Navigating the Digital Frontier: Karl Steinacker’s Insights on the Digitalisation

19th June 2024 by Karl Steinacker

Within the sector, the International Civil Society Centre (the Centre) is neither vanguard nor laggard when it comes to digitalisation. The Centre acknowledges there is room for improvement in its digital performance. However, from a modest and realistic perspective, its achievements are remarkable and offer valuable insights for others in the sector. 

Practical Steps Towards Digital Transformation

When the French rock band Feu! Chatterton sings about the new world (Nouveau Monde), it concludes that despite the fact that while we all want it, achievements are, as they put it, zero, and continues: ‘catch the Bluetooth’. Feu’s view that we are driven by, rather than drivers of, digital transformation should not be taken as a factual statement but as an incentive to do better. 

Over the years, the Centre has introduced remote work, moved its IT to the cloud, and set up a media studio to support live streams and many online events. This followed an inductive approach and came about without grand design. Questions about off-the-shelf products vs. open-source and non-proprietary software were handled practically (often in favour of the former) and not ideologically. Cybersecurity, an often-overlooked risk in civil society organisations, was outsourced to cloud-based business partners. When running an organisation committed to social justice on small budgets, pragmatic decisions and cost-efficient software are often utilized. 

Reinventing Convening in the Digital Age

In the first quarter of the 21st century, CSOs must navigate the digital sphere. For a long time, convening was no longer meant to reserve conference facilities or arrange for cookies during coffee breaks. Be it the Centre’s annual Global Perspectives, open to everybody, or the Vision Works and Leading Together events for CEOs and senior CSO staff to discuss key strategic issues, best practices, and opportunities for joint action online as well as offline.  

And when the Solidarity Action Network is addressing civic space restrictions, it looks as much at cyberspace as any other operating condition CSOs may face. Likewise, the Leave No One Behind Partnership, hosted by the Centre delivers practical solutions so that marginalised communities no longer remain invisible to official statistics. Here again, the relevance of the project is linked to its successful delivery of digital solutions. The Accelerating Inclusive Power Shift project would be futile if it did not address access to technology as a determining power factor. 

Collaborations and Global Engagement

For three years, the Centre, jointly with CivicTech Africa, has been organising a monthly online panel discussion known as Digital Dialogues to bring relevant issues on digital technology to the civil society sector. On each occasion, eminent speakers, both from the Global North and the Global South, are invited to discuss the ongoing digital transformation from a civil society perspective. The variety of topics covered in more than 30 panels is incredibly varied, encompassing cyber mediation, digital colonialism, hacking for good, and others. The Digital Dialogues panel discussion on diversity led the Centre to upgrade its websites and introduce international sign language and captions to be as inclusive as possible for audiences. 

While the Centre is seen as a major convener, bringing together traditional social justice actors and with a newly set-up digital focus, it also contributes to the wider efforts within the civil society sector. In 2023, the NetHope Global Summit provided an opportunity for an in-person experience in Munich (Germany) and virtual gatherings, which the Centre was happy to contribute to. We led sessions across time zones, fostering ideas to link social justice, collaboration, and technological innovation. We also provided an Executive Leaders’ forum, co-hosted by the ICSC and NetHope, on how artificial intelligence is affecting the work of civil society. 

The Intersection of Technology and Human Behaviour

Members of CSOs and the non-profit sector met representatives of tech companies in order to exchange ideas and reflect on innovative ways forward for the benefit of the humanitarian, conservation, and development sectors. While there is no doubt that technology matters, the workshop What Next for Mis-, Dis-, and Malinformation in a “Post Truth” World? looked in particular at the interplay of technology and human behaviour. The virtual workshop Supporting and Surveilling the Deserving Poor not only provided a historic tour d’horizon of social welfare programmes but also reviewed the ongoing digital transformation of welfare in places as different as India and Denmark. It also explored the potential of unconditional basic income in Finland. 

Sustainability and Digital Development

In an era defined by rapid technological advancement and growing environmental concerns, the need for a more sustainable approach to digital development has never been greater. Hence, there is a need to explore important theories such as the Digital Doughnut. However, only time and further consideration will tell if they provide the answers we are looking for. 

The Need for Continuous Digital Integration

So, our digital journey goes on. As long as CSOs continue to work on relevant issues of social justice, addressing the effects of the ongoing digital transformation will remain inevitable, and many CSOs have integrated digital issues into their overall strategies and programmes and with current advancements in digital technology, this is now more important than ever.  

Artists inspire us. That is why we love them. The Austrian pop band Yukno offers their outlook on the Digital Playground and sings: I will reinvent myself; I will never be alone again! It’s on this positive note that we wish to end this tour d’horizon with the renewed understanding that civil society needs ‘The Digital’ to make our world a better place! 

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.


Decolonising mindsets and language: Reflections from the #ShiftthePower Summit

19th March 2024 by Myriam Ciza Gambini

At the end of last year, I had the chance to participate in the #Shift the Power Summit in Bogotá, organised by the Global Fund for Community Foundations and TerritoriA, which gave me, and the International Civil Society Centre further resolve in supporting ICSOs in their power shift journey. The Summit gathered over 700 participants from over 70 countries to discuss how to work together to truly shift power and overcome the blockages that prevent a truly systemic change of the system, moving away from top-heavy and top-down systems of international development and philanthropy. 

While in recent years the debates around shifting power, localisation and decolonisation within the civil society sector have gained prominence, resulting in an increasing number of actors seeking to foster a paradigm shift, the challenges to dismantle and readdress power, roles and responsibilities remain significant. 

The Summit was a pivotal event that saw activists, national and international organisations and funders, convene in agreement that the current development and philanthropy systems are not fit for purpose but require a radical restructuring of their architecture. 

