International frameworks for citizen engagement and civil society

Participatory politics are a global phenomenon. Enabled by digital technology, citizens and civil societies around the world are expecting to be better involved with policy making. In response, governmental and intergovernmental organizations have begun to work towards establishment of strategies, frameworks, and guidelines to strengthen the role of citizens and community in the policy-making process.

To date, the concept of community participation, public involvement or citizen engagement as it is varyingly understood – is often shaped by traditional communications models and theory. Globalization and the pressing contemporary socio-economic, political, and environmental challenges, however, have created a demand for strategies for improved and inclusive decision-making. As providers of global public services, these institutions continue to play a critical role in global governance.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals call for 17 Goals to Transform Our World. Goal 16 is to ‘promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’. Participation has become a critical aspect of the sustainability agenda, reflected in the global effort towards improving community engagement on the important questions facing the world today.

While most international intergovernmental organizations recognize the need for participatory frameworks, their approach varies. Some have formulated organization-wide strategies for community engagement, or have devised formal frameworks for civil society consultations, while others have developed context-specific resources for practitioners. Their approaches may differ, but international organizations are undeniably conscious of the global call for increased public participation.

Listed below are a number of the citizen engagement frameworks, strategies, and guidelines currently in place.

International intergovernmental agencies and organizations

1) The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has published a Guide for Staff Relations with Civil Society Organizations, a framework of good practices to help IMF staff bridge the gap with civil society organizations (CSOs).

2) The World Bank (WB) has built the Strategic framework for mainstreaming citizen engagement in World Bank Group operations: engaging with citizens for improved results (English), a framework for improving public participation in World Bank-supported projects and the creation of sustainable national systems for citizen engagement.

3) The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) developed the UNDP Strategy on Civil Society and Civic Engagement, a framework for empowering and engaging with civil society and enabling innovative relationships with diverse civil society stakeholders.

4) The World Health Organization (WHO) offers a digital repository of resources for partnership management with civil society and citizens in Management for Health Services Delivery – Partnerships Management: Involving Communities.

5) The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has created the Child and Youth Participation Resource Guide, a directory of resources on children and youth participation in a variety of critical sectors. UNICEF also hosts resources for Civil Society Partnerships.

6) The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) addresses community engagement in their primary document, The Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention.

7) The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) offers a participatory framework for Open Government Data (OGD) initiatives in their Guidelines on Open Government Data for Citizen Engagement.

8) The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has published the IFRC Framework for Community Resilience, a guide to support their National Societies’ participatory efforts towards building healthy, knowledgeable, and adaptive communities.

9) The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) offers a digital repository of resources on public participation such as The Aarhus Convention: An Implementation Guide (second edition) and Good Practice Recommendations on Public Participation in Strategic Environmental Assessment on their public participation portal.

10) The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, (UNDESA) in collaboration with   the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (IOSAI) have published a Compendium of Innovative Practices of Citizen Engagement by Supreme Audit Institutions for Public Accountability to document and support public participation in policy decision-making.

11) United Nations Volunteers (UNV) offers  digital resources by way of their Good Practice Notes and an engagement guide, Volunteerism and Social Activism: Pathways for Participation in Human Development .

12) The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations publishes the FAO Strategy for Partnerships with Civil Society Organizations, which outlines mutual objectives, areas of collaboration, interaction levels, and modus operandi.

13) The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) is working to develop new modalities for its Policy on Stakeholder Engagement through open-ended consultations held with Member States, with a particular focus on enabling the participation of citizen stakeholders.

14) The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS) has published UNAIDS Guidance for Partnerships with Civil Society, Including People Living with HIV and Key Populations. It is a practical guide to operationalizing respectful and impactful partnerships with civil society stakeholders. It offers guidance on collaborations, opportunities, and strategic approaches.

15) The Commonwealth Foundation has published their Civil Society Engagement Strategy, a framework for enabling civil society participation to achieve impactful, accountable and responsive governance. As a living document, it is in a continuous process of evolution, nurtured by ongoing dialogue with the Foundation’s partners and stakeholders. 

16) The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has published the USAID Strategy on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance, which integrates responsive governance through participation into the organization’s broader mission.  USAID also offers a guide on best practices for nurturing civic space and participation in its paper Stand with Civil Society: Best Practices. It has also published contextual resources such as the Good Governance Brief: Citizen Engagement and Participatory Governance, a document that showcases citizen participation in local governance, in a specific regional context.

17) Australian Aid, housed within Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, has published DFAT and NGOs: Effective Development Partners, a framework outlining the DFAT’s strategy for partnering with non-governmental and civil society stakeholders.    

18) The African Development Bank Group (AfDB) publishes the Civil Society Organization (CSO) Engagement Framework, which articulates the Bank’s strategy to mainstream and strengthen CSO participation in member countries towards achieving developmental results.

19) The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DfID), publishes the Civil Society Partnership Review, an evolving, collaborative resource for developing effective partnerships with civil society to deliver on development goals.   

20) Global Affairs Canada, the department that manages the Canadian Government’s international development and humanitarian assistance efforts, has published The Civil Society Partnership Policy. It outlines the department’s strategy for achieving effective collaboration with local and international civil society organizations. 

Non-government organizations

21) The World Wildlife Fund’s Community Learning and Action for Sustainable Living is a guide for good practice in community engagement for sustainable living, developed from an experimental project of the same name.

22) The Oxford Health Alliance has published the Use of Community Coalitions to Drive Community Change, on their digital manual on Community Interventions for Health

23) Greenpeace International has produced The Mobilisation Cookbook, a digital resource that practitioners and allies can use as a guide to engage and mobilize communities to build effective campaigns.

24) The National Democratic Institute offers a digital resource hub on Citizen Participation, featuring their mission, strategy, and related news. 

25) The White Ribbon Alliance elaborates on its participatory strategy in People Power: The White Ribbon Alliance Model for Citizen Engagement, published by Thompson Reuters Foundation on

26) Oxfam International has published Community Engagement for Protection: Recommendations on the implementation of the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations Report, a joint NGO briefing note and good practice for operationalizing community engagement.

Sally Hussey is a Melbourne-based writer and Bang the Table’s Senior Managing Editor of Content and Research. She has an extensive background in the publishing, academic and cultural sectors.

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