From its inception in 1993, CIVICUS strove to make a significant contribution to recording the rise of civil society around the world, and to build a knowledge base of civil society-related issues. To achieve this, CIVICUS published The New Civic Atlas in 1997, a compilation of civil society profiles for 60 countries around the world. The New Civic Atlas provided concise and current information on the basic features of civil society in these countries; however, it lacked consistency with regard to the issues covered.
In 1998, when the possibility of an updated version of The New Civic Atlas was raised, some members voiced their preference for a more rigorous comparative framework of analysis that would allow valuable lessons to be drawn across countries. Responding to this feedback, the then Secretary General and CEO of CIVICUS, Kumi Naidoo, presented a proposal to the CIVICUS Board recommending an exploratory consultative process for the development of a Civil Society Index.
In 1999, CIVICUS developed a concept note, distributed it to its members and partners and conducted a number of consultations around the world. One participant described the project as “an exercise in madness,” highlighting the contextual nature of civil society, insufficient data on the topic in many countries and the absence of a widely accepted definition of civil society. Others felt the time was right for such an initiative, notwithstanding the numerous challenges of the project design.
In September 1999, at the CIVICUS World Assembly in Manila, Kumi Naidoo presented the Diamond Tool, developed by Professor Helmut Anheier, then Director of the Centre for Civil Society at the London School of Economics (LSE), as the preliminary methodological design for the CSI project, for acceptance by CIVICUS members and partners. Even though the four-dimensional approach of the Diamond Tool did not generate an Index in the strict technical sense of a single additive score, CIVICUS employed a broader interpretation of the term “Index” as concise and comparable information on a phenomenon in different contexts and consequently retained the project’s name, the CIVICUS Civil Society Index. Subsequent to the Manila World Assembly, and with financial assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Netherlands Organisation for International Development Cooperation (NOVIB) and the Commonwealth Foundation, CIVICUS developed a fully-fledged project design and hired dedicated human resources to move the project forward.