In what ways has Swedish support to civil society actors in developing countries enabled poor and discriminated people to improve their living conditions and quality of life? This evaluation report shares a range of internal and external factors that have contributed to the effectiveness of Sida’s civil society support strategy via Swedish CSOs 2010-2014 . It finds that the strategy works when the right conditions and actors are in place and suggests that a greater emphasis on power and structural change can facilitate a better enabling environment for poor people to claim their rights.
A consortium conducted the evaluation in two rounds of fieldwork between March 2013 and October 2014. It sought to answer 9 evaluations questions using the Reality Check Approach (RCA) to understand the realities and perspectives of people living in poverty and marginalisation, combined with meso-level inquiries into the efforts of diverse actors – notably the key Swedish CSOs (SFOs) and local partner organisations (LPOs). This report is accompanied by final reports for the three country involved – Nicaragua, Pakistan and Uganda.
- People’s perceptions of change is mixed: small positive changes did not seem to outweigh larger negative shifts, and expectations that government would bring about positive change were very low. In Northern Uganda and Nicaragua this also applied to CSOs.
- There is a clear difference between people’s awareness of their rights and how far they are fulfilled, and their expectations of fulfilment. Many people saw government decentralisation as perpetuating, rather than addressing, discrimination and lack of transparency and accountability. As a result, the majority demonstrated ‘rational passivity’ towards government, CSOs and other powerful actors alike.
- While the overall strategy is relevant to the priorities, perspectives and desired changes of people living in poverty and marginalisation, some theories of change are too narrow or not locally-grounded enough to be highly effective at achieving objectives.
- The effectiveness of SFOs and LPOs in interpreting HRBA approaches in their work is mixed. There are a number of reasons for this: principles were not always consistent within organisations; tensions between rights advocacy and needs-focused service delivery, and between universal HRBA and local priorities.
- Despite increasingly difficult conditions for CSOs (particularly in Uganda and Pakistan), there have been a number of successful contributions including: increased capacity and awareness of rights in Nicaragua and Uganda; instances of leadership capacity development in LPOs; and the strengthening of organisational and project-implementation capacities of CBOs in Pakistan. However, time requirements and opportunity costs of Sida’s results-focused aid management system constrain the scope of SFOs and LPOs for contributing to positive change.
- The common understanding of capacity development as the acquisition of abilities, skills and competences is insufficient to describe the activities of some LPOs and SFOs in Nicaragua, and also Uganda. This more transformative work requires strengthening processes, methodologies, and spaces for dialogue to constitute stronger civil societies.
- There is greater alignment between theories of change and interventions at the strategic level, than at the level of operations and partnerships. Factors affecting this include: contextual drivers; tensions of scale between projects (micro/short-term/specialised) and programmes (broad/longer-term/multi-thematic); some aspects of results-based management that favours upward accountability and therefore a low-scope for synergy; and the nature of Sweden’s domestic civil society where international NGOs are based in-country but have an international identity and pursue an international agenda.
- Local context affects the ability of programmes, approaches and theories of change in contributing to an enabling environment. Without an enabling environment, empowering rights-holders will not lead to duty-bearers ensuring those rights are realised.
The evaluation report concludes with specific recommendations for Sida and for SFOs under these 5 broader actions:
- Revisit expectations of results, accountability and participation
- Support civil society engagement and horizontal alignment in unfavourable contexts
- Support enabling spaces for civil society as a ‘field’, rather than a collection of associations
- Deepen engagement with multidimensional poverty in order to locate leverage points for structural change
- Contextualise HRBA, develop a better understanding of what it means to claim and attain human rights within a given context