohesion and solidarity – rather than conflict – and different national ‘next or future generations’ initiatives are emerging. The OECD published a landmark report on intergenerational justice last year challenging the global policy community to be more systematic about this.

But this can come with major challenges which make it hard to accomplish. Future and younger generations have no vote, there isn’t much reliable information available to decision-makers about the long-term impact of most public policies, and the issue can quickly become polarised and make constructive discussions difficult. So how can we move from good intentions to true accountability, and ensure that (in Gaston Berger’s words) we’re looking at the future to disturb the present, and taking informed decisions today to design better, equitable policies and programmes?

A practical, flexible framework for assessing intergenerational fairness

The School of International Futures (SOIF) and Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s ‘Framework for Intergenerational Fairness’ is a practical framework which any organisation – without prior futures or foresight experience – can use to assess whether any strategic, policy or investment decision proposed by others, or itself, will be equitable for people living today and tomorrow. This can be a very empowering process to support informed action-oriented conversations with what could otherwise remain an interesting, important but remote and hazy theoretical discussion.

The framework consists of three key, flexible elements:

  • A policy assessment tool to analyse whether decisions on what is fair and unfair for all generations, exposing specific dimensions of unfairness, identifying unintended consequences and making trade-offs more explicit.
  • A participatory national, or community, dialogue to define collective goals of what a fair and desirable future looks like – including conversations with future generations by proxy – for the policy to be assessed against,
  • Institutional ownership to determine how the methodology will be resourced, used and evaluated in government and society, so that it has independence, accountability, political legitimacy and administrative commitment.

Check out this introductory presentation from this year’s Global Foresight Summit for more.

Assessing decisions in as little as two hours

Any strategic, funding or policy decision can be assessed in five ways, to see if it:

  • Disadvantages people at any particular life stage
  • Disadvantages people at any period in time, present or future
  • Increases the chances of inequality being passed on through time
  • Restricts the choices, agency and freedom of people in future
  • Moves society further away from its vision of the future.



In a couple of hours, you can use the tool to make clear judgements and support risk analysis, contingency planning and policy design. Diagnostic prompts help you scan and assess policy impacts and trade-offs in detail, stress-test the decision against alternative future scenarios, and scrutinise the policy-making process itself for unfairness. You can adapt the lenses and depth and breadth of analysis for different issues and audiences.

Pilots over the last three years have successfully used the tool on a range of live policy issues and with diverse assessor audiences, including citizens. It enables nuanced understanding of the dynamics at play in complex policy areas, and can identify specific cohorts worse off under a policy scenario, and recommendations for additional policy areas and communications toaddress issues and perceptions of unfairness.

How ICSOs can use it and find out more?

There are two main angles for CSOs:

  • Holding governments to account for difficult issues of intergenerational fairness – ICSOs can use this framework in their advocacy work, or with concerned citizens and media actors, to scrutinise the work of governments e.g. during policy design, parliamentary scrutiny, spending reviews.
  • Shining a light internally – Organisations can use these principles to assess any of their own strategic policy or financial decisions – especially around spending and granting – to objectively establish whether they are fair for the long term, or just responding to short-term interests.

Our conversations also identified two exciting potential wider applications:

  • The domains and assessment criteria in the tool can help facilitate conversations ‘by stealth’ about entrenched power interests and inequality structures in the present. This can generate new kinds of conversations outside of traditional framings which come with political/polarised debates, divisions and rhetoric. So it could also be a useful model to support difficult ‘power shift’ conversations in our sector and agree the desirable fair, legacy outcomes we want to collectively achieve.
  • An interesting starting point for global conversations around the post-2030 SDG successor agenda, which runs out soon!

What’s next for the framework and how to stay involved?

SOIF is interested in expanding networks and coalitions to upskill and scale these processes, including ICSOs. They are open to providing support if you are interested in adapting it for your contexts or policy issues.

As a starter, they will be running more webinars from August to introduce new audiences to the framework, and also hands-on participatory sessions to use the policy assessment tool on live issues – in as little as two hours. For updates and opportunities, visit

Vicky Tongue

Head of Futures and Innovation

International Civil Society Centre

Vicky Tongue is the International Civil Society Centre’s Head of Futures and Innovation, leading our core initiatives on future trends, horizon scanning and civil society innovation. Vicky has more than 15 years’ senior programme management with several leading UK-based ISCOs, including Marie Stopes International, Article 19, CAFOD, ODI and Save the Children.

