Welcome to the blog from the Civil Society Index team at the CIVICUS World Assembly. Over the next few days, we’ll be doing our level best to keep you up to date with some of what’s going on at the 2010 CIVICUS World Assembly, being held this year in Montreal, Canada between 20-23 August. And in the process, we’ll be trying to give you our own personal take on what we see as some of the most pertinent thinking and debates taking place within civil society at this year’s forum.
Attending this year on behalf of the Civil Society Index (CSI) team are Mark (Nowottny), Megan (MacGarry) and Tracy (Anderson), a Briton, South African and Canadian respectively. Rather than the beginning of a bad joke, we’re hoping that this diversity should bring you our own rather different, and personal, perspectives on what the goings-on mean for civil society and, of course, for participatory civil society research in particular. Tracy, who this week returns to her native country, is particularly keen to fly the Canadian flag at CIVICUS. She’ll doubtless struggle to avoid blogging on bears, maple syrup and all other wonderfully stereotypical Canadian things, but in amongst that there’ll hopefully be some thoughts on what it all means for Montreal.
For Megan and myself, it’s both our first time in Canada and also our first World Assembly. With little to compare against, expectations are high, and we’re keen to tap into the excitement surrounding what’s reputed to be one of the larger and better global forums in which CSOs from all around the world, working on all sorts of issues, can come together.
Right now, as we write this blog post from a sleepy John F Kennedy airport in New York, that excitement is tempered by the fact we’ve just stepped off the first in a series of grueling flights. Originating from Johannesburg and stopping at the dead of night in Dakar, we’ve already dipped our toes into the world of caffeine addiction that so often accompanies work trips of these nature. But needless to say, fast-forward 36 hours and the World Assembly proper will have started with its opening plenary session. With the clock ticking, the adrenaline grows.
So what can we expect from the days ahead, and what is there of interest for those working with participatory research?
Well, in terms of thematic content, there is much of universal interest for all CSOs to digest. The World Assembly, centred around the concept of Seeking Out Solutions, touches on three of the most acute and pressing issues facing civil society right now: economic justice, climate justice and development effectiveness. The list of keynote speakers is a pretty impressive one, and there seems to be some real hope that the conversations and debates held at the World Assembly can really move forward the global civil society agenda on some of these issues.
Of course, at the heart of all of them lie questions about the role of civil society itself – or rather its absence. For example, during the financial crisis last year, of course, governments, banks and financial institutions came together to seek their own resolution, and in all of this there was widespread concern that the voice of ordinary people and the marginalized was being lost. In seeking economic justice, discussions about how civil society can organize to get a seat at the table are likely to be paramount.
For the Civil Society Index, we have a particular interest in the development effectiveness stream at the World Assembly, which looks set to be interpreted fairly broadly. For a while here at CIVICUS, we’ve been asking ourselves difficult questions about whether and how the CSI contributes to development and to positive social change. The theory – as you can see from multiple papers and blog posts – is certainly sound. The CSI creates new spaces for joint reflection and for putting the process of knowledge generation about civil society in the hands of civil society itself (rather than donors or governments), creating a platform for much better and more targeted action and interventions to strengthen civil society and their work. But questions still abound about the practice of the CSI ‘intervention’: what is the extent of the impact? What forms does it take? And what can be learned from other participatory research initiatives?
With all this in mind, we’re particularly looking forward to the workshop we’ll be hosting on Sunday, titled ‘A decade of participatory research: does it help development?’ Here, we’ll be trying to explore more around this and showcasing useful lessons, not just from the CSI but also from other initiatives, some of which are very different. Of course, the report and findings from the workshop will be up here on the CSI blog just as soon as we can share them with you. But in the meantime, we encourage you to check out the enormous amount of other things going on at the World Assembly at www.civicusassembly.org, and of course to follow the other communications platforms at www.civicus.org and http://citizenshift.org/blogs/civicus/.
For now, we hope you’re half as excited as we are. And now for that next pot of coffee….