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Synthesis study of civil society organisations

‘The enabling environment’ of civil society is ‘contested and under pressure’. 161 laws restricting civil society space have been introduced worldwide since 2012 - 96 significant restrictions on the rights of civil society being observed in the period between June 2014 and May 2015. These restrictions on the space for CSOs go hand in hand with restrictions on human rights. In 2015, violations against civic rights were recorded in 109 countries, up from 96 the previous year. Between 2012 and 2015, more than 120 laws restricting civic rights were introduced or proposed in 60 countries.

Southern and Eastern Africa has a significant share of these restriction trends. In a situation where access to international resources is diminished and domestic space is under pressure, some national CSOs formulate new strategies and ideas to initiate counter-offensives. They highlight the importance of CSOs’ ability to promote and mobilise resources domestically to secure a power base within society, and to ensure their struggles are expressed within Parliaments and reach out to the right audience. Henceforth, there is a need for a study to know how the CSOs in the region and in individual countries perceive and act upon the changes in the operating environment. Thus, the objective of the study is to collect, collate and systematically present, in the form of a synthesis study, findings from existing evaluations of CSOs’ work. 

In particular, the purpose of the study is to identify

  • the main challenges related to the problem of shrinking operating spaces, from a Southern perspective
  • how the CSOs adapt and respond to these challenges, and 
  • how the evaluations regard the effectiveness, the good practices and the lessons learnt from these adaptations and responses.

The study will also pay attention to which intended and unintended effects of the CSOs’ work highlighted in the assessed material as a result of the shrinking spaces and subsesquent responses.

The study object is primarily local and regional CSOs and CSO networks, but also international NGOs and community-based organisations, operating in the area of democratisation and human rights in Ethiopia, Uganda, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia or in the region as a whole.

The study is conducted on a tender from Norad, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, and has a budget of 474 483 NOK.

Norwegian version


Project period

Start: 17/10/2017

End: 28/02/2018


    • Norad


  • 474 483 NOK (total)

Project number

    3729 (NIBR)