Burkhard Gnärig

27 September, 2016

The Future of Civic Space

Global Perspectives conference 2016The last time we discussed the issue of shrinking civic space was in March – April when we described the increasing challenges civil society activists around the world are facing when making their voices heard. We ended our series of blogs with a report about the Civic Charter – the Global Framework for People’s Participation which will “serve as an international reference point for civil society to allocate our rights within the complexity of international law.” We asked readers to contribute to shaping the Civic Charter by raising the issues they felt were most relevant in the fight for civic rights. Meanwhile, several extensive global consultations have been concluded and the final text has been approved. The Civic Charter will be launched nationally in the week of 17 October and globally one week later on 26 October at our Global Perspectives conference in Berlin.

This is a time for celebrating our common achievement of reaching agreement across a highly diverse global community, and of stating clearly and succinctly our rights as citizens no matter who we are, where we live, and what our beliefs are. But this is also a time to look ahead and ask: What is the future of civic space, and how do we best secure the space for civic participation? The International Civil Society Centre hosts two conferences in late October that focus on this crucial question. Firstly, our Global Perspectives conference brings together over 100 civil society leaders to discuss how to work together more effectively in order to protect and promote civic space. Secondly, the International Civic Forum convenes experts and activists from different sectors including civil society, government, business, foundations, and the media. From those two key gatherings we expect a much clearer picture of how the different players view the critical situation concerning civic rights, and how they want to react. Most importantly, however, we hope for strong commitments to work together strategically aligning activities in order to maximise their effect.

Here are three strategic contributions the International Civil Society Centre will contribute to helping secure future space for civic participation:

Promoting Citizen Participation through the Civic Charter
Having managed to develop a widely supported Civic Charter, we now need to make sure the document is known globally and used effectively to campaign for civic rights at local, national, regional, and global levels. The Centre plans to support the roll-out and implementation of the Charter over the next three years.

Establishing the International Civic Forum as a recurring annual event
The need for better coordination and cooperation between the different sectors is very obvious. With this year’s Civic Forum we want to establish a platform for actors from all sectors affected by and working on civic rights. We plan to conduct the Forum on an annual basis and provide a minimal infrastructure to make sure that joint activities agreed at the Forum are coordinated and commitments implemented.

Exploring new spaces for civic participation
While it is essential to defend the space we have for civic participation, it is also crucial to explore new spaces that may open up, while some traditional spaces may become difficult to maintain. The Centre aims to run innovation labs to identify and explore new spaces, and offer incubator support for activists and civil society organisations social that want to test new approaches.

While we are seeing so many worrying developments depriving citizens around the world of some of their most crucial rights, we can also detect a number of positive trends, one of them being the increased awareness of the dangers of shrinking civic space and the growing preparedness to engage in its defence. Helping to mobilise and coordinate action globally is a very important task the Centre will contribute to, hoping that in some years’ time we will speak of a shifting civic space rather than a shrinking, or even closing one.

This blog is the first in our series on the future of civic space. For more information on the topic, visit the International Civil Society Centre’s civic space website.

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