Julie Jenson Bennett

Practice Lead

School of International Futures

Julie Jenson Bennett leads the Intergenerational Fairness Observatory at the School of International Futures. Her futures practice developed over twenty-five years as a researcher and strategist in technology and product design. Alongside her work at SOIF, Julie co-directs The Generation Poetry Project, exploring new communication systems emerging amongst younger people, and is an Associate Lecturer at Central St. Martin's in the Product, Ceramics and Industrial Design programme.

Re-powering the system

22nd July 2021 by Wolfgang Jamann

Power Shift, Localisation and Decolonising Aid, have become strong trends, and also buzzwords in the current debate around a more legitimate and impactful aid system.

The push for more resources and decision-making power has most prominently launched at the World Humanitarian Forum in 2016, and was linked to pledges to increase the appalling low percentages of aid funding to local actors, both by donors and international civil societies organisations (ICSOs). Breakthroughs of this ‘Grand Bargain’ are yet to be seen, despite continued commitment to strengthening local Civil Society, recently confirmed by a strong OECD policy document.

Civil Society itself is struggling with implementation. The ambition has worked itself into a number of narratives on how the ‘system’ should change, how power needs to be shifted, how International ICSOs need to be re-imagined.

Not all of these narratives are positive. Nationalistic Governments in India or parts of Africa have hijacked the ‘localisation’ ambition to keep foreign CSOs at bay and discredit them as foreign agents. Even in the US and the UK localisation has become a different meaning – using foreign aid to help disaster victims at home. The recent drastic cuts by British FCDO show the trend.

Looking at the traditional ‘Power Holders’ in the aid system, donors, bilateral agencies and ICSOs, many, if not all, will agree that ‘localisation’ is a good thing, though. It strengthens the consideration of local contexts, vulnerabilities and capacities, true partnerships, inclusive decision-making etc. Many are talking about, and implementing, changing funding patterns, with promising developments linked to the increasingly localised COVID-19 responses.

International civil society organisations have, generally, a rather positive narrative on localisation that includes many past achievements they seem to have made over the last 30 years. Many have grown into confederations, with strong local chapters, and a huge armada of local staff, increasingly in leadership positions. Many will defend their business models as inclusive, decentralised, and addressing the local contexts.

The challenge comes with scrutinising whether these models are good enough. Are power imbalances being addressed, and radically changing? The Centre works with a number of ambitious ICSOs who have started putting local actors (people we work with, partners, primary actors) into the centre of decision-making processes. These are ‘Governance’ discussions in the wider sense, i.e. putting processes and structures to the test – are they designed, capable and fit for greater inclusion?

It’s an exciting journey which has no easy answers – different ways of inclusivity are being chased, and different power dimensions are being addressed – in Big ‘G’ Governance (structures, decision-making protocols, voting rights) and small ‘g’ governance issues, like relationship building, information flow, accountability and transparency, ‘expertise talks vs. money talks’, physical points of decision-making.

Who and what helps and blocks? Facilitators and blockers of power shifts are often not the same people / entities. You need almost tactical approaches (actors mapping, power analysis, finding sponsors etc.). A very good idea is to link the governance as much as possible to the intent and mandate of the organisation.

A quick insight from an initiative many have heard about, could be helpful with focus. The West Africa Civil Society Institute WACSI has just published a survey of about 500 local CSOs about their perception on how partnerships play out. The results were almost surprisingly positive, with lots of appreciation of LCSO / ICSO partnerships, many of which do consider local contexts. But a few critical issues arose: Decision-making is uneven and not mutually beneficial, ICSOs are expected to be facilitators not implementers, more consideration of local capacities, not necessarily funders.

A recent ‘Hard Talk’ event between ICSOs, partners, donors and critical friends touched upon those dimensions and showed the potential for change, but the need for more intense dialogue between groups that have different expectations of each other. One of the biggest challenges comes from inherent ‘colonial’ structures of the aid system, which can only be addressed in an intersectional way, not overlooking discriminatory practices, and engaging in an open exchange and the willingness to learn from each other. A window seems to have opened to turn an outdated aid system onto its feet, and let power go to the people and their institutions, which have been ‘recipients’ of philanthropy, goodwill but bad practices for too long.

