Briefing Paper: Policy Engagement for Poverty Reduction – How Civil Society Can Be More Effective

  • Court J
  • Mendizabal E
  • Osbourne D
  • et al.
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Civil society organisations (CSOs) make a difference in international development. They provide development services and humanitarian relief, innovate in service delivery, build local capacity and advocate with and for the poor. Acting alone, however, their impact is limited in scope, scale and sustainability. CSOs need to engage in government policy processes more effectively. With increased democratisation, reductions in conflict, and advances in information and communication technologies, there is potential for progressive partnerships between CSOs and policymakers in more developing countries. However, CSOs are having a limited impact on policy and practice, and ultimately the lives of poor people. In many countries they act on their own or in opposition to the state, leading to questions about their legitimacy and accountability. Their policy positions are also increasingly questioned: researchers challenge their evidence base and policymakers question the feasibility of their recommendations. The first part of this report shows why and how better use of evidence by CSOs is part of the solution to increasing the policy influence and pro-poor impact of their work. Better use of evidence can: (i) improve the impact of CSOs’ service delivery work; (ii) increase the legitimacy and effectiveness of their policy engagement efforts, helping CSOs to gain a place and have influence at the policy table; and (iii) ensure that policy recommendations are genuinely pro- poor. The second half of the report outlines how CSOs can engage more effectively in policy processes. It includes strategic and practical advice regarding how CSOs can overcome the main challenges to policy engagement. These challenges and some effective ways of addressing them are outlined in the following table. In some countries, adverse political contexts continue to be the main barrier to informed policy engagement. But often, the extent of CSOs’ influence on policy is in their own hands. By getting the fundamentals right – assessing context, engaging policymakers, getting rigorous evidence, working with partners, communicating well – CSOs can overcome key internal obstacles. The result will be more effective, influential and sustained policy engagement for poverty reduction.




Court, J., Mendizabal, E., Osbourne, D., & Young, J. (2020). Briefing Paper: Policy Engagement for Poverty Reduction – How Civil Society Can Be More Effective. In NGO Management (pp. 236–242). Routledge.

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