Putting Knowledge to Work: Collaborating, Influencing, and Learning for International Development

Putting Knowledge to Work: Collaborating, Influencing, and Learning for International Development

by Luc J.A. Mougeot (Editor)


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781853399596
Publisher: Practical Action Publishing
Publication date: 05/31/2017
Pages: 200
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x (h) x (d)

About the Author

Luc J.A. Mougeot is Senior Program Analyst at Canada's International Development Research Centre.

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Introduction: Knowledge for civil society in the rapidly changing ecosystem for international development

Luc J.A. Mougeot


Dramatic changes in the ecosystem for international development are pressing civil society organizations (CSOs) to invest more in knowledge to remain significant players within the system. While the need for creative thinking and experimentation is greater than ever, there is still very little research published on the challenges experienced and solutions found by CSOs. This book explores the knowledge relevance of working relationships, among and between development actors, with a focus on how CSOs in the Global North navigate these relationships to access and apply knowledge for them to remain effective in research and cooperation for development.

This introductory chapter reviews changes underway within this ecosystem, looking at how these affect Global North CSOs. It schematizes the chain of knowledge-relevant relationships between different categories of actors in this ecosystem, from donors to beneficiary communities. Specific chain links are covered in the following four chapters of this book: Chapter 2 examines the funding relationship between donors and recipients, and its impact on agenda-setting in North–South partnerships; Chapter 3 profiles the collaboration between different types of CSOs and its impact on the mutual building of capacity and information for practice; the use of knowledge in and by Global North and Global South partner CSOs to influence practices and policies of local stakeholders is studied in Chapter 4; finally, Chapter 5 outlines the role of knowledge in processes for CSOs' self and collective learning from the aforementioned relationships to improve themselves as organizations.

Keywords: international development, civil society organizations, knowledge, agenda-setting, collaboration, influence, learning


Never before have civil society organizations (CSOs) engaged in international cooperation for development been so hard-pressed to put knowledge to work, compliments of dramatic changes over the last decade in the ecosystem in which they operate (King et al., 2016). These changes have been forcing the long-time actors to revise their relationships with one another, as well as engage with 'new kids on the block'. Everywhere, new approaches are being tested: to redress power imbalances between donors and recipients for more locally owned agendas; to magnify the impact of official development assistance (ODA) and its coherence with other policy objectives; to improve synergies between missions of the academic, other civil society, and private sector organizations involved; to inform and influence local dynamics for positive change at scale; to systematize and account for results that can be meaningful to all those involved; and finally, to learn from ground-level experience for organizations to remain relevant, effective, and efficient players within the new ecosystem. This flurry of experimentation is healthy, though challenging to many.

The field of interest at stake is complex and complicated, with pursuits often at odds with one another and opportunities for collaboration often overlooked. While the need for creative thinking and experimentation is greater than ever, there is still little research published on the challenges experienced and solutions found by CSOs, as they adjust to changes in the larger international development network.

This book is intended to help fill the void. It explores the shifting power dynamics between donors in the Global North and recipients in North–South development research partnerships; the difficult, yet mutually desired, research collaborations between Global North non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Global North universities; and strategies devised by NGOs to create and use knowledge for influencing positive social change locally, as much as for improving themselves as organizations. It identifies and documents several inspiring practices to overcome specific challenges, drawing on the experiences of selected Canadian CSOs (CCSOs), including universities, NGOs, and coalitions thereof. These CSOs vary in size, field of expertise, mandate, and geographic focus; yet, they have all been developing different approaches to tackling challenges identified by their community in Canada. It is the hope of all the contributors to this book that such case studies will inspire others in tackling their own challenges and remaining significant players in international development.

The following sections introduce the concept of civil society that is central to this book, the changing global ecosystem for international development, and its implications for Global North CSOs. The focus is on relationships among and between CSOs, particularly development NGOs, and other actors in the Global North and Global South, and on the need for new knowledge to inform such relationships. Lastly, the various chapters assembled in this book are introduced. Emphasis is placed on their contribution to the state of knowledge, on past and recent developments which heighten their relevance to current conversations, as well as on literature reviews, primary data gathering, and original fieldwork on which analyses and conclusions are based.

Defining civil society

According to Dr Lester Salamon, director of the Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins University, civil society is:

a broad array of organizations that are essentially private, i.e. outside the institutional structures of government; that are not primarily commercial and do not exist primarily to distribute profits to their directors or 'owners'; that are self-governing; and that people are free to join or support voluntarily (Salamon et al., 2003: 3).