Shift the Power Stage in Bogotá, Columbia 2023
Shift the Power Stage in Bogotá, Columbia 2023

As Marie-Rose Romain Murphy of the Haiti Community Foundation, poignantly said in her address:

Communities have been historically marginalised in the development process by governments and NGOs. Shifting power means recognising that local communities hold the solutions.” 

During the conference, communities and practitioners who have been historically disenfranchised were front and centre. Throughout the discussions and sessions, we reflected on how as actors we can foster an enabling environment for change, avoiding window dressing and empty commitments. 

In order for significant shifts to happen it is pivotal for organisations to re-examine their assumptions regarding where they stand in the sector. Developing self-awareness and defusing power dynamics within an organisation is helpful in ensuring that partnerships are genuine, built on trust, and free from exploitative practices. For international civil society organisations (ICSOs) changing the system entails not giving away power entirely, but rather engaging with it to progressively shift it to communities we aim to serve.  

A key question that was discussed during the Summit was: Beside shifting power as a moral imperative, what does it mean for development and philanthropy actors to address the problem of power inequities? 

Since 2018, the International Civil Society Centre’s Power Shift Labs have addressed the problem of power imbalances between Northern and Southern, but also between large and small, rich and resource-scarce entities of ICSOs. During the Labs, ICSO leaders explored the questions of how to overcome barriers and lead the necessary transformational power shifts in governance. Our goal is to prioritise the perspectives of the communities we serve by facilitating the exchange of lessons learned while supporting organisations in re-evaluating how they add value to a system that is infused with a colonial mindset.

Graphic Recording at Shift the Power Summit 2023

The Summit highlighted that the challenging and dismantling structures that perpetuate power imbalances is paramount to define the legitimacy of ICSOs in the civil society ecosystem. 

Here are some of the reflections from the Summit on how organisations can start addressing power imbalances: 

Power Shift cannot happen without mindset change 

At the Summit, there were several discussions around the idea that before shifting power we need to shift culture and mindsets, and that requires individual reflections. Most dimensions that contribute to unequal decision making can be interpreted through an intersectional lens. To fight such inequalities, organisations should commit to identifying and eradicating the negative power dimensions that allowed such decision-making structures to develop and foster. Power imbalances are recognised as being not only an issue between Global North and South, but also across Southern, patriarchal power dimensions. All individuals working in the sector ought to ask themselves; how do you use power responsibly once you have it? How can we use our positionality and power to influence the sector to do better? 

Concrete change requires strong sponsorship 

In many organisations, there is a public commitment to being less colonial at internal and structural level and more conscious of power imbalances. While at macro-level, there is widespread agreement on the need to change and on such intent, there is a lack of vision of how to achieve change in the short-term, resulting in lack of consistent progress. In fact, while at a personal level, decision-makers might want to be de-colonial, they often struggle to transfer such commitment to the policy and strategy level. Finding sponsors for change within the organisation is crucial to implement such theoretical commitments and move from policy to concrete action. 

There is a wealth of power in language and communication 

The use of empowering language is a key tool to establish genuine and more equitable partnerships with communities, moving away from bureaucracy and flawed impact measurement to shared values and empathy for each other’s needs. Reflecting and being intentional about language also requires avoiding the co-option of the language of liberation, that radical groups have used to address the need to overhaul the system. Furthermore, while most organisations agree that decision-making should be moved to the closest point of impact, efforts to prioritise such commitments should be communicated better, creating safe spaces for critical and thought-provoking discussions.  

We look forward to exchanging with organisations that endeavour to embrace this transformative mission despite the challenges. One of our key avenues to build momentum is the Power Shift Lab, which serves as a dedicated platform for a comprehensive review and assessment of the intricate interplay between power dynamics, organisational intent, and governance reform. This year’s Power Shift Lab, taking place on 10-12 June 2024 in Senegal in collaboration with Tostan, will focus on the intersection of governance transformations and shrinking civic space, delving into how such transformations affect local civil society. Connecting with local initiatives, we will further assess how to develop governance frameworks that facilitate the empowerment of local decision-makers in strategy, with the aim to dismantle the top-down decision-making structures that still pervade the sector.  

If you are interested in participating in the event, want to find out more or keep up to date with our Accelerating Inclusive Power Shift initiative, sign up for our newsletter or reach out to Myriam Ciza Gambini, directly at mcgambini@icscentre.org

 

Myriam Ciza Gambini

Project Manager

International Civil Society Centre

Myriam coordinates the “Accelerating Inclusive Power Shift” project, which aims to foster equitable partnerships and more inclusive governance models in the development and humanitarian sectors. Prior to joining the Centre, she worked on EU development policy in Brussels for CONCORD and Humanity & Inclusion and with CBM in Italy.


Scanning the Horizon: Digital Doughnut

11th March 2024 by Rachel Wilkinson

Every year, institutions release their trend reports. Recently, the World Economic Forum identified four different environmental issues as the most significant risks facing the world in the next 10 years. The UNDP Trends Report cites four climate-related trends in its top 13 themes. However, we know climate change is not merely a future trend, we are already feeling the damaging effects of climate change. February 2024 was globally the warmest on record. 

The Scanning the Horizon Community, hosted by the International Civil Society Centre, investigates trends and signals affecting civil society and looks to apply this learning and approach to Civil Society Organisations. At the start of the year, the Scanning Community met to examine and explore those areas where digital technology and the environment converge. 

We delved into a thought-provoking workshop to understand the intricate relationship between digital technologies and sustainability. Taking the Doughnut Economic Modela framework, developed by Kate Raworth, that challenges traditional notions of economic success and sustainability, –  we were able to use the ‘Digital Doughnut’, a visual tool that helped us explore the nuances of our digital footprint.  

