Providing inputs to policy development

By fostering citizen involvement and the oversight role of civil society organisations (CSOs), it is believed, governments can be held accountable for their reform promises and the political system as such becomes more transparent and inclusive. It is hence that civil society support lies at the heart of  the EU’s  approach  toward  the next round of likely accession candidates in the Western Balkans.

CSOs can exercise pressure upon policy-makers to push for institutional and legislative adaptation. A series of mechanisms of influence do exist and can be used by CSOs  in order to shape policy-making and foster approximation process:

It is the most obvious mechanism CSOs can use in their dealings with policy-makers, seeking to enhance the domestic costs associated to the non-compliance with an existing EU requirement. Essentially, pressure is either used to increase the accountability of policy-makers once a change has been adopted, or to demonstrate to them that a significant number of relevant actors stand behind a policy proposal. Indicators of the use of pressure can thus consist in monitoring efforts that seek to evaluate the degree to which policy-makers live up to their commitments, and which are commonly accompanied by a broad dissemination of the results through press releases and other contacts with public outlets. Moreover, CSOs can build coalitions to increase the weight and visibility of their recommendations by uniting different actors around a particular idea. The pressure exercised upon the decision-makers is thus amplified.
It is one of the major mechanisms of influence persuasion focuses on the appropriateness of a certain proposal, seeking to change the preferences of actors, thus going beyond mere interest-driven support. Both through direct, mostly informal communication with policy-makers and through more indirect attempts of fostering awareness through the media or through outreach activities, CSOs can foster a climate of opinion which is favourable to their specific policy goal. Besides depending on the individual contacts a CSO is able to establish, the possibilities for persuasion are limited by the degree of openness of the political system, and in particular by the number of potential access points available to the interested CSO
It allows CSOs to redefine the terms of the debate and to introduce new ideas into the policy-making process. Such an approach falls within the ‘logic of appropriateness’: CSOs try to present an issue in such a way that innovative solutions emerge or hitherto neglected alternatives receive more attention. The approximation process to the acquis is obviously very conducive to the mechanism of framing, since it raises a whole new range of issues that need to be addressed at the domestic level. Concretely, CSOs may engage in a media campaign seeking to promote a particular interpretation of a policy problem, which resonates with the wider public and can in turn transform the dominant beliefs within the policy-making community. A less public form of framing consists in fostering a new understanding of an issue through an in-depth study, with the results communicated to policy-makers through publications.

Finally CSOs are able to provide meaningful inputs to ‘white papers’ and other draft policy documents at a national level, and are certainly making significant contributions to local level policy document drafts. This type of contribution most commonly involves giving comment to the drafts at the consultative stage and, where necessary proposing amendments and can be made through:

  • expert groups or individual consultancies
  • citizens panels
  • online consultative mechanisms
  • written communication, i.e.  ‘shadow report’ and opinion papers

It should be noted that a coalition of CSOs can contribute better than a sole organisation to a complex drafting process.