As key interlocutors, regulators, and funders of CSOs, governments' definitions circumscribe both the sector and the roles which governments expect organizations in this sector to play in their development assistance policy. For instance, the Canadian government's own definition borrows from that adopted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD):

a wide range of non-governmental and non-profit-driven organizations through which people organize themselves to pursue shared interests or values in public life. In the international development context, these organizations and social movements can be found at the international, regional, national and local levels. Examples of civil society organizations include community-based organizations, environmental groups, women's rights groups, farmers' associations, faith-based organizations, philanthropic organizations, human rights groups, labour unions, cooperatives, independent research institutes, universities, diaspora groups, and the non-profit media. (GAC, 2015)

The changing ecosystem for international development

There is no denying that international cooperation and research for development have been undergoing dramatic and lasting changes over the past decade. Not only has the nature of development itself become more contested and its global geography decisively multi-polar, new actors have risen as major players and are now officially recognized as such. And yes, these many actors unsurprisingly often hold different, if not conflicting, understandings of what development is and how best it should be pursued.

In the Global North, longstanding OECD donors have been reducing ODA budgets and disbursing funds more selectively, while new donors have come to the fore. Following ODA reductions throughout the 1990s and after a recovery of ground lost throughout much of the last decade, the OECD's Development Assistance Committee (DAC) reported, in 2013, a continued return to decreases in net ODA, in both relative and absolute terms (OECD, 2016).

These reductions particularly affect flows to Africa and more generally to the least developed countries, with a continued shift toward bilateral activities and away from multilateralism. Programmes of the United Nations system have been affected, with several turning to their former 'regional anchoring partners' to take on full responsibility for the continuation of activities. While non-DAC donors more than compensated for this drop in DAC-related ODA, globally more of the larger country programmable aid (CPA) envelope (which includes the non-DAC donors' share) has been directed to middle-income countries in the Far East, as well as in South and Central Asia (where most of the world's poor now live). Meanwhile, the OECD was predicting a stagnation of CPA flows to countries with the largest Millennium Development Goal gaps and highest levels of poverty (OECD, 2016). It is still unclear to what extent this forecast might be redressed under the new Sustainable Development Goals agenda.

Developing and transition economies now constitute half of the top 20 countries attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows. In 2013, FDI flows to developing economies reached a new high of US$778 billion, or 54 per cent of the total. Another $108 billion went to transition economies. FDI outflows from developing countries also reached a record level (UNCTAD, 2014). Despite some volatility, larger and growing volumes of FDI sourcing from both higher income and emerging economies against a declining ODA, are one reason why OECD governments are turning to private–public partnerships to maximize the economic and political outcomes of their development assistance, both at home and abroad. It is an argument which also underlies the pressure for Global North academia and other civil society ODA recipients to work more closely together, and with private corporate actors as well.

Further fuelling OECD donors' quest for inter-sector synergies, several recent statistical studies question the contribution of ODA deployment itself to even the most minimalist of all definitions of development: economic growth. In their 2013 analysis of the impact of FDI, remittances, and ODA on gross domestic product (GDP) growth in countries across various world regions between 1984 and 2008, Warwick Business School professor of international business Nigel Driffield and Aston Business School economist Chris Jones found that, in many regions, remittances were larger and more regular over time than ODA. More importantly, FDI had grown to be significantly larger than the other two sources of foreign capital over that period. Both FDI and migrant remittances had a positive impact on growth in developing countries, particularly so in better institutional environments. However, the relationship between ODA and economic growth overall was far from clear cut, as ODA was even observed to impact growth negatively in some places, while buttressing it where there was sufficient bureaucratic quality (better governance).

Driffield and Jones' suggestion that remittances are nearly as important as FDI for generating economic growth finds support in a 2013 study by Mamoun Benmamoun, public policy analyst with the John Cook School of Business at Saint Louis University, and Kevin Lehnert, professor of marketing with the Seidman College of Business, Grand Valley State University. Their analysis of 1990–2006 data focused on low-income countries and indicated that, although international remittances, FDI, and ODA were all positively and significantly associated with economic growth rates, international remittances contributed more to economic growth than ODA and FDI, even when countries were highly dependent on FDI. More recently, in a two-panel data model on the effect of ODA and microfinance (MF) on economic growth of 67 countries receiving ODA and with MF activity, Lacalle-Calderón et al. (2015) found that, over the decade from 2001–2011, while MF was positively and significantly associated with economic growth, namely through transmission mechanisms (private investment and private consumption), no such relationship could be found between ODA and economic growth, and this was true even when considering any of the potential transmission mechanisms (public investment, public consumption, and imports).

