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One of the key principles of the rights-based approach is participation. How do we deal with this concept in our organisation, which we often use when describing our work? How much can we implement? We have written this article to propose a framework and tools on how we can implement participation in our organisation.

What kind of thing is this participation?

In one of BİRLİKTE's blog posts - Directing change: designing and implementing programmes with guiding principles - we said that we argue that rights-based CSOs can strengthen their consistency and legitimacy by implementing the principles of the rights-based approach while moving towards the change they want to create, and explained the BİRLİKTE programme's approach to working with principles.
This article proposes a framework and a tool for implementing one of the most important main principles of the rights-based approach in the above framework, participation, within the organisation.

How is it possible to embed a rights-based approach and participation in CSOs?

The history of humanity is also the history of people's continuous struggle for a "better life" and "freedom". The demands of these struggles are expressed today as demands for the "rights". Today, the demand for the realisation of rights is a direct or indirect part of the functioning of global, regional, national and local institutional structures and organisations

On the other hand, human history is a time in which people have been enslaved and exploited with a sense of a "better life" and "freedom"; a history in which they have even fought for enslavement and exploitation. Despite the normative international human rights framework that covers almost all areas of life, we live in a world where human rights violations and even massacres of the entire planet occur from one moment to the next. This situation shows the limits of the practises of institutions and bodies that have built today's world on the "model of juridical thinking" and the limits of interventions against borderless practises. However, it cannot be said that we as human beings have a real tool to overcome this contradiction, except to gain the "empowerment" and "ability" provided by the struggles for freedom.

The rights-based approach, which has been discussed since the 1990s and was defined as a global norm by the United Nations in 2003 and over time became one of the basic policies of the European Union and other funding development agencies, enables the implementation of international human rights standards in practise and human rights. It aims to bring about change through its principles.

Rights-based approaches, especially in relation to two of the main principles common in different definitions - access to decision-making processes with meaningful and inclusive participation and empowerment of rights-holders to use and claim their rights - refer to the "empowerment" of subjects and their acquisition of the ability to "do" to achieve change.

As the rights-based approach is the main policy of donors, especially the UN and the European Union, and is designed as a tool of change for implementation at the legal and policy level in many different thematic areas, from fisheries to cultural heritage protection and armed conflict resolution, civil society organisations carrying out their work in many different thematic areas gradually began to adopt this approach and structure their work on this basis. However, due to the complex structure of change, it has become a serious challenge for rights-based civil society organisations to monitor and know to what extent rights-based approaches, which essentially aim at legal interventions and change, contribute to social change in practise. One of the most important reasons for this is that the adoption of a rights-based approach does not mean that this approach is automatically and genuinely implemented. This is true for donors, obligated parties and civil society organisations pursuing this approach. In particular, the principles-based approach requires institutional change while at the same time striving for social change. It can be said that organisational change and social change are different. However, if organisations do not embrace the rights-based approach as a policy in itself, it will be difficult for them to mobilise the principles of this approach for real social change. The organisations' perception of social change also determines the way in which they bring about this change.

Who are the rights-based civil society organisations?

The number of civil society organisations operating in Turkey that pursue a rights-based approach is very small and there is virtually no research on the structures of these organisations.

Our recently published report entitled Civil Society Organisations in Turkey: Freedom of Association and the Right to Participate looks at the impact of freedom of association and freedom of assembly on civil society organisations and focuses on the right of civil society organisations to participate in decision-making processes

In order to reach the right target group, this report proposes four factors (indicators) of the rights-based approach that determine the definition of "rights-based organisation" in the organisations' institutional (written) documents. These are as follows;

  • Whether the written documents include the protection and promotion of fundamental rights and freedoms for all people,
  • Whether there is a strategic vision and action plan (advocacy plan) for the protection and development of fundamental rights and freedoms,
  • Whether the strategic vision and action plan include a call for reform or the mobilisation of public opinion for the protection and development of fundamental rights and freedoms,
  • The existence of some form of value statement that states in writing that any discrimination is wrong and will not be tolerated.

In this study, which is a first on the structure of "rights-based organisations" and the situation of these organisations in relation to freedom of association and the right to participation, as a result of the assessment based on the indicators listed above, the organisations are divided into three groups: "weak", "medium" and "strong" according to the degree of their rights-based approach. 

The report uses as a criterion for the rights-based approach whether the rights-based approach is included in the CSOs' written documents. It is particularly emphasised that the practical attitudes and behaviour of the organisation or its representatives are not the subject of this analysis.

Based on practise and self-regulation

Indeed, it is extremely difficult to identify the elements of the rights-based approach in the corporate culture and practises of organisations and to standardise these elements; in this context, only some principles of application based on self-regulation can be mentioned.