The Doughnut Economic Model offers a holistic approach to sustainable development. It visualises a “safe and just space for humanity,” represented by the area between the inner and outer rings of the doughnut. The inner ring denotes the minimum standards of well-being that every person should have access to, as outlined by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Meanwhile, the outer ring represents the planetary boundaries we must not exceed to safeguard the health of our planet. 

Doughnut Economics
Doughnut Economics

This model prompts us to consider not only the immediate impacts of our actions but also their long-term consequences on both people and the planet. By framing sustainability within this broader context, we are compelled to think beyond mere environmental conservation and examine the systemic issues at play. 

The intersection of technology and sustainability is a pressing issue in today’s world. While technological advancements offer huge benefits, they also pose significant challenges to our environment and society. From the proliferation of electronic waste to the energy-intensive nature of digital infrastructure, the digital sector has a substantial ecological footprint. We do not always think about the physical and environmental infrastructure of digital technology. Cloud technology, for example, requires a significant amount of energy and waste. A Google data centre uses 450,000 litres of water per day.  Training a single AI model can emit as much carbon as five cars in their lifetimes. There is often a hidden environmental cost to all this new technology. 

The ‘Digital Doughnut’ takes the doughnut economy and uses the model to assess digital technologies. During our workshop, led by Alistair Alexander, participants examined the global impact of digital technologies and their implications for planetary health. We explored pressing topics like disinformation, e-waste, and energy consumption, shedding light on the multifaceted challenges we face. 

In an era defined by rapid technological advancement and growing environmental concerns, the need for a more sustainable approach to digital development has never been greater. When we talk about sustainability in the tech realm, it is easy to focus solely on surface-level solutions like renewable energy and recycling. While these are crucial steps, we must not lose sight of the deeper questions. What are the underlying paradigms and systems driving climate change? How is digital technology contributing to this crisis and what fundamental changes are needed? 

You can find out more about the Digital Doughnut here: https://doughnuteconomics.org/ and here: https://reclaimed.systems/The-Digital-Doughnut or contact Alistair directly. 

At the heart of our efforts with Scanning the Horizon is collaboration with our members and partners to bolster future literacy within the sector. We are actively engaged in charting and anticipating emerging trends.

Our Scanning the Horizon Community unites professionals from diverse sectors to share knowledge, and expertise, and test novel methodologies. Please email us if your organisation is interested in gaining more insight into our community as part of its foresight work. We look forward to hearing from you. 

Rachel Wilkinson

Programme Manager – Futures and Innovation

International Civil Society Centre

Rachel leads the Futures and Innovation programme at the Centre. She is responsible for managing the portfolio of projects and events as well as leading and developing the Scanning the Horizon strategic peer learning platform. Rachel has more than 15 years of experience working in the third sector, on a national and international level, working for various ICSOs in international development and human rights in both London and Berlin.


Anticipate, Adapt, Act: Shaping a resilient future for civil society

13th February 2024 by Mareyah Bhatti, Eva Gondor, Patricia Mugenzi

It is widely understood that the civil society sector faces undue restrictions and threats to its operating space globally. To help strengthen the capacity of civil society actors, we need to develop the ability to anticipate the future and act in a proactive manner to shape the future. The International Civil Society Centre and Forum for the Future recently collaborated on this issue at the International Civic Forum (ICF) 2023, a two-day workshop in Brussels joined by 40 actors from across the civil society sector. 

 

 

How do civil society organisations (CSOs) accustomed to fire-fighting crises imagine more adaptative and agile ways of preparedness and planning?

In mid-2023, we joined efforts to design a replicable methodology that offered a creative and engaging way to use future stories and scenarios leading to 2034. The purpose of this was to help CSOs design current and future strategic plans and inform their practices. The objectives offered participants a way to explore a range of possible futures and identify potential action areas to navigate those varied futures on three distinct levels: as individuals, organisations, and as a sector. We hoped to use the ICF 2023 to test the methodology and receive feedback on how it can be developed to support future planning for CSOs. 

The sessions took the attendees on a journey… first immersing them in the present and exploring current trends, then travelling to alternative possible futures based on the set of trends, and finally bridging the gap between possible futures and their actions, resources and mindsets. While the workshop surfaced several sectoral actions, the sessions were designed to ensure a focus on the attendees present and their specific agency and role in driving the change needed.

How could they as individuals in their respective roles contribute to their organisation’s resilience? And how could their organisation work with others to reduce sector-wide vulnerability? 

We designed the sessions to be generative spaces that led the group to bring their experience and expertise while stretching beyond what exists in the present and imagining more ambitious (yet tangible) actions for possible futures. 

“As CSOs, we need to get used to ‘futurisingas this informs current actions and helps us to avoid ‘routinising’.ICF participant

 

The participants produced a range of ideas at the sectoral, organisational, and individual levels that we summarised below:

Sector-wide actions

  1. We need to empower and involve local communities

Anticipation is about participation and if we want to build a better future, we need to listen to local communities, invest in community relations, and change approaches to collaboration. Local partners need to be involved from the beginning of processes; communities need to be turned into co-investors and co-designers rather than receivers. 

  1. The language we use needs to shift to remove barriers to involvement

As raised by a participant and echoed by many around the room, the language around development is “colonial-centric”. It is often in English, French, or Spanish and filled with jargon that can be difficult to interact with. How can we expect to involve people in decision-making and hear their voices, if the language or medium of conduct is inherently exclusionary? For communities – and the youth in particular – to be deeply involved, we need to think about access to such spaces and especially the language we use.

  1. We need to apply a more holistic approach and deepen collaboration on intersectional problems

The challenges we face in the civil society sector are complex and interconnected, and therefore require intersectional approaches. Rather than approaching challenges in isolation, we can use a similar concept to the “whole child approach” or “one health approach” to recognise intersectional identities, needs, and experience.

