The reality is that a lot of CSOs (and donors) working on the same issues are not always coordinated or aware of what the other is doing. This is not a revelation. Everybody knows this is a danger as it can (and does) lead to duplication of efforts, which wastes time and resources and risks undermining the very thing you set out to do.
However, there’s another risk which seems to be talked about less.
As an Advocacy Accompanier, I like to bang on a lot about the importance of evidence-based advocacy and, having just returned from an overseas trip, it was great to see how many partners are increasingly recognising the importance of research in their policy work. However, I also noticed that not everyone is so willing to share it with their peers.
One partner described to me how their organisation had done quite extensive research on a particular issue which they had presented rather discreetly to government. As their research challenged government statistics on a rather sensitive issue, they had determined that backdoor diplomacy would be the most strategic approach in the first instance. However, not long after, another CSO released a public report on a similar subject, citing evidence inconsistent with what the other organisation had presented to government. This has made it very easy for the government to dismiss both reports, citing the rival report as evidence that the results are unreliable.
In an effort to resolve these sorts of issues, I’ve been interested to hear about initiatives like Open Development Cambodia which seek to create a neutral space for sharing data which is accessible to all.
“By making materials available to all users, the Open Development Cambodia site intends to facilitate stronger communication between public, private and international sectors”
It’s an interesting approach and it will be interesting to see how initiatives like this pan out. However, in the meantime, we would all do well to navel gaze a little less and make sure that, as civil society, we are not working against each other towards our shared goals.