Focus on research, development and monitoring of: 

  • ODA spending on enabling civil society and protecting civic space, and

  • implementation of the DAC Recommendation on Enabling Civil Society, joined-up programming and the performance of implementing partners of the Enabling Civil Society Recommendation.

How we started​

In 2017, the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate (DCD) established a work stream on civil society to provide guidance on DAC members’ support for and engagement with civil society, seeing that evidence from the Global Partnership monitoring, from CSOs’ reporting of their day-to-day experience, and from observers and experts worldwide points to the need for much greater individual and collective effort to promote and protect enabling environments for civil society so that this sector’s contribution to development can be maximised.

This led to the publication of Development Assistance Committee Members and Civil Society in 2020, a study which identified how DAC members are supporting and engaging with civil society and CSOs in DAC member and partner countries. 

To download a copy of the study, click the image below.

The study found that DAC members have committed to providing and promoting enabling environments for civil society, including by
ensuring that their work with civil society and the CSOs in it is effective.


Despite this, however, evidence indicated that more must be done to provide and promote enabling environments. Around the world, legal and regulatory frameworks are being used to shrink civic space, limiting the possibilities for people to come together to improve lives. At the same time, the working group concluded that there are gaps in CSOs’ effectiveness and accountability. Donors, including members, struggle to appropriately leverage CSOs’ knowledge, capabilities and influential role as public advocates for sustainable development, and they struggle to offer effective support for CSOs.

The study thus recommended, among a number of action points, that the DAC, in consultation with CSOs, develop policies that address both the member’s objectives and ways of working with CSOs and civil society and contextual issues including civic space, and in the process integrate civil society considerations across policy realms other than development co-operation.

Photo credits: (left) Julien DANIEL / OECD, (right) OECD-OCDE/Victor Tonelli

Civil society's role in policy development

Civil society, through the members of the DAC-CSO Reference Group, maintained its advocacy and monitoring of the development of a policy instrument to enable civil society.

On October 2020, the DAC-CSO Reference Group forwarded its comments to the draft DAC document on civil society enabling environment, helping shape the definitions of civil society, CSOs and other actors, civic space, and what an enabling environment for members entail.


It since continued to advocate for a policy instrument in the form of a Recommendation, in order to effectively implement policies to promote civil society participation and protect civic space. It reiterated these calls in May 2021 in the form of joint comments on the draft DAC policy instrument which was then circulated for consultation, and in June 2021 through a letter to the Chair and members of the DAC urging the adoption of the instrument as a Recommendation.

The DAC Recommendation on Enabling Civil Society

The DAC Recommendation on Enabling Civil Society in Development Co-operation and Humanitarian Assistance was adopted by the DAC on 6 July, 2021, with unanimous approval from its members. 


The DAC Recommendation aims to support DAC members and other development co-operation and humanitarian assistance providers to enhance how they address civic space and work with civil society actors, while underscoring that civil society actors must also take action to enhance their effectiveness, transparency and accountability.

To download a copy of the Recommendation, click the image below.

DAC Recommendation on Enabling Civil Society

Moving forward with enabling civil society


The DAC-CSO Reference Group has formed the thematic working group on the DAC Recommendation on Enabling Civil Society on September 2021, to monitor ODA spending on enabling civil society and protecting civic space, the implementation of the DAC Recommendation on Enabling Civil Society, joined-up programming and the performance of implementing partners of the Enabling Civil Society Recommendation. The first meeting of the Working Group took place in October 2020, with meetings to be held regularly every month.

In terms of immediate actions, the Working Group aims to:

  1. socialize the Recommendation, its importance and various opportunities, with a wide range of CSOs and other members of civil society;

  2. hold dialogues with relevant focal points in donor country governments to discuss the implementation of the Recommendation, highlighting areas of concern for national CSOs in current practices of the donor and the commitments made in the Recommendation (e.g. on program funding vs restrictive contracting);

  3. collate information onand release short reports on CSO engagements with donors on the Recommendation; and

  4. establish a working relationship on implementation of the Recommendation DAC Community of Practice on CSOs.

Articles and Works from our Members and Partners 

Document Directory

Keep updated on developments on the work DAC-CSO Reference Group's thematic working group on the DAC Recommendation on Enabling Civil Society alongside the OECD-DAC and download documents here:

Mayo 2022
Fortalecimiento del liderazgo de la sociedad civil en los países socios: Implementación de la recomendación del CAD sobre la habilitación de la sociedad civil, Reflexiones y propuestas emergentes de un debate liderado por OSC del Sur
May 2022
Strengthening Leadership of Civil Society in Partner Countries: Implementing the DAC Recommendation on Enabling Civil Society: Reflections and Proposals from a Southern CSO-Led Discussion
October 2021
ICNL - What Can Donor Countries Do to Expand Civic Space?
October 2020
CSO Reference Group comments to the draft DAC document on civil society enabling environment
August 2021
Short Unofficial Summary of the DAC Recommendation on Enabling Civil Society and Key Opportunities for Civil Society
June 2021
Letter to the Chair and Members of the DAC with regard to Recommendation on Enabling Civil Society
May 2021
CSO comments on the draft DAC Policy Instrument on Enabling Civil Society

Join us!


If you or your organization is interested in the work to enable civil society and protect civic space, and wish to contribute to the Working Group's efforts, you may contact Brian Tomlinson of AidWatch Canada at (brian.t.tomlinson@gmail.com) or subscribe and send a message through our website.