Civic Space : The missing element in the World Bank’s Country Engagement Approach
Understanding and addressing the issue of civic space is critical for the World Bank’s ability to meet its development goals. The Bank’s Country Engagement Approach can be the mechanism to accomplish this. 'Civic space', or the enabling environment for civic engagement, refers to the circumstances in which citizens and civil society organizations (CSOs) can voice their concerns, needs and priorities, seek redress and hold decision-makers to account. It also includes the particular contexts and political economy factors that shape those circumstances. The Bank has made important high-level commitments to inclusive, transparent and participatory dialogue with project-affected communities and civil society. Yet the approach to stakeholder engagement still lacks a crucial component – investment in determining whether the environment in which communities engage is safe to meaningfully do so. The Bank’s Country Engagement Approach encompasses two principal tools: the Systematic Country Diagnostic (SCD) and the Country Partnership Framework (CPF). The SCD is intended to identify and analyze a country’s key challenges and opportunities, including critical gaps in data and knowledge. Each CPF is developed after its respective SCD and serves as the strategic roadmap for Bank engagement in each client country. Conducting a civic space assessment as part of the SCD would provide critical information for the development of the CPF, which could then inform the Bank’s in-country engagement. Project teams could consult these assessments to flag potential risks to programming, such as those that could hinder the Bank from fully implementing its stakeholder engagement requirements. Teams could also use the findings to identify opportunities for strengthening civic space. When fed into contextual risk assessments, a civic space analysis can inform reprisal-sensitive design approaches.