1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Civil Society and Social Movements

UN World Summits and Civil Society Engagement

  • Project from: 2003 to 2006


Background and objectives
The principal objective of the present project is to critically assess the impact of the various UN summits on civil society activism at global, national and local levels. It focuses first on the extent to which UN summits have been a meaningful mechanism for creating a favourable political space for increased civil society density and activism. Second, it examines the range and quality of civil society activities in planning, implementing and monitoring the principal agenda and agreed programmes subsequent to the world summits. Third, it looks at the stimulus created by UN summits for greater linkages among civil society organizations (CSOs), both horizontally and vertically.

The research findings should prove useful to a variety of user groups, including the CSOs themselves, the United Nations, donor agencies and others interested in supporting the work of civil society.


Project activities
Background papers and thematic studies

A state-of-the-art paper. Illustrating the key conceptual and methodological questions involved in civil society dynamics associated with UN summits, a state-of-the-art paper has been prepared by Mario Pianta (University of Urbino, Urbino, Italy). The paper outlines the main strategies emerging within global civil society—including protest, lobbying and the development of alternative policies in the context of UN conferences and other international summits. The paper is being published as an UNRISD Programme Paper.

A literature-review background paper. Constanza Tabbush, Research Assistant, UNRISD, prepared a background paper based on the review of readily available literature. This paper suggests that much of the existing literature is mainly concerned with CSO influence in the context of particular summits, not with how civil society in general is affected by summit processes before, during and after. This paper is also being published as an UNRISD Programme Paper.

A report on the experiences of preparatory and follow-up processes of UN summits. This report explores the various efforts of the UN system to develop proactive strategies to strengthen co-operation with civil society during the summits and their follow up, including the different constraints it is facing. The report is prepared by Nora McKeon, (previously with FAO), Rome.

National studies.
Detailed studies of national and local civil society dynamics have been undertaken in China, Indonesia, South Africa, Senegal, Brazil and Chile. A project planning workshop was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on 4 - 5 September 2003 to consider key methodological questions. In line with the methodological framework drawn up at this workshop, national teams have begun to examine a set of basic indicators, such as legislative changes, financial resources available to CSO work, etc. They have also begun conducting surveys of a representative number of CSOs with significant experience in national advocacy, networking and regular participation in UN summits.

National research teams:
Indonesia: Antonio Prajasto, Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (DEMOS), Jakarta.
Chile: Juan Carlos Gómez Leyton, Universidad de Chile, Santiago.
Brazil: Silvada De Paula, Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analyses (IBASE), Rio de Janeiro.
Senegal: Fatou Sarr, L‘Institut fondamental d'Afrique noire de l'Université de Dakar (IFAN/UCAD),Dakar.
China: Xiaoyuan Shang, Social Development and Public Policy, Beijing Normal University, Beijing.
South Africa: Ashwin Desai and Peter Dwyer, University of Natal, Durban.

Funding: The project is being partially funded by the Ford Foundation.