  1. We need to craft futures across the civil society sector and together with other sectors

Foresight needs to be ‘humanised’ and made approachable. It was viewed by many as a key skill to prepare for the future, and therefore needs to be done by a wider range of stakeholders. Thinking about the future is inherently a human act. Instead of approaching uncertainty with the usual sense of fear, foresight allows us to plan and stress test approaches against potential futures in a more informed manner. 

The process led to some aha’ moments for me which will have a significant impact on my planning.” ICF participant

Organisational actions

The participants worked in pairs or peer groups to draft tangible organisational plans they can contribute to. The ideas revolved around two aspects:

  • Strengthening participation and inclusiveness in decision-making processes International and local CSOs need to invest more into co-creation, reflection, and exploration of alternatives with partners and communities.
  • Building foresight capacities and applying foresight within organisational activities
    The participants left motivated to involve their colleagues, partners, and allies in further collaborative foresight processes and exercises.

Individual actions

Building foresight capacities and their application were further underlined in concrete individual actions that the participants expressed their interest in developing such as:

  • Promoting and prioritizing knowledge sharing about foresight to broaden perspectives
  • Planning a foresight exercise for colleagues to strengthen organisational capacities 
  • Integrating futures thinking into existing processes and upcoming strategies

The individual actions identified during the ICF 2023 underscore the importance of fostering foresight at multiple levels — empowering local communities, shifting organisational language, and humanizing foresight for broader stakeholder engagement to ensure plans, projects, and strategies reflect our hopes for the future.

“Futures thinking is a systemic process and should be given due attention.

 

So, what does this mean? 

Being a systemic process, futures thinking should be approached comprehensively, considering all interconnected aspects. In essence, it means recognising the need for a thorough strategy when addressing global challenges in the civil society sector. By practicing futures thinking, we take a proactive stance in tackling the complex issues faced by the sector, while fostering resilience, collaboration, and inclusivity. It is about developing the capacity to not only monitor trends but also to envision, through a participatory approach, how they might unfold providing us with a powerful tool to break away from conventional crisis management practices. Futures thinking urges us to be strategic, forward-looking, and adaptable in our approach, ensuring a more effective response to the evolving landscape of the civil society sector. 

 

Find out more 

The ICF 2023 was part of a wider three-year initiative “Anticipating futures for civil society operating space (2022 – 2025) led by the International Civil Society Centre. The initiative aims to strengthen anticipatory capacities and future readiness of civil society professionals who are working to defend and expand civic and civil society operating space. Check out this website to find further information and resources from this initiative and possibilities of involvement. 

 

Mareyah Bhatti

Change Designer

Forum for the Future

Mareyah is a Change Designer at Forum for the Future, with an academic background in medical geography and personal passion for food systems and their cultural significance. She works closely in the Food and Futures teams at Forum, managing and delivering their programmes. She was recently seconded to Singapore for the 'Protein Challenge Southeast Asia,' a runner-up for the esteemed Food Planet Prize. Beyond this, Mareyah contributes to Forum’s Future Centre platform as an editor, identifying emerging signals and authoring blogs on topics from the future of protein to human rights in the fashion supply chain.

Eva Gondor

Senior Project Manager

International Civil Society Centre

Eva leads on the Centre's civic space work - the Solidarity Action Network (SANE) aimed at strengthening resilience of and solidarity among civil society actors, and the International Civic Forum (ICF), our annual civic space platform to network and identify opportunities for collaboration. Prior to joining the Centre she worked at the Robert Bosch Stiftung (Foundation) in Stuttgart where she managed the foundation’s projects focusing on civil society and governance in Turkey, the Western Balkans, and North Africa.

Patricia Mugenzi

Strategic Foresight

International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC)

Patricia is the coordinator for Strategic foresight (Africa Region) at the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC). She helps IFRC’s National societies explore possible futures to address upcoming challenges. Before joining the IFRC, Patricia served in various positions in both international and governmental organisations, including the Government of Quebec. In this role, she provided invaluable insights and guidance on geopolitical matters, playing a pivotal role in shaping government policies and strategies.


Envisioning Tomorrow: Reflections from the International Civic Forum 2023 

23rd January 2024 by Elizabeth Parsons

The stage was set for the International Civic Forum (ICF) before the end of 2023 in the vibrant and creative innovation space of Transforma Lab, Brussels. For two days, a workshop with forty participants from around the globe was held with the aim of preparing them, their civil society organisations, and the civil society sector at large for anticipating futures. This is by no means an easy feat, but we were fortunate to hear how it played out for three participants: Patrick Allam, the Legal Officer from Spaces for Change, Melissa Juisi Simo, the West Africa Civil Society Institute’s (WACSI) Programmes Assistant, and Răzvan-Victor Sassu, the Head of Strategy and Policy for the World YMCA. In the interviews, they shared with us their thoughts about foresight and futures crafting and their takeaways from the experience.  

Regarding “futures” work, what has been your connection? 

Before attending the ICF 2023, all three interviewees had varied connections to futures work. As Melissa noted, most civil society organisations are essentially in “reaction mode.” Although her organisation has begun pursuing futures work, it is still a new area for her personally to explore. Prior to taking part in the ParEvo foresight exercise run by the ICSCentre in the first half of 2023, Patrick hadn’t work with it before. ParEvo is a participatory and evolutionary approach to creating stories about possible futures. In the exercise, 15 participants developed stories about possible civic space futures through eight iterations of storytelling. Patrick began the exercise with a great deal of scepticism and uncertainty about the future. But later on:

“I now recognize the role that we can play in ensuring that the future is one that we can actively govern and possibly shape its outcomes.” Patrick

Patrick Allam, the Legal Officer from Spaces for Change
Patrick Allam, the Legal Officer from Spaces for Change

Through this work, he started to see potential for a more positive future. On the other hand, for Răzvan, it is a daily reality to acknowledge the importance of foresight in the development of global strategy and policy. Futures thinking had already been incorporated into Răzvan’s strategic processes, but he pointed out that:

“We also want to try to expand the network of people who actually think futures thinking is important. We don’t want it to remain limited to a bubble in Geneva who finds it significant.”  Răzvan

Răzvan-Victor Sassu, the Head of Strategy and Policy for the World YMCA
Răzvan-Victor Sassu, the Head of Strategy and Policy for the World YMCA

The three participants all agree on the importance of futures thinking, despite having varying degrees of experience with it.

