Development & Civic Space

Civil society is an independent development actor in its own right—essential to “leaving no one behind” by serving the underserved and ensuring that communities are included in building their future.

When civil society organizations, governments, and international development agencies cooperate effectively, positive and lasting change can take root. The United Nations General Assembly has declared that “effective participation by civil society” is “an essential part of the necessary foundations for the realization of social and people-centered sustainable development.”

However, civil society around the world face is facing new restrictions in its ability to engage in development. These restrictions impede progress, especially for marginalized groups. They also contradict international legal standards and commitments that emphasize the need for an enabling environment for civil society, including the 2011 Busan Partnership Agreement, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. ICNL engages with a variety of international bodies to monitor and reinforce countries’ adherence to their commitments so that civil society can contribute meaningfully to development goals.

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Key Resources

Ulaanbaatar Declaration on Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies in Asia and Beyond

The 2019 Ulaanbaatar Democracy Forum brought together Asian governments, regional and global bodies, and civil society organizations to share their experiences in implementing United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16, which urges the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development. The statement expresses concern that, despite international commitments, civic space is shrinking. ICNL participated in the meeting and contributed to this declaration.

Nairobi Outcome Document

The 2016 High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation in Nairobi defined development effectiveness and set the agenda for the implementation of the 2011 Busan Partnership Agreement, which proposes principles, commitments, and actions for effective cooperation in international development. The document summarizes the results of the meeting, as well as advocacy by ICNL, including an acknowledgment of the worldwide shrinking of civic space and a commitment to accelerate the creation of an enabling environment for civil society.

Busan Partnership Agreement

The 2011 Busan Partnership Agreement was a landmark agreement signed by more 100 countries and 50 international development organizations. It outlines the principles of development effectiveness along with concrete steps for putting the principles into action. Paragraph 22 recognizes the contribution of civil society organizations to achieving sustainable development and commits signatories to help CSOs “exercise their roles as independent development actors, with a particular focus on an enabling environment, consistent with agreed international rights.”

Civic Freedoms & the Sustainable Development Goals

This 2018 report to the United Nations General Assembly by the special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, drafted with ICNL’s help, lays out the relationship between the exercise of these key rights and implementation of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted in 2015, calls on UN members states to end extreme poverty and fight inequality, injustice, and climate change by realizing the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals.

Practical Recommendations for CSO Participation in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

These practical recommendations, by UN Special Rapporteur Clément N/ Voule, ensure the participation of civil society in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and are a valuable tool for all actors engaged in  advancing effective CSO participation in development processes.

OECD Recommendation on Enabling Civil Society in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance

This report by the OECD Development Assistance Committee provides recommendations for  including and enabling civil society in development and humanitarian processes.

All Development & Civic Space Resources

2016 Report of the UN Secretary General on Progress Toward the SDGs

2016 Report of the UN Secretary General on Progress Toward the SDGs
This first annual report issued by the UN Secretary General in June 2016 provides an ... Read More

Monitoring Guide 2015-2016

Monitoring Guide 2015-2016
This document explains the objectives, process and methodology for the 2015-16 monitoring round of the ... Read More

Assessing CSO engagement

Assessing CSO engagement
This discussion paper by the Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment offers ... Read More

Engaging Citizens and Civil Society to Promote Good Governance and Development Effectiveness

Engaging Citizens and Civil Society to Promote Good Governance and Development Effectiveness
A brief published by the Asian Development Bank in 2015 on the growing movement for ... Read More

Forum Discussion Paper: Documenting the Contribution of Volunteering to the SDGs

Forum Discussion Paper: Documenting the Contribution of Volunteering to the SDGs
This paper, published by the International Forum for Volunteering in Development, discusses options for documenting and ... Read More

The Road to Dignity by 2030

The Road to Dignity by 2030
This 2014 report by the UN Secretary General synthesizes input on the the Post-2015 Agenda ... Read More
Explore our full resource collection, which includes reports, legal analysis, and curated collections of materials covering an array of issues impacting civic space around the world.