In the BİRLİKTE Institutional Development Model, we propose a set of indicators and tools that support the rights-based approach in organisations to become a part of the organisational culture based on 6 principles - benefit creation, participation, sustainability, prevention of discrimination and equality, transparency and accountability. The self-assessment tool developed as part of this model contains indicative questions for mainstreaming these principles into the institutional structures and processes of rights-based organisations. We would like to describe one of these tools, the proposed framework for mainstreaming participation within the organisation.

How is it possible mainstreaming participation in civil society organisations?

In the BİRLİKTE Institutional Development Model, we define the principle of participation as follows:

The principle of participation is to ensure that all stakeholders participate in the CSO's decision-making mechanisms through established methods and that CSOs also participate in the decision-making mechanisms and processes related to the area in which they work. The most important of these methods are the mechanisms of openness and accessibility to all stakeholders and beneficiaries of the CSO, information, consultation, involvement and feedback on these processes and outcomes. CSOs become transparent, accountable and reliable to the extent that they increase their participation 

We have also defined what this principle means from a programmatic perspective. We take this into account as a guideline for programme implementation:

The programme conducts the necessary studies or research and implements interventions to ensure the effective and meaningful participation of all stakeholders in the decision-making processes and mechanisms in the studies under the programme through established methodologies; participates in the decision-making mechanisms and processes related to the study area; supports the participation of organisations under the programme in the mechanisms and processes in their area.

In this context, we also propose a tool within the programme to strengthen and facilitate participation in the institutional structure and activities of civil society organisations. This tool, to be used both in organisational management and in programme or activity management, aligns participation processes and participation styles, thus facilitating the planning and monitoring of participation processes and practises.

A functional process: How was the participation ladder adapted to the programme?

When it comes to forms of participation, the definition of the Council of Europe's "ladder of "participation" is generally used. The forms of participation below have been adapted for civil society organisations, based on the basic levels of civic engagement defined by the Council of Europe.

  • Information: Providing all necessary information in decision-making processes, in accordance with the principles of open data, in clear and easily understandable language, in a convenient and accessible format, without bureaucratic obstacles and, in principle, free of charge.
  • Consultation: When a civil society organisation seeks the views of the target group and other stakeholders on a particular policy, issue or activity as part of the institutional process.
  • Involvement (dialogue/consultation): The civil society organisation conducts structured, long-term and results-oriented processes based on a shared understanding to engage with the target group and other stakeholders (individuals, CSOs, public administration, etc.).
  • Partnership (active co-operation): Active collaboration of the civil society organisation with the target group and other stakeholders in defining problems and developing solutions, and co-creating solutions and applications.

How were the participation processes adapted to the programme?

The phases of the participation cycle, which includes planning the systems and activities of civil society organisations, implementing them as planned, measuring the impact and results of implementation, and improving subsequent planning based on the lessons learned from these measurements, have been taken from the Guide to Strategic Plans for Communities and adapted to civil society organisations, as shown below.

  • Opinion collection: It refers to the collection of opinions, suggestions and expectations of stakeholders who will be affected by the implementation. This process includes stakeholder identification, stakeholder prioritisation, stakeholder evaluation, and the phases of receiving and evaluating stakeholder opinions and suggestions.
  • Planning: This is the process in which the objectives, targets, performance indicators, activities, resources, target risks and control measures related to the application are defined.
  • Implementation: The coordination of the planned work in accordance with the scope, time and budget. This phase also includes regular monitoring of implementation, data collection and reporting.
  • Monitoring, evaluation and learning: The monitoring, evaluation and learning process ensures organisational learning and, accordingly, continuous improvement of activities. Monitoring is an iterative process in which quantitative and qualitative data is continuously and systematically collected and analysed before and during implementation to track progress against objectives and targets. Monitoring activities consist of monitoring the results of target achievement at a certain frequency against defined indicators to show progress, and reporting and submitting to manager evaluation at certain intervals. Evaluation is a detailed examination to determine the extent to which ongoing or completed activities enable the achievement of objectives and targets and the extent to which they contribute to the decision-making process. The evaluation analyses the relevance, effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability of the objectives, targets and performance indicators in the plan.

How were the principles been adapted to the programme?

The general principles that the Council of Europe recommends for all actors involved in accession processes to consider, implement and promote have been adapted to civil society organisations in the context of this instrument as follows:

  • Mutual respect between all stakeholders based on trust and honest communication,
  • Respecting the independence of stakeholders, regardless of whether their views coincide with those of the organisation,
  • Ensuring the principles of openness, transparency and accountability
  • Providing appropriate feedback to all stakeholders,
  • All views are heard and considered, including those of less privileged groups and those who do not have equal access to rights and services, by taking measures to ensure equality and inclusion,
  • Ensuring gender equality and equal participation of all groups, including people with special priorities and needs, such as women, children, young people, older people, minorities or people with disabilities,
  • Ensuring accessibility through the use of clear language and appropriate participation tools.

How were the principles of participation adapted to the programme?