Unsurprisingly, business as usual in a context of declining ODA amounts and impact in many regions has become a nonstarter, and policies nurturing greater synergies between the various categories of foreign capital flows at work now seem increasingly overdue (Benmamoun and Lehnert, 2013).

What does this mean for development cooperation? Various specialists have argued for a new framework for analysis and action, a re-definition of missions and roles, and a more coordinated and concerted approach to interventions. For instance, Brookings Institute fellow Laurence Chandy argues that for development cooperation to be more effective and justify itself to its various stakeholders, it must be markedly reframed through: (a) moving beyond the broad label of 'development' and devising a taxonomy of objectives (e.g. economic convergence, social welfare, and global public goods – not unlike what some post-development scholars propose); and (b) this in turn would call for a division of labour based on the comparative advantage of different flows, policies, and players. For instance, trade policy and equity flows would serve economic convergence, while remittances could support social welfare objectives. Funds for climate change mitigation would be applied to generating public goods (Chandy, 2011: 12), such as more resilient natural ecosystems, more robust infrastructure, and public strategies for reducing the vulnerability of certain groups to risk.

Given this, and in order to deliver development assistance that is more consistent with OECD-agreed effectiveness principles and better serves whole-of-government policy coherence and public spending accountability, OECD governments have been introducing new policies for integrating CSOs into their development assistance strategy. Since the 2008 financial crisis, some OECD countries have moved faster than others on this front, some even before 2008 (the Netherlands), and this transition to a new approach has not gone without uncertainty and losses to the CSO sector, affecting particularly those more heavily dependent on funding from their own government. Competitive calls open to all sectors especially put at a disadvantage the smaller development NGOs that need to raise their core operating funds out of project grants, unlike major NGOs and public institutions such as universities.

Brown et al. (2016) have reviewed Canadian ODA's foundations, geographic and theme foci, and its relationship to other government priorities and to new providers of aid. A major ODA provider (Heidrich et al., 2013), Canada reduced its international development assistance envelope after 2012, which affected grants and contributions available to CSOs through its Partnerships with Canadians programme (DFATD, 2014). Still, following lengthy and close consultations with the civil society sector, the government's Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD), renamed Global Affairs Canada in late 2015, issued a new partnership policy (DFATD, 2015). This recognizes CSOs' roles as programme implementers, awareness raisers, procurers of funds and volunteers, human rights supporters, participants in research, dialogue and advocacy, pilots of innovative approaches, and co-investors in partnerships.

How relevant are these new donor strategies to this book? Knowledge will be critical for CSOs to participate in new development assistance policies, and this adds purpose to this collection quite conspicuously in the Canadian context. Among the many objectives pursued under its new policy, the Canadian government expects CCSOs to lead innovation in the field of international development through incubating, testing, and scaling up new approaches for effective and efficient results aligned with its aid priorities. Partnerships will be particularly demanding of business processes that make more efficient use of resources, as well as of arrangements which encourage CSOs to collaborate with other development actors at home and abroad. In this book a couple of business-inspired NGOs are examined. Chapter 4(Travers, 2016) looks at a development network created by a collective of agricultural cooperatives, while Chapter 5 (Smith, 2016) reviews the business model of another NGO created by industry professionals.

Implications for civil society organizations

Changes in the Global North domain of the ecosystem for international development have several other implications for the Global North (and South) CSOs involved. Actors which had been playing second fiddle for a long time, such as private and corporate foundations and private capital investors, are now becoming major players in defining and funding both research and cooperation for development in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), as noted by Bradley (2016) in Chapter 2 of this book. They are also strong competitors for universities and other CSOs applying for ODA funds, as governments look for partnerships which will take ODA to generate results on foreign policy fronts like economic growth and international trade (Grady, 2014).


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Table of Contents

List of illustrations
Acronyms and abbreviations
1 Knowledge for civil society in the rapidly changing ecosystem for international development—Luc J.A. Mougeot
2 Whose agenda? Power, policies, and priorities in North–South research partnerships—Megan Bradley
3 Research for development: modalities and tensions in collaboration between universities and other Canadian civil society organizations—Elena Chernikova
4 Canadian civil society organizations and the role of research in influencing development policy and practice in the Global South—Stacie Travers
5 The learning needs and experiences of Canadian civil society organizations in international cooperation for development—Eric Smith
6 Conclusion: main findings, messages, and pending knowledge gaps—Luc J.A. Mougeot

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