Civil society organizations are critical to the strength of the social contract, serving as service providers for vulnerable populations, organizing citizen interests, and holding the powerful accountable. Recently, world leaders and development practitioners have watched increasing threats to civil society around the world with growing alarm; in 2013, US President Barack Obama announced his “Stand with Civil Society” initiative, calling for the international community to combat such repression through innovative responses.
In line with the president’s initiative, USAID and Sida set out to expand civic space and support the work of civil society in general through the development of a global network of innovation “hubs,” each tailored to support the goals and needs of civil society communities in a specific region. Rather than determining the design and driving the creation of the hubs, the donors sought to work with civil society as full partners in the initiative. After soliciting and receiving ideas from around the world, they organized a series of global and regional co-creation workshops, with the goal of collaboratively setting the foundation and building the ethos of the new initiative.
By inviting civil society organizations to participate in the creation of the hubs, USAID and Sida were demonstrating a commitment to incorporating the key constituents of the hubs throughout the process. They were also taking on a difficult challenge: Done well, co-creation is time consuming and complex. The beginning of the process requires more effort to break down traditional power boundaries and invite multiple voices together in a shared process. But when the groundwork is thoughtfully laid, a participatory process yields results that are much richer and more appropriate and sustainable, and that have greater ownership from users and stakeholders.
To ensure that the civil society hubs benefited from the full participation of civil society, USAID and Sida invited Reboot to design the model for the co-creation workshops, and to co-facilitate them with CIVICUS, a global consortium of civil society organizations. Over the course of eight workshops, we developed the design for each of the hubs and identified local organizations that could own their development and management. From there, Reboot served as an advisor to support the hubs’ ongoing strategy, design, and innovation efforts through their incubation period.