How should our influencing strategy vary with the kind of state we're working in?

June 27, 2012 12 By admin

Despite the deeply unimpressive response to my last attempt (on top killer facts – not too late to chip in), I’m willing to give you another chance to provide us with unpaid consultancy crowdsource some useful ideas. This time it is helping us think through how an INGO’s influencing strategy at national level (whether through advocacy, programming or both combined) needs to adapt to the institutional environment and in particular, the nature of the state. To do this, we borrowed a handy 2×2 matrix from our humanitarian colleagues, categorizing states along two axes –Able and WillingWilling-Unwilling and Able-Unable (see pic).

‘Able’ refers to a state having the resources and governance structures to be effective (in delivering sustainable development).

A ‘willing state’ is one where a significant part of the state apparatus wants to deliver sustainable development and is willing to engage and involve active citizens.

Yes, I know these are very crude categories: states and countries are not homogeneous, and different strategies suit different issues, sectors and target institutions. But bear with me – the idea is to help us understand the different political contexts in which we work, and how we need to be organized for maximum impact.

So let’s unpack the four quadrants. For each one, I’m listing some tentative candidate countries, some general characteristics of the most suitable approach to influencing, and some specific strategies that might suit the political context.

1. Able & Willing
Possible candidates: Brazil; South Africa; Mexico; India? 

General Characteristics: In Able/Willing states, you can employ the full repertoire of influencing strategies, supporting civil society organizations to make maximum use of the ‘invited spaces’ offered by the state, but also supporting more confrontational approaches to create new spaces where necessary. But what works best?

Possible Influencing Strategies:
Support civil society strengthening and activism
Engage with countries’ role in the world
Engage publics (incl. using traditional & digital media) – middle class & poor
Convening and brokering discussions between different sectors (state, civil society, private sector, media, academics, faith-based etc)
Strong evidence base & research
Private sector – engage positive actors & push for regulation by state
Use legal system and test cases

2. Able & Unwilling
Possible candidates: Russia; China; Indonesia?

General Characteristics: People-on-the-streets style activism is likely to be counter-productive, but often the state technocracy is consultationamenable to arguments based on evidence, especially when conducted through respected (state-approved) institutions. Beyond that, what else is possible, especially to strengthen citizens’ voice?

Possible Influencing Strategies:
High quality evidence & research
Partnerships with respected think tanks
Programmes that demonstrate best practice
Influence private sector CSR and encourage investment best practice
Support civil society space

3. Unable & Willing
Possible candidates: Haiti; Zambia; Ghana; Bangladesh; Kenya; Nepal; Mozambique; Nigeria?

General Characteristics: What do you do when the state’s door is open, but there is nothing much behind it? It’s all very well to support demands for change, but INGOs may also have to build the supply side – working with the state at local or national level to enable it to respond to those demands. Plus what’s the right way to engage with non-state actors to build state capacity in the long term (rather than undermine it by creating parallel systems)?

Possible Influencing Strategies:
Build civil society capacity & active citizenship
Programmes that could be taken to scale
Influence donors
Brokering role with private sector
Support communities in defending against abuses
Technical/advisory support to local/national state
Engagement with important non-state actors (faith-based, traditional authorities, other)

4. Unable & Unwilling
Possible candidates: DRC; Afghanistan; Zimbabwe; Ethiopia; Pakistan; South Sudan; Mali; Somalia; Yemen; Egypt

General Characteristics: The most difficult environments in which to do influencing (or pretty much anything else, apart from selling arms). We can support basic ‘bearing witness’ style work, and engage with non-state actors such as aid donors, but what else is possible to build a brighter future in some pretty dark places?Guatemala citizen state confrontation

Possible Influencing Strategies:
Donor engagement
Humanitarian advocacy
Bear witness
Help provide support and “cover” for civil society?
Engagement with important non-state actors (faith-based, traditional authorities, other)
Concentrate on building next generation (eg work with student leaders)

So does this resonate with your reading/experience of influencing in different polities? Or is it too crude and generalised to be useful? Over to you…….