The principles of participation recommended by the Council of Europe for consideration in participation processes have been adapted to civil society organisations as follows within the framework of this tool:

  • Participation processes should enable the views of the civil society organisation's internal and external stakeholders to be sought; the processes should support an effective exchange of views that serves as a basis for decision-making to meet the needs of the organisation.
  • Participation should be ensured through appropriate, structured and accessible institutional mechanisms and processes. Appeal or opinion mechanisms should be linked to these institutional mechanisms and processes. Any limitations or restrictions on participation must be consistent with the organisation's policies and rules and clearly stated within this framework.
  • Participation processes and mechanisms in civil society organisations should be defined with the necessary permissions at different stages.
  • Access to information must be easily accessible, transparent and public, except in cases where it is clearly restricted by the privacy practises clearly defined in the KVKK and company policies.
  • Appropriate information should be provided in a timely manner to allow for feedback.
  • Civil society organisations should plan and manage participation; they should clearly define the methods used as well as the objectives, actors, process and timing.
  • Civil society organisations should provide up-to-date and comprehensive information on participation approaches and practises.
  • Civil society organisations should avoid practises that unduly burden the target group and other stakeholders during the participation process and take the necessary measures to facilitate participation.
  • Civil society organisations must prevent the results of the participation process from adversely affecting the stakeholders involved in the process in any way.
  • Civil society organisations should establish agreements and protocols with relevant stakeholders on their cooperation in the participation processes; mutual roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined in advance.
  • As civil society organisations carry out their participation processes, they should ensure that stakeholders make preparations and provide constructive input. In cases such as lack of time or resources etc. where it is necessary and if the reasons are stated, limited methods and/or procedures with a limited number of stakeholders can be used in planned participation processes.
  • Civil society organisations should consider and encourage the widest possible participation in all processes, including groups that do not have equal access to rights and services.
  • Civil society organisations should not make decisions or take action before their participation process has been completed, unless exceptional circumstances require it and without clear justification.

How to use the stakeholder matrix for participation?

Below is the table to help you plan stakeholder participation when creating a civil society organisation's participation plan. You can represent the stakeholders related to the organisation's structure or activities in this table according to their role in the participation processes. When creating this table, do not forget to ask the following questions and consider the answers to these questions.

  • Are there people/groups that you have overlooked or failed to reach?
  • Have you considered gender equality?
  • Have you considered accessibility in your processes and methods?

Table 1

Table1, Description: The main title of the table is "Table of stakeholders for participation". Main column title: "Participation processes" and the 4 column titles below it, from left to right, respectively: "Opinion collection", "Planning", "Implementation", "Monitoring, evaluation and learning" Main row title: "Participation formats" and the 4 row titles from top to bottom: "Inform", "Consultation", "Involve (dialogue/consultation)", "Partnership (active collaboration)" For example, "Stakeholder 1" is in the cell where the "Opinion-collection" column and the "Inform" row overlap, "Stakeholder 3" is in the cell where the "Planning" column and the "Consultation" row overlap.

Below you can see the table that should make it easier for you to plan the participation-related activities when creating the participation plan. In this table you can show the work to be done, the participation processes and the types of participation for the course of the participation processes in the organisational structure or specifically in the activities. When creating this table, do not forget to ask the following questions and consider the answers to these questions.

  • Are there people/groups you have overlooked or failed to reach?
  • Have you considered gender equality?
  • Have you considered accessibility in your processes and methods?

Table 2

Table2 Description: The main title of the table is "Activity Planning Table for Participation". Title of the main column: "Participation processes" and the 4 column titles below it, from left to right, respectively: "Opinion gathering", "Planning", "Implementation", "Monitoring, evaluation and learning" Main row title: "Forms of participation" and the 4 row titles from top to bottom: "Information", “Consultation", “Involvement (dialogue/consultation)”, “Partnership (active collaboration)” For example, the column “Opinion collection" and “Informing". "Determine suitable information channels etc." is written in the cell where the " line intersects.

Wrapping up....

This article argues that the effect of the legal model of thinking that forms the basis of the rights-based approach is not visible or spontaneous in terms of securing social change. With the assumption that this approach requires not only legal but also organisational change, we have tried to reiterate the need to implement the basic principles of the approach at the organisational level.

Of course, at the level of standards, there is no standard framework for the implementation of participation, one of the main principles of the rights-based approach, in civil society organisations. These practises are determined by the civil society organisations according to their own possibilities and needs. However, if they are not implemented on a specific system basis, it can be difficult for organisations to monitor how they implement the principle of participation in their work. While we "properly" incorporate such a loaded concept into documents, perhaps we should also subject our attitudes and behaviours in practise to multi-layered scrutiny...

From this perspective, civil society organisations should be able to implement participation in their own institutional structures and activities and demonstrate that they have implemented it, make visible and take into account different experiences, ensure that the social change they seek is implemented with the participation of all parties and strengthen the accountability of the organisation; thus it will help to increase its impact.

We hope that this article helps you to reflect on your organisation and your work. Participation is a living process that is fuelled by experience. I wish us all a good journey in this process.



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