“We need futures if we want to lead the future that we are going into, if we want to see innovation, and if we want to see participation.” Melissa

How can we go about futures thinking? 

Melissa compares futures thinking to a daily task, something one will do daily to ensure longevity, efficiency and optimal productivity. She thinks that this strategy will promote creativity and teamwork – all of which are crucial for imagining the future. When talking about the strategy of his organisation, Răzvan brings up the creation of a think tank to facilitate strategic foresight, especially with regard to the needs of young people. He highlights the challenges of prioritising future thinking amidst ongoing crises and funding constraints, suggesting the integration of bite-sized future thinking activities into existing processes. Patrick emphasises the value of systematic future planning, not only within his organisation but also extending to their networks, having been influenced by his ICF experience. In his view, this is a means of being proactive as opposed to reactive, working towards a situation in which upcoming events won’t come as a surprise. 

Did you have any “aha” moments at the ICF? 

“Where can we make a difference now that will make a difference in the future?” is a quote that motivated Melissa.

How am I making a difference now for the future and not just making a difference now to correct the past? Because that has been the pattern.” Melissa

Melissa Juisi Simo, the West Africa Civil Society Institute's (WACSI) Programmes Assistant
Melissa Juisi Simo, the West Africa Civil Society Institute’s (WACSI) Programmes Assistant

Melissa further underlined: “It was so beautiful for me to see that although we’re different groups from different parts of the world, we’re able to see similar risks and opportunities available for civil society.” But at the same time, she reflected that if there is too much alignment in thinking and we only stay within civil society, this might lead to the omission of some crucial perspectives. There is a need for increased cooperation between civil society and other sectors, including the government and business when it comes to shaping the future. Răzvan’s eureka moment centred on the notion that the workshop simplified the idea of “futures literacy” for those who are unfamiliar with it. He can imagine that creating a simple “package” for organisations would be helpful. Patrick’s realisation was that:

“Instead of finding ourselves in the future, where we are in the vicious circle of always reacting to issues as they come up, the goal is that everyone of us will move to the mode where we are actively shaping our future.” Patrick

He adds that this approach shouldn’t be only applied when it comes to organisational strategy but also for funding and community involvement.  

International Civic Forum 2023 Group Photo
International Civic Forum 2023 Group Photo

What will you do with the insights from the ICF? 

Melissa, Patrick, and Răzvan talked about how they wanted to incorporate futures thinking into their work going forward. Melissa intends to absorb the information and share it with others through an article that can be used as a reference. Her second ambition is to develop a curriculum or a learning material to share with other civil society organisations to strengthen their capacities. Patrick is eager to implement a more methodical approach to integrating foresight into the institutional thinking of his organisation and expanding it to their network. Răzvan advocates for the inclusion of strategic foresight as a fundamental component of strategic planning and proposes incorporating futures thinking and methods into routine meetings, such as a staff retreat. 

Throughout the interviews, Melissa, Patrick, and Răzvan highlighted the growing significance of foresight and anticipation for civil society. They further emphasised the need for taking an integrated approach to futures thinking and making it a regular practice. The perspectives and experiences that they have shared serve as a reminder of the complexity of the issue, the opportunity it presents, and the teamwork needed to address it.

International Civic Forum 2023
International Civic Forum 2023
International Civic Forum 2023
International Civic Forum 2023 where forty civil society professionals met to workshop on anticipating futures.

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, check out Anticipating futures for civil society operating space – Solidarity Action Network (SANE). The International Civil Society Centre’s three-year initiative (2022 – 2025) focussing on strengthening anticipatory capacities and future readiness of civil society professionals who are working to defend and expand civic and civil society operating space. The ICF methodology was co-developed by the ICSCentre and Forum for the Future, with support of Patricia Mugenzi.

Communications Manager

International Civil Society Centre


The Global Standard for CSO Accountability – An intense and participatory journey

14th December 2023 by Anabel Cruz and Miriam Niehaus

Almost exactly 10 years ago during the Global Perspectives conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, hosted by the International Civil Society Centre and CIVICUS, colleagues from AccountableNow (back then the INGO Accountability Charter), InterAction, Rendir Cuentas and VANI introduced an idea: to establish a Global Standard for CSO accountability. An idea developed into a global partnership driving a paradigm shift from reporting on accountability, mainly for donors’ sake, to Dynamic Accountability. The Global Standard has been developed as a tool for strengthened impact and resilience by becoming more transparent, responsive, ethical and accountable towards the people whom we work for and with. By now the Global Standard is both a tool for organisations to showcase their accountability and with strengthened integrity withstand attacks design to shrinking civic space, as well as a means to shift power in the mechanisms of programme and strategy development.   