Wolfgang Jamann

Executive Director

International Civil Society Centre

Dr. Wolfgang Jamann is Executive Director of the International Civil Society Centre. Until January 2018 he was Secretary General and CEO of CARE International (Geneva). Before that he led NGO Deutsche Welthungerhilfe and the Alliance 2015, a partnership of 7 European aid organisations. From 2004-2009 he was CEO & Board member of CARE Deutschland-Luxemburg and President of the CARE Foundation. Previously, he worked for World Vision International as a regional representative in East Africa (Kenya) & Head of Humanitarian Assistance at WV Germany. After his Ph.D. dissertation in 1990 he started his career in development work at the German Foundation for International Development, later for the UNDP in Zambia. As a researcher and academic, he has published books and articles on East & Southeast Asia contributing to international studies on complex humanitarian emergencies and conflict management.

Persons with disabilities and data inclusion

7th July 2021 by Dr. Elizabeth Lockwood, Dr. Mohammed Ali Loutfy, Sally Nduta

This blog post is part of our LNOB Knowledge Exchange Programme (KEP). Elizabeth Lockwood, Mohammed Ali Loutfy and Sally Nduta explain why organisations of persons with disabilities must be engaged in data collection, analysis, and use of data for evidence-based advocacy to influence policy and decision-makers.

Overwhelmingly, persons with disabilities remain invisible in statistics and as a result existing and new barriers that persons with disabilities face are, once again, not addressed. This invisibility has been particularly evident in the COVID-19 pandemic with dire consequences for many persons with disabilities around the world. 

Data on persons with disabilities are needed so we understand the real situation of persons with disabilities, to identify gaps that are not addressed through policies and to provide examples of successes. This is not only beneficial for evidence-based advocacy, but also to influence decision-makers and convince them on the themes where the most urgent actions and steps must be taken at national, regional and global levels. This is the beginning and foundational to all other efforts.

Gathering qualitative data and engaging in participatory research with persons with disabilities and their representative organisations are incredibly important and can complement existing quantitative data sources. This is especially important since community-driven data with representative organisations of persons with disabilities can fill the gaps that official statistics cannot from surveys and censuses alone. In fact, community-driven data is particularly relevant for measuring the SDGs for persons with disabilities since most SDG global indicators are falling behind in measuring progress for persons with disabilities, again, leaving persons with disabilities behind. 

In response, the Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities, the International Disability Alliance, Disabled Peoples’ International, and CBM Global Disability Inclusion produced a comprehensive disability data advocacy toolkit to address the importance of organisations of persons with disabilities (OPDs) to be engaged in data collection, analysis, and use of data for evidenced-based advocacy to influence policy and decision-makers. 

The toolkit was created after feedback and requests from persons with disabilities and their representative organisations from all over the world and building on the collaboration of the International Disability Alliance and the International Disability and Development Consortium. 

The toolkit highlights two particular aspects of the data journey, starting first with the need for data to understand the situation of persons with disabilities, identify gaps that are not addressed through policies, and provide examples of successes. The second aspect is once the data exist. It is crucial to understand how to analyse, use and trust data for creating advocacy messaging. This is both to protect the integrity of advocates and to ensure that the change sought is based on an understanding of the situation and what works. The toolkit includes case studies in which organisations of persons with disabilities were involved in both aspects mentioned above, including a case study on the LNOB Partnership.

There is no excuse not to have data on persons with disabilities or to include OPDs in data collection and interpretation efforts. Persons with disabilities and their representative organisations are the experts on issues affecting them and are generating community-driven data to complement official statistics. With the toolkit’s guidance, persons with disabilities and their representative organisations can respond in a highly professional manner to data needs. 

An excellent example of OPD-led data advocacy was the OPD-led advocacy that led to the Washington Group (WG) short set of questions being included in the 2019 census in Kenya.

The Kenya Population and Housing Census was carried out in August 2019. To use the WG short set of questions is something that the disability movement in Kenya had advocated for with the hope that it would ensure the availability of quality data that can inform interventions. However, it took diverse interventions for this to happen. 

Firstly, there was intense training of officers from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) on the importance of using the WG questions to collect disability data. Secondly, and importantly, was the involvement of OPDs in this process. Through United Disabled Persons of Kenya, persons with disabilities went through training on disability data, including the WG module. In addition, the International Disability Alliance through its Bridge CRPD-SDGs’ training continued to strengthen the capacities of leaders in the disability sector on advocacy for appropriate disability data.

By these empowerment processes, both for statistics officers as well as for OPDs, the WG questions were included in the 2019 census. From the census statistics, what has been published so far includes distribution of the population aged five years and above by disability status as well as distribution by type of disability. A disability monograph shall be published that shall look at various indicators such as access to education and employment. 

