Room to breathe: how to support CSOs for inclusive development

Civic Action,INCLUDE knowledge platform10 Feb 2020Frank van Kesteren, Yannicke Goris, Kiza Magendane

What is the role of civil society organizations (CSOs) for inclusive development in low and lower-middle income countries (LLMICs)? The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs developed the Dialogue and Dissent (D&D) policy framework based on a theory of change that assumes, among other things, that: 1) CSOs play a crucial role in changing power relations, 2) external aid can strengthen CSOs in LLMICs in their political roles through capacity building and assistance in advocacy processes, and 3) in order to effectively perform their political roles, CSOs need political space. 

In order to investigate this theory of change, NWO-WOTRO, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and INCLUDE launched the ‘New Roles of CSOs for Inclusive Development’ programme (the ‘Assumptions Programme’). This research programme consisted of eight projects covering eight countries, starting with a literature review, followed by empirical research.

In Room to breathe: what works to support CSOs in inclusive development , The Broker synthesizes the findings of the Assumption Programme in a robust, yet colourful and accessible, report. The report is structured around five cross-cutting issues across the eight projects, illustrating the complementarity of the findings. Overall, the synthesis confirms the assumptions underlying the D&D framework, but finds that CSOs in LLMICs need ‘room to breathe’. This requires open civic space and support (including flexible funding) in order to effectively perform their political roles. 

The five cross-cutting issues


At the same time, the assumptions underpinning the D&D framework need to be nuanced as they are context dependent. Specifically, the distinction between advocacy and service delivery is not always as sharp as the D&D framework assumes, especially for CSOs operating in situations of shrinking civic space. The synthesis report also documents the underexplored role of non-state actors in pressuring advocacy CSOs, sometimes as extensions of the state. These and other findings and insights will hopefully help government and civil society actors to support CSOs as actors for inclusive development.

Room to breathe: what works to support CSOs in inclusive development is now available. To receive a hard copy, please contact The Broker.