The partnership’s story is one of exemplary global collaboration between regional and national CSO network organisations that worked very hard to achieve an agreed vision for accountability and then implement and translate it to their local context.  With the support of Sida Sweden, several project partners from all corners of the world initially came together to develop the Global Standard: AccountableNow, the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), the Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN), the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC), Deniva, InterAction, the International Civil Society Centre, Rendir Cuentas, Viwango, and the Voluntary Action network India (VANI), later to be joined by the Pacific Island Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (PIANGO), the PHE Ethiopia Consortium, and the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). In December 2017 the Global Standard for CSO Accountability was officially launched at the CIVICUS International Civil Society Week in Fiji. Now, ten years on from its inception, the global collaboration has been able to develop into a full cooperative and independent Partnership that will continue working with the sector in its ever important drive to more and better accountability. Future activities include continuing with the implementation of the Global Standard, and supporting CSOs to strengthen their accountability practices by fostering more horizontal and dynamically accountable relationships between CSOs and actors like donors, governments, and international organisations.  

Though no longer institutionally involved the International Civil Society Centre is proud to have been part of the journey of this important initiative and looks forward to its next steps.  

 

Global Standard Global Standard

Global Standard Partners 2018

 

Anabel Cruz

Director and Coordinator

Institute for Communication and Development (ICD) and Regional Initiative Rendir Cuentas

Anabel Cruz is originally from Uruguay and has three decades of experience in civil society promotion, research, and training in Latin America and in the global context. She is the Founder Director of the Institute for Communication and Development (ICD) in Uruguay and has been a consultant and evaluator for international organizations, a trainer and facilitator and a visiting lecturer at universities in several countries. She is an expert on topics related to citizen participation, civil society transparency, accountability, and good governance. She has a long working experience with local, national, regional, and global CSO networks and platforms promoting transparency and accountability of civil society and other stakeholders, leading international research, and coordinating the efforts of organizations to implement common standards, and models for accountability mechanisms. She has been the Board Chair of CIVICUS, the World Alliance for Citizen Participation in two different periods (2007-2010 and 2016-2019). She led the creation in 2009, and is since then the co-coordinator of Rendir Cuentas, a Regional Civil Society Accountability Initiative, with active CSO members and partners in 12 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Anabel is currently the Civil Society Co-Chair of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Steering Committee.

Miriam Niehaus

Head of Programmes

International Civil Society Centre

Miriam leads the Centre’s programmes. She started at the Centre as Executive Assistant in 2014 and then, as Project Manager, developed and implemented the Centre’s projects on civic space between 2016 and 2019. Prior to joining the Centre Miriam worked for VSO International and GIZ in the Palestinian Territories. She holds a BA in Islamic Studies and Social Anthropology from the University of Freiburg and an MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies.


Global Perspectives 2023 – Moments of Truth 

22nd November 2023 by Miriam Niehaus

Prolonged humanitarian crises, the rise of generative artificial intelligence, the use of disinformation to polarise societies and manipulate elections, the suppression of civil society from state and non-state actors and decreasing funding… are just a few of the ever-growing challenges that social justice, humanitarian, and development organisations must contend with. As progressive and rights-based civil society organisations – from local to international level – are grappling with these crises of the past few years, the International Civil Society Centre once again had the honour of curating our yearly conference, Global Perspectives on these topics. “Global Perspectives – Moments of Truth” happened on 9 November and brought together hundreds of online participants across five different sessions to not just ponder these challenges but provide concrete examples and explore ideas on how we can collaboratively tackle them.  

Though each session was independently curated, three overarching themes emerged. 

The Future of Civic Space is Now
Anticipating the factors that will constrict our civic space a decade from now demands our attention today. Civic Space has been in decline and is likely to continue on this trajectory. Are we adequately addressing the issues that will likely shape our societies in the next decade, impacting our civic engagement? In the session titled “Learn From and Engage on Futures Scenarios for Civic Space” participants learned about the outcomes of the Centre’s “A History of Civic Space 2024-2034”, exercise, where representatives from 15 civil society organisations collaborated to develop possible future scenarios for civic space. Session participants engaged in the scenarios and identified actionable steps to either advance or prevent undesirable outcomes. For example, a likely scenario of artificial intelligence (AI) first enabling a lot of good work at scale and then backfiring on civil society as “obstacles to progress”, highlighted the urgency to get into the AI game now. Later in the day at the “Digital Dialogue – AI: Solution or Threat to Mis-/Disinformation?” drove the point home: two scholars Liz Orembo from Research ICT Africa and Admire Mare from the University of Johannesburg, called on civil society organisations to address AI now, as governance advocates, watchdogs, as well as helping to increase media literacy. This is especially needed as there are a number of key elections coming up next year where we will likely see sophisticated disinformation campaigns. Henry Parker from Logically, informed us that there is a lot of potential to use AI to identify disinformation campaigns and reprimand the actors responsible. During “A Sector Conversation”, Stéphane Duguin from CyberPeace Institute warned us that we need to create a comparable countermodel if we wish to increase our capacity to oppose disinformation campaigns. Read their approach to responsible use of artificial intelligence here and watch this space as we are launching our Sector Guidance on Mis-, Dis-, and Mal-information: Insights and Foresights in early 2024.    

Representation Matters
Two sessions, “The Truth is in the Telling” and “Exploring Personal Realities (of Marginalisation)”, delved into the importance of representation. Insights from individuals working with and identifying as members of marginalised communities underscored the need for more direct dialogue with those in power. Nana Afadzinu from WACSI emphasised in “A Sector Conversation” the need for introspection and acknowledgement of systemic inequity. Festus Odingo from the SDG Kenya Forum emphasised the significance of partnerships as a key force for change, emphasising how they may broaden the scope and effect of community-based initiatives. Representation of course also happens through communication pieces – donor reports, flyers, fundraising advertisements and much more. Undeniably, communication about Global North-financed Global South projects has been a big part of manifesting white saviourism and entrenching power imbalances. By now, several organisations have begun to examine this reality and make changes. The Ethical Story Telling Guideline, a toolkit that PATH and Metro Group DRC contributed to, was presented by the speakers. It can assist companies in determining how to, for instance, become more ethical by making concrete adjustments to the planning process. Communication audits, such as the ones conducted every two years by CARE International, can be useful in holding teams accountable and providing incentives for improvement. As part of its bottom-up strategy to alter various communication channels, CARE has made significant efforts to maximise informed consent and minimise unconscious bias. Yet, there are still incredibly difficult dilemmas when organisations must weigh communication subjects’ agency against their safety, for example when portraying female CSO workers in Afghanistan. The emphasis is on respect. A key takeaway from our sessions is to aim to do no harm but failing forward is inevitable as we push one another to improve and recognise ethical storytelling as a fundamental  component of power shifts within the industry. 

