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Building On Strength

Collaborating in Public Engagement

February 25, 2002

Brief: Workshop Outcomes

In November 1999, CIDA launched its Public Engagement Strategy and Action Plan. The strategy and action plan established a new framework for CIDA-supported public engagement activities and provided the context for the launch of new public engagement funding mechanisms.

The CCIC workshop "Building on Strength" was an opportunity for members to share over two years of experience working with the Public Engagement Strategy, exploring how it has changed their work, and how related funding mechanisms and criteria support their own goals for public engagement (PE). It also provided space for members to share their understandings of public engagement, to identify examples of best practice, and articulate challenges to achieving measurable impacts.

The two main workshop objectives were to:

  • identify key areas of challenge and opportunity in our work with public engagement; and
  • strengthen and clarify our relationships with CIDA in the area of public engagement

The day included both panel presentations and opportunities for group and plenary discussion. The final session of the day was devoted to a member-based discussion of "next steps", intended to identify areas requiring ongoing work, and to provide input on issues to be brought forward in CCIC-CIDA consultations planned for mid-April, 2002.

A total of 48 participants took part in the workshop, including representatives from over 30 CCIC member organizations, the Canadian Teachers Federation, and CIDA’s Partnership and Communication Branches.

This brief provides a summary of the main outcomes of the day. A full report will be available on the Voluntary Sector section of CCIC’s Web site ( ) in April.

Summary Findings:

Understandings of public engagement

  • Discussion reflected differences in understandings of PE: For some, it relates to fundraising, donor education and/ or promotion of aid to developing countries; for others, it is about promoting fundamental social change. Some see engagement as shaping public attitudes; others see it as involving the public (on their own terms) in reflection and action on international cooperation issues.
  • There was discussion about how to share and extend understandings of public engagement and the continuum between awareness and action, both among NGOs and CIDA program/ project officers.
  • There was general agreement that PE has to be seen as an integral part of the development equation, bringing north-south issues to the attention of northern publics. The importance of reflecting southern concerns and grounding PE in promoting north-south social justice was underlined.
  • Public engagement practitioners need to understand and utilize the power of new technologies such as the Internet within their work, both to reach new publics, and to facilitate participation and feedback.
  • Related to the use of technology, CIDA officers stressed that the "Who’s Doing What in Public Engagement" Internet directory provides a tool for increased sectoral understanding of public engagement, and shared information on public engagement programming. It will only be as useful, however, as NGOs make it through their participation in regularly updating the information.

Evaluation and impact assessment

  • Evaluation of PE needs to be related to long term impacts, but the goals of attitudinal and behavioural changes are among the hardest to measure. There is a sense of needing some baselines against which to measure progress.
  • Effective evaluation requires adequate planning, capacity and resources. It is difficult to undertake within short time frames, and on limited project funding.
  • There is a tendency to get stuck at a simplistic numeric level of evaluation; it is more challenging but more meaningful to capture qualitative indicators.
  • Evaluation ideally should provide some value to projects/ programs and contribute to organizational learning rather than serve just external reporting function.
  • There was agreement that the available resources for evaluation of PE are deficient. There is a desire for shared learning on evaluation and sharing of tools and experience.
  • Discussion of the challenge of achieving some measurable impact in a given area of focus raised the need for increased regional/ national collaboration.

IDA Strategy, funding and framework

  • There is a very different level of familiarity with the PE Strategy between program and project funded NGOs. The former don’t directly encounter it and are not subject to the same explicit criteria.
  • Within CIDA, there is an apparent need for an internal inventory of branches and divisions directly or indirectly supporting PE, and some way to ensure a common understanding and approach to PE among program and project officers.
  • CCIC and members also called for a clearer line of accountability within CIDA for overall management of public engagement programming, and for clearer signs of integration with CIDA’s policy development processes.
  • Members continue to express concerns about the "fragility" of funding for public engagement, even in the face of new funding mechanisms established. There was particular concern that project based funding doesn’t allow for the full planning-execution-evaluation-learning cycle—that multi year funded is needed to achieve qualitative change in public attitudes and participation levels. This related to a conviction that PE needs to be seen as an integral part of development programming—not a series of one-off add-ons.
  • There was no clear picture of overall funding support for PE within CIDA, particularly with regard to the percentage of program funds devoted to PE. CIDA representatives gave dollar totals for some initiatives and one official estimated the overall level is at or close to the level of funding before the cuts in the mid-1990s.
  • CIDA officers stressed that, notwithstanding the omission of public engagement within the draft SAE paper circulated last fall, PE remains an Agency priority, as evidenced by its inclusion in one of nine key objectives outlined in CIDA’s Sustainable Development Strategy 2001-2003, its current three year business plan.

Next steps

The following arose as needs and suggestions expressed in the final session of the day, which focused on identifying priorities for member work on public engagement, and issues to be raised in consultation with CIDA:

  • Develop more opportunities for collaborative learning and collaborative action on public engagement, involving CIDA, CCIC and its members, and other key partners.
  • Need evaluation tools and skills development, along with greater clarity from CIDA about what it wants from evaluations.
  • Stable long-term funding an ongoing concern. Need to look both to and beyond CIDA.
  • Continue to stress PE as priority to CIDA, emphasize that it is an integral part of the development equation, and that integration of southern-voiced concerns and perspectives is key.
  • Need for improved baseline data on attitudes and public opinion; need better understanding of different target groups and how to reach them.
  • Want increased accountability within CIDA management structure for PE; clarification of how and to whom the PE Strategy applies; but not blind consistency between program and project funding: As one participant said, "Be careful what we wish for."

Prepared by Mary O’Neill, Progam Officer
Organizational Development, CCIC - CCCI
April 4, 2002


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