Through a framework of continuous engagement of OPDs and KNBS, OPDs are now members of a Technical Working Group on Disability Data which, going forward is going to play a key role in the availability of disability data in Kenya. Currently, we are engaged in discussions around having a disability survey as guided by the disability movement, specifically to collect data on the situation of persons with disabilities.

There are various efforts from partners in Kenya on ensuring that there are good data on disability. Whereas at present there are various gaps on getting disaggregated data, we hope that the collaboration with partners, including the KNBS and OPDs, in a spirit of goodwill, will ensure that going forward there are good, quality data. 

    Dr. Elizabeth Lockwood

    CBM Global

    Dr. Elizabeth Lockwood works for CBM Global Disability Inclusion and is the CBM Representative at the United Nations. She focuses on developing advocacy strategies to raise awareness, build capacity, and lobby for the rights of persons with disabilities at the UN level in relation to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Sustainable Development Goals, and disability inclusive development.

    Dr. Mohammed Ali Loutfy

    Disabled People’s International (DPI) Executive Director.

    Disabled People’s International (DPI)

    Dr. Mohammed Ali Loutfy is the senior advisor on capacity building and advocacy for the Global Initiative on Inclusive ICTs (G3ICT). Dr. Loutfy is also Disabled People’s International (DPI) executive director. Since 2016, Dr. Loutfy has been the Representative of Disabled Peoples’ International (DPI) at the United Nations, where he co-chairs the Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities for Sustainable Development.

    Sally Nduta

    Programmes Manager

    United Disabled Persons of Kenya (UDPK)

    Sally is a disability rights champion with over ten years of experience in the disability sector. Before joining UDPK, she previously worked at the African Union of the Blind (AFUB) as a Programme Coordinator. She is experienced in managing capacity building and advocacy programmes aimed at empowering persons with disabilities and their organisations. She has experience working with multi-stakeholders, including government departments and other non-state actors. She has actively participated in programme development and implementation using rights-based and human rights approaches. She is interested in disability-inclusive policy, planning and execution, supporting the institutional strengthening of persons with disabilities, collating feedback on advocacy activities, supporting follow-up, and facilitating learning.

    Podcast: Negotiating solidarity: #SolidarityPlaybook case studies

    6th July 2021 by Adriana Sahagún Martínez

    Click on the button to load the content from

    Load content

    Our new episode discusses the key findings of our Solidarity Playbook, putting forward main lessons learned and recommendations for building more solidarity in civil society.

    Listen to Deborah Doane, Sarah Pugh and Eva Gondorová discuss the Solidarity Playbook case studies’ key takeaways, understand the correlation between building resilience and acting in solidarity with others, and discover why solidarity needs to be negotiated.

    Read and share these case studies:

    Discover the Solidarity Playbook key findings:

      Communications Manager

      International Civil Society Centre

      What does ‘solidarity’ around civic space mean in the light of the Indian response to COVID-19?

      7th June 2021 by Deborah Doane

      This blog post is written by Deborah Doane, who along with Sarah Pugh, authored the Solidarity Playbook, a collection of case studies and best practices on how organisations and coalitions have developed resilience and solidarity mechanisms to civic space restrictions and changing operating conditions for civil society.

      The tragedy that is befalling India in real-time as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic is also a consequence of a government intent on trying to destroy its own civil society, both through a crackdown on foreign funding, one of the typical tactics in closing civic space; and by suppressing dissent through whatever means possible.  

      Foreign funding restrictions imposed in 2013 under the previous government were just the start of this severe assault on civil society that saw international civil society organisations (ICSOs) Amnesty and Greenpeace seriously targeted, with Amnesty ultimately withdrawing from the country, no longer able to function effectively.  

      The intimidation that befell foreign ICSOs eventually impacted local CSOs too, as the crackdown on dissent accelerated. In the last six years, over 13,000 NGOs’ licenses were cancelled, as the government made a concerted effort to stem the flow of foreign funding.  

      Much of the assault on civil society came to a head just prior to the pandemic, which saw strong and sustained protests against the new Citizenship Amendments Act (CAA) which put Muslims at a disadvantage and more vulnerable compared to Hindus in having to prove their Indian identity, perceived by many to be a direct assault on the secular underpinning of the Indian State.  

