What Does Civil Society Self-Regulation Look Like in Practice?
Earlier in June, the Nigeria Network of NGOs hosted over 70 Civil Society Organisations to a Pilot Civil Society Self-Regulation Learning Event, a virtual session which aimed to not only create awareness on the Civil Society Self-Regulatory Initiative (CSSRI), but to also provide a platform for participants attending the session to become exposed to the process of implementation of self-regulation within the Nigerian civic space as developed by the Nigerian civil society itself.
CSSRI is a novel initiative created in 2022 from the continuous refining of work around civil society regulations embarked on by prominent Nigerian civil society organisations, national and sub-national networks including development partners across the years.
This initiative, still in its infancy has gathered over 350 subscribers – civil society organisations who have consented through subscription (https://cssreg.org/cso-self-regulation-subscription-form/) to be guided by a set of standards contained within a code of conduct and are part of a working group, committed to ensuring effectiveness through peer-to-peer review of their compliance to the commitments within the code of conduct.
See code of conduct (http://cssreg.org/download/13500/)
What is Self-Regulation?
As CSOs have grown in number and influence worldwide over the past two decades, their activities have been subject to greater scrutiny; they are increasingly questioned on who funds them, who they represent, how they are governed and what impact they have. In response, predominantly since the 1990s, a growing number of CSOs and NGOs have come together at national, regional, and international levels to develop common norms and standards. Such sector level self-regulatory initiatives have become an important means of increasing CSOs’ credibility and legitimacy with stakeholders, helping build public trust, protecting the political space for CSOs to operate, and supporting the sharing of good practice and learning.
CSO self-regulation takes place in three primary ways – In most cases, it involves two or more organisations coming together to either define common norms and standards to which they can be held to account or share good practices to improve programme effectiveness.
This cooperative effort can address a range of issues from how CSOs are governed to what information they should be making public, how they should evaluate their activities. Less frequently, self-regulation can involve a third party such as a peer CSO or watchdog undertaking external assessments of organisations.
Finally, in certain circumstances, CSO self-regulation can involve the government. In these cases, power is partially delegated to an umbrella organisation or other association representing CSOs to regulate behaviour or set standards for the sector.
The common thread to all forms of CSO self-regulation is that it is not fully mandated by government regulation; at least some aspects of each CSO self-regulatory initiative are the result of voluntary participation by the sector in developing and administering common norms and standards of behaviour.
What Does Self-Regulation Look Like for the Nigerian Civil Society?
In Nigeria, to address concerns of legitimacy within the civil society, and to push back on threats to civic space, Nigerian CSOs have touted self-regulation as the best approach. Over the years, different convenings around developing self-regulatory initiatives have held with the most recent being those organised by the Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGO) between 2017 – 2020, as part of the Strengthening Civil Society Regulatory Frameworks project supported by the European Union to develop a framework for self-regulation in Nigeria.
As of 2022, both the EU-ACT and USAID SCALE are supporting civil society conversations and consultations on finding effective ways for CSOs to regulate themselves including balancing their rights and responsibilities.
A National Technical Working Group on Self-Regulation supported by EU-ACT and USAID SCALE, a group of civil society organisations, state and national networks have met severally both virtually and physically to review several self-regulatory models existing locally and globally in line with the Nigerian context and complexities of civil society.
Regional and National consultations held across Southern and Northern Nigeria have gathered participants drawn from civil society networks at the national and sub-national level to discuss, reflect and evolve a self-regulatory framework that can effectively guide the sector.
What is NNNGO’s Role in the Implementation of the Civil Society Self-Regulatory initiative?
The self-regulation initiative is part of the Nigeria Network of NGO’s work on enabling the operational environment of Nigerian CSOs. Under the SCALE project, supported by USAID and in partnership with Palladium, NNNGO is using its track record of advocacy work in key national and international fora as a Nigerian Resource Partner to Palladium to promote and administer ethical and effective development practice amongst its members, Community Based Organizations (CBOs), and Business Membership Organizations (BMOs) for the SCALE project in Nigeria.