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Shrinking civic space and transparency, accountability, and citizen participation: Survey results from the field
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There is now an established evidence base demonstrating the restrictions facing civil society globally that have resulted from changes in civic space — including multi-year data sets from Freedom House to CIVICUS, and qualitative work like “Distract, Divide, Detach” that TAI commissioned, among many other sources. In this context, the Transparency and Accountability Initiative (TAI) commissioned a survey to understand the experiences and responses to changes in civic space of our funder member grantee organizations.

Why conduct more research if the evidence base is already strong?

As noted in the recent IDS literature review, “not all civil society actors are equally affected” by global shrinking civic space trends. As a funder collaborative focused on transparency, accountability, and citizen participation (TAP), how might we understand these concerning global trends in the experience of organizations pursuing TAP outcomes?

Much of the existing information on shrinking civic space focuses on country or regional trends for civil society, broadly. We did not find any sector-specific data or analysis that could speak to the experience of organizations in the TAP field. Specifically, we sought to capture the perspectives and experiences with shrinking civic space among TAI funder member grantee organizations.

How did we define civic space?

Drawing on CIVICUS Monitor’s framework of fundamental rights, civic space describes the ability of civic actors to organize, participate, and communicate freely to influence the political and social structures around them. The online survey, fielded in March 2018, asked questions about the freedoms of association, assembly, and expression, the ability of CSOs to access financial resources, and CSO-government relations.

Which TAP organizations did the survey target?

We included in the survey invitation organizations with an active 2018 grant from at least one (or more) of TAI’s member portfolios focused on TAP outcomes. (Though some survey respondents also reported having DFID funding, the sample did not include a complete roster of DFID-funded TAP organizations.) The survey findings speak to respondents from TAI members’ active TAP portfolios at the time of the survey, and not all organizations that may identify as being part of the TAP field.

What did we learn from the survey?

Among the TAI member grantee organizations that completed the survey, there were high levels of awareness of and concern with shrinking civic space. A number of respondents also indicated experiencing no changes or being unaffected by changes in at least some aspects of civic space. The concerns of TAP groups that responded to the survey were greater around aspects of freedom of expression and freedom of association than other factors of civic space explored in the survey. TAP groups reported taking a variety of response measures to shrinking civic space.

We saw more concern and a greater variety of response measures reported by TAP groups working on a multi-country or global scale compared to those working on a national or sub-national scale.

More detailed survey findings can be found in the slide deck, “Shrinking Civic Space: Survey Responses from Transparency, Accountability, and Citizen Participation Organizations.”

How will we use the survey results?

By making these survey findings public, TAI hopes to contribute a data point to inform field and funder dialogue, reflection, and action to strengthen the TAP field.

Download our research brief, “Shifting Sands: Experiences and Responses to Shrinking Civic Space from the Transparency, Accountability, and Participation Field,” which includes survey findings, grantee organization voices from post-survey interviews, and recommendations to inform future funder efforts.

TAI acknowledges and appreciates the work of our learning partners, Julian Oram and Alex Wijeratna who conducted this research, and the writing and copyediting contributions of Cynthia Williams.