Weathering a Perfect Storm
Our speakers highlighted this year a shrinking civic space, humanitarian crises piling up and worsening, colonial structures still fostering inequity, and growing cybercrime and disinformation adding to the complexity. All of this is happening in the face of a challenging global economy with a sharp decline for our causes. Are we experiencing a perfect storm? Yet, for most in the sector, there is a firm resolve to plough on despite difficult circumstances. There is no alternative. It has been inspiring to see among others, leaders from ICVA, CIVICUS, WACSI and the CyberPeace Institute sharing resources, knowledge and honest invitations to collaborate more, helping each other to overcome our deficiencies and capitalise on our respective expertise and strengths.  

To continue surviving the storm, the International Civil Society Centre will keep bringing attention to the incredible innovations that are being developed in the field. As Mirela Shuteriqi from ICVA said in her closing statement, we must also transform ourselves. We must encourage a culture and bring about changes at the UN level, using this as a chance to collaborate and tackle social justice issues. We remain dedicated to facilitating dialogue, sharing innovations, and fostering collaboration within the sector. It is through collective determination, thoughtful introspection, and ethical storytelling that we can face the challenges that lay ahead, transform ourselves, and forge a path towards a more just and equitable future. The journey is ongoing, but together, as a united force, we embark on it with unwavering resolve. 

 

Special thanks to all our speakers – Jennifer Abomnger, Nana Afadzinu, Stéphane Duguin, Patrick Gathara, Arnold Gekonge, Eva Gondor, Heather Hutchings, Wolfgang Jamann, Lysa John, Hussam Joudah, Admire Mare, Shalini Moodley, Patricia Mugenzi, Levis Nderitu, Nana Nwachukwu, Festus Odingo, Elizabeth Orembo, Henry Parker, Neha Rayamajhi, Mirela Shuteriqi, Clare Spurrell, David Verga, and Rachel Wilkinson.

 

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Miriam Niehaus

Head of Programmes

International Civil Society Centre

Miriam leads the Centre’s programmes. She started at the Centre as Executive Assistant in 2014 and then, as Project Manager, developed and implemented the Centre’s projects on civic space between 2016 and 2019. Prior to joining the Centre Miriam worked for VSO International and GIZ in the Palestinian Territories. She holds a BA in Islamic Studies and Social Anthropology from the University of Freiburg and an MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies.


Anticipate, listen patiently, and build a peer network – three lessons from Leading Together

10th July 2023 by Miriam Niehaus

For the first time in four years, the Centre convened its Leading Together conference in person again. Leading Together is our annual space for the global directors of the ICSO divisions of Human Resources, Policy/Advocacy, and Programmes. These groups have parallel peer group discussions as well as joint sessions over topics that concern them all. This year, the Scanning the Horizon community of futures-focused senior sector professionals also joined the group. We were thrilled to welcome participants on our home turf in Berlin and spend 48h learning, debating, and reflecting. The Centre team is busily following up on those 47+ items/ideas/insights generated during the event, and we would also like to share three insights that were key to us:

1. Exercising that anticipatory muscle is challenging, liberating – and necessary 

At Global Perspectives 2022, we heard and stressed how anticipatory capacity in (I)CSOs is a collective muscle we need to exercise constantly. We took this advice and focused peer and joint sessions on this topic: Discussions with Russell Reynolds on the role of leadership and using AI for the good of ICSOs as well as shaping the future through participatory strategy making were sessions where participants engaged with trends and how to “organise futures”. The Policy/Advocacy Directors discussed with David Griffiths, Associate Fellow at Chatham House the future of the Human Rights diplomacy 

We also really challenged participants with some freshly generated scenarios created in a collective exercise (ParEvo) the Centre has just concluded. Participants had to discuss and reflect on how civil society (organisations) might deal with and shape civil society space after a series of mega-tsunamis hit the world and severed all IT infrastructure.  While some scenarios stretched the goodwill of participants to further consider, the exercise was highlighted by many as important to encourage imagining futures differently. A series of mega-tsunamis will throw the world into disarray (not unlike a global pandemic) and might need primarily our crisis-response capacity. However, spending time on creating long-term visions for different futures can put us as civil society sector professionals in a different kind of driving seat versus racing to manage with futures narratives others – usually more powerful actors – are creating. 

 

2. Taking time for nuance and learning advances us collectively 

What was particularly enriching at this year’s conference was the participants’ willingness to engage in the substance of discussions and openness to critical challenges, and generally a learning mentality. We tried not to gloss over differences with buzzword definitions like “power shift” or “decolonising” but acknowledged the complexity of the matters we deal with and that we may get some things right and others wrong along the journey. Similarly, a joint discussion between the Programme and the Policy/Advocacy directors in exchange with AWID over anti-rights groups and the threat they pose to civic space was exemplary for constructive engagement: Participants brought so much nuance to the discussion and – it might sound like a cliché – embraced the diversity of viewpoints and created patience for understanding our individual or organisational contexts.  These high-quality discussions were incredibly enriching and displayed a high degree of collective responsibility for advancing as a sector.  

