How can the AfDB strengthen its engagement with civil society?

As the African Development Bank (AfDB) evaluates its engagement with civil society, it should examine how to use the lessons learned to improve future practices. We propose some recommendations for the AfDB to strengthen its engagement with civil society through better information disclosure and stakeholder participation.

The Independent Development Evaluation (IDEV) Unit of the African Development Bank (AfDB) is currently undertaking an evaluation of the AfDB’s engagement with civil society. IDEV will review  the AfDB’s strengths and weaknesses in their engagement, processes, and outcomes with the goal of generating potential lessons learned to improve practices. The evaluation is expected to inform the revision of the Civil Society Engagement Framework/Strategy, which is planned for 2020. 

The IDEV team met with civil society organizations (CSOs) in two separate consultations in Ivory Coast and Kenya earlier this year and had planned to meet others in Tunisia, Chad and South Africa by the end of April 2020. At the beginning of March, seventeen organizations working in different fields participated in a consultation in Nairobi. The invited CSOs had previously engaged with the AfDB at the Civil Society Annual Meetings, on joint missions to monitor projects, or through ad hoc requests for feedback on project design. Some had partnered with the AfDB to implement projects through grants provided by the AfDB. However, none of the organizations had previously been invited to consultations on the Country Partnership Framework, the AfDB evaluations or policy reviews, or project completion documents. Very few of them had been engaged in project design, implementation, or monitoring around the AfDB funded projects. The AfDB should actively consult with more local CSOs throughout the project cycle as well as engage them in Country Partnership Framework processes.

While consultations like these are welcome, the AfDB must improve its engagement with CSOs. Despite the AfDB’s information disclosure policy, CSOs find it difficult to access project information or documents at home offices. CSOs are often referred to the regional office or headquarters in Ivory Coast and receive no response to project information requests. CSOs would welcome meaningful engagement at the country/regional level, but limited staffing and information sharing has made it difficult for ongoing communication. We recommend several essential steps the AfDB can take to enhance their engagement process.

1. Better information disclosure. The AfDB must improve information disclosure throughout the project cycle and update their website more regularly to connect CSOs with relevant information. The AfDB should produce project documents, including structures, finances, decision making processes, policies, and procedures, that are easily understandable by all stakeholders, including communities. Additionally, the AfDB should provide a list of upcoming opportunities for public input, releasing consultation and communication plans ahead of time. 

2. Accessible methods of communication. Project information should be widely disseminated through the website, country offices and member country local communication networks. The AfDB should clarify their translation strategy to facilitate distribution in local languages. When documents are updated, the AfDB should advise CSOs and publish them again. The AfDB should make information available early in the project development process, so affected parties and interested stakeholders can effectively access and understand the project. Therefore, they can actively participate in decision-making.

3. Active engagement with CSOs. AfDB  staff in country offices should prioritize CSO engagement, including by making themselves available to CSOs at accessible CSO forums or open office days. The AfDB must work with CSOs on effective ways to engage with the AfDB and promote third party monitoring. The Bank must update its CSO database and share information about events and how CSOs can participate. 

Especially during the COVID-19 crisis, the AfDB needs to engage with civil society to address the social and economic impacts of the pandemic. More effective engagement will enable the AfDB to grasp a better understanding of the realities on the ground and how communities can directly benefit from AfDB projects.