      COVID-19 provided the perfect opportunity for the government to halt the protests altogether and dampen the voice of civil society even further. Protests were virtually outlawed, movement was restricted, and activists were silenced or arrested, whilst the government pressed ahead with even more restrictions on foreign funding coming into the country, even as late as last September, in the midst of the pandemic. As Vijayan MJ writes for the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, “The government converted a health crisis into a law-and-order issue, and democratic governance slid into a police raj.”   

      Thus, it’s clear that civic space – and our response to it in global civil society – is at the heart of a solidaristic pandemic response in India. 

      Even in the absence of foreign funding and in spite of imposed restrictions, local civil society actors have been heroic in their efforts providing much-needed emergency relief across the country.  Communities have stepped in, whilst rights-based groups moved from advocacy to relief mode quite swiftly in response to the rising disaster impacting migrant workers and many of India’s poorest. But local CSOs have also highlighted that because of the civil society crackdown, they have been entirely (and needlessly) hampered in their efforts. Indeed, they point out that without such restrictions – either on funding or on dissent, the COVID-19 crisis in India could have been far less severe. 

      National organisations in India have been able to place some pressure on the government to try to at least delay some new foreign funding restrictions and registration requirements so that much-needed humanitarian relief funding can make its way more easily to smaller, responsive local CSOs. As of the time of writing, this is as yet unresolved.  

      Internationally, pressure exerted from the now global People’s Vaccine campaign, involving many ICSOs, has been a tremendous effort to challenge patent protection which could make a massive difference for India. This is an obvious value-add role for ICSOs in the face of a pandemic, but it doesn’t speak to the issue of civic space per se. Given the layer upon layer of complexity, well documented by the likes of Arundhati Roy and others, it’s very easy to feel that anything ICSOs can do is all but meaningless.  

      However, the case studies in the Solidarity Playbook have shown that there are multiple actions that ICSOs can take when it comes to civic space, ranging from quiet solidarity to more public, political solidarity. The risk for ICSOs in India has often been that speaking out can do more harm to their efforts – and to local actors – than good. But the countervailing risk is that remaining silent can also enable an already repressive regime to become even more repressive. So how can ICSOs navigate this complexity?  

      Here, two key broader lessons from the Solidarity Playbook are relevant. First, that ‘civic space’ is a strategic opportunity to shift an organisational strategy. COVID-19 has demanded a real shake-up in how ICSOs are organised, as the freedom to travel and send expats from the north everywhere is virtually off the table. In most parts of the world where ICSOs are present, traditional business models have turned upside down. ICSOs are finally starting to ask themselves how to collaborate with partners differently and better, in light of the new normal. It’s not about ‘empowering’ or ‘capacity building’ anymore. Instead, it’s about recognising the power that communities have and identifying ways to create new forms of collaboration – and build solidarity alongside those on the ground.  

      Where foreign funding is allowed, this can mean shifting to providing more funding mechanisms that enable communities to plan and allocate resources, something the #shiftthepower movement has long been advocating as a strategy to respond to closing civic space. COVID-19 only makes this more urgent. 

      This is where the second lesson from the Solidarity Playbook becomes equally relevant. Whatever solidarity mechanism an ICSO adopts in the face of closing civic space, it must be negotiated with national and local civil societies – and the communities in which they are working. Speaking out through international advocacy or diplomacy may be the best course of action, as would prioritising international fundraising, but they may not be. How ICSOs collaborate equally with national and local partners, whilst helping to share any associated risk, is at the heart of what ‘solidarity’ really is. This will help in the long-run too – by strengthening local civil societies and local communities alike, and putting them in the driver’s seat.  

       “In India, the battle against the pandemic cannot be separated from the battle to regain democracy, the rule of law, constitutionalism, and human rights,” Vijayan MJ goes onto say in his essay for the Carnegie Endowment. It’s difficult to watch the dual crises of closing civic space and a global pandemic. But it’s heartening to know that as ICSOs, it’s still possible to act deliberately and in solidarity as allies with those at the forefront of local responses, and that our efforts in the short-term can have a positive long-term impact too.  

      Deborah Doane

      Deborah Doane is a writer and consultant, who has worked across civil society for over twenty years as a leader, campaigner and analyst, covering human rights, development, environment and economic justice issues. Most recently, she was the Director of the Funders’ Initiative for Civil Society, and now works in a portfolio capacity with a range of clients in philanthropy and civil society. She is a partner of RightsCoLab a think tank where she works on the future of civil society. She blogs regularly for the Guardian on International Development and civil society issues.