 

3. Our organisations are shifting fundamentally – from strategy making to recruitment processes – and peer support may just help keep the head above water 

A few years back someone said “’powershift’ is the water we all swim in”. This was certainly true for Leading Together. In so many sessions participants explored topics that come from our journeys to become organisations that are at least more power-aware or even mirror a decolonised, equitable and just society that we want to see. It was hugely encouraging to see the spread of organisational initiatives and the degree to which ambitions for change are permeating the organisations: to learn from the experience of WaterAid’s participatory strategy making journey, engage with Superrr Lab in what it takes to break western-centred views of futures making. In similar vein, Mission Talent and the cohort of Human Resources directors discussed the challenges and possibilities our changing sector holds to build more diverse organisations; the Programme Directors explored with Comic Relief what ways there are to work differently with bilateral donors to enable more equitable partnerships; and the Policy/Advocacy Directors are already experienced how shifting mandates of ICSOs hold increased expectations for their departments. Senior leaders from the ICSOs are demonstrating resolve and yet acknowledge that these are unchartered waters where peer exchange, inspiration and support is just what you need. 

If you are also an ICSO senior leader and you want to learn more about our offer, do reach out. We already look forward to the next round of Leading Together in 2024 – online – and in-person in 2025!  

 

Miriam Niehaus

Head of Programmes

International Civil Society Centre

Miriam leads the Centre’s programmes. She started at the Centre as Executive Assistant in 2014 and then, as Project Manager, developed and implemented the Centre’s projects on civic space between 2016 and 2019. Prior to joining the Centre Miriam worked for VSO International and GIZ in the Palestinian Territories. She holds a BA in Islamic Studies and Social Anthropology from the University of Freiburg and an MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies.


Discover and learn from the Solidarity Playbook on cybersecurity

26th April 2023 by Eva Gondor

Strengthening cybersecurity

With increased digitalisation (international) civil society organisations – (I)CSOs – have faced an increase in digital threats and cyberattacks carried out by malicious actors interested in financial gains and access to sensitive data or identifiable personal information.

In recognition of this growing challenge, we captured case studies on how (I)CSOs responded to cyberattacks and collected lessons on how to better protect organisations online.

Solidarity Playbook case studies on cybersecurity 

The latest edition of the Solidarity Playbook features four case studies of how (I)CSOs dealt with actual cyberattacks. We partnered with the CyberPeace Institute to showcase these case studies and provide insights into how (I)CSOs can prevent and mitigate similar incidents.

Regaining access to a social media account 

Resisting six weeks of sustained phishing attacks

Deflecting a sophisticated brute-force and phishing attack 

Retrieving access to a hacked IT server  

Cybersecurity needs to be a shared responsibility – it requires attention across the whole organisation and cannot be borne only on the shoulders of IT staff.

 

 Facing cybersecurity challenges: Lessons learned and opportunity areas

Visit the Solidarity Action Network Webpage to find out more about the aims of the Solidarity Playbook and all the case study content.

For more information or feedback, reach out to Eva Gondor, Senior Project Manager

Eva Gondor

Senior Project Manager

International Civil Society Centre

Eva leads on the Centre's civic space work - the Solidarity Action Network (SANE) aimed at strengthening resilience of and solidarity among civil society actors, and the International Civic Forum (ICF), our annual civic space platform to network and identify opportunities for collaboration. Prior to joining the Centre she worked at the Robert Bosch Stiftung (Foundation) in Stuttgart where she managed the foundation’s projects focusing on civil society and governance in Turkey, the Western Balkans, and North Africa.


Official reference to our work in the UN Secretary General’s recent SDG progress report

13th February 2023 by Chandani Lopez Peralta

The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General’s report, “Work on the review of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)” recognises the usefulness of citizen-generated data (CGD) and the UN’s interest in exploring new avenues to make better use of such data in SDG processes and beyond. The report also underlines the key role of civil society actors and community-based organisations in advancing CGD to make SDG processes and public policies more inclusive and equitable. The close collaboration between the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) and the International Civil Society Centre (in its role as the global LNOB secretariat) has been explicitly mentioned in the report, emphasising our mutual role in fostering collaboration between civil society and national statistics offices at the national level. 

The report recognises CGD, such as community-driven data and citizen science, as useful data sources, both for filling gaps to inform policy and decision-making and as complementary information by citizens, civil society and community-based organisations in order to better reflect the realities of less visible and marginalised groups more broadly. 

The report also highlights that national statistical offices are increasingly exploring mechanisms and tools to engage and connect with citizens and communities throughout the data value chain to make data more relevant and better utilised. 

The Secretary General’s report refers to the expert group meeting on the topic Harnessing data by citizens for public policy and Sustainable Development Goal monitoring: a conceptual framework”, which was held in Bangkok on 10th and 11th November 2022 to discuss concrete ways to involve civil society in all steps of the SDG process. At the meeting, it was concluded that there would be a new UN-anchored collaborative co-led by UNSD and a network of partners, bringing together diverse stakeholders, including national statistical offices, CSOs, academia and regional and international organisations. The goal is to share knowledge and experiences in leveraging citizens’ contribution to data and to inform further normative work required in this area. 

For additional information, download the full report. 

Chandani Lopez Peralta

Project Manager

International Civil Society Centre

Chandani joined the Centre as a Project Manager in May 2022. She supports the Leave No One Behind Partnership that promotes the collection and use of community-driven data to give voice and agency to marginalised communities. Prior to joining the Centre, Chandani headed communications and outreach at TolaData. In addition, Chandani has coordinated many projects for local and international NGOs, working closely with refugees, individuals with disabilities and other marginalised groups in Nepal, Germany and the US. Chandani holds a master’s degree in International Development and Social Change from Clark University, USA and a B.Sc. in Mass Communications with an emphasis on PR and Advertising from Minnesota State University Moorhead