Resilient Roots: How constituent accountability helps organisations to counter closing civic spaces


The Resilient Roots initiative is testing whether organisations who are more accountable and responsive to their roots - namely, their primary constituencies - are more resilient against external threats.

To do so, we are joining forces with civil society organisations (CSOs) in various countries to design and rollout innovative accountability experiments over an 18 month period. These experiments will explore the factors which increase public support and trust in organisations, in order to identify different pathways to greater, longer-lasting efficacy and legitimacy.

Resilient Roots is a two-year initiative that will run until the end of 2019, coordinated by CIVICUS and funded by the Ford Foundation. Technical and strategic support is provided by Keystone Accountability and Accountable Now.

A full summary of the initiative is available here.

The Challenge

While there is growing recognition amongst CSOs of the need to become more accountable, too often this focuses on pleasing donors rather than meaningfully engaging and responding to the people and communities these organisations are created to serve in the first place. This is even true at the local level, where working closely with the community does not necessarily translate into a consistent, people-responsive accountability.

At the same time, an increasing number of governments are seeking to curtail civic action through challenging the legitimacy of CSOs, demonising them as disconnected special interest groups. What’s more, the typical ways CSOs demonstrate their accountability – through compliance with regulatory requirements and donor reporting – are unlikely to be sufficient to convince sceptical politicians or members of the public.

The Idea

We believe that a more constituent-facing and accountable civil society, when under political or structural attack, will be more able to rely upon its base to come to its defence, bridge resourcing gaps, and ultimately safeguard its long-term sustainability.

Therefore, we will work with a number of CSOs across a range of locations and issues to help them design and rollout year-long accountability experiments. These pilot projects will involve meaningful dialogue with their primary constituencies to drive organisational decision-making and action.

Simultaneously, we will examine the relationship between accountability and resilience, to demonstrate that greater constituent accountability can counter false government narratives used to delegitimise CSOs and close civic space.

In addition, by enabling these organisations to continuously share experiences and learn from one another, we will create a community of accountability advocates uniquely placed to champion the adoption of effective approaches by other CSOs. These experiments will form an evidence base used by CIVICUS and other collaborators to actively support many more people-powered accountability initiatives. It will also demonstrate to donors the need to provide more time and resources for these efforts. In doing so, the initiative strives to make a contribution to how the civil society sector as a whole views and practices accountability.

If you want to find out more about what we intend to do, check out our Theory of Change and send us your feedback at 

How We Do It:

Our bold approach will involve prioritising innovation, taking calculated risks, and embracing failure. We will employ an agile, developmental ethos to monitoring, learning and course correction, and share what we learn from the pilots with a broader community of interested stakeholders early and often. More specifically, the initiative will consist of three main components:

  1. Identify and support pilot projects

Through an open call, we will identify a diverse range of organisations with a strong will and feasible idea to build more accountability to their primary constituents. Each organisation will receive financial and technical support for the design, implementation, and ongoing review of their pilot project. This includes interventions to develop capacity where needed.

  1. Boost accountability and test the resilience link

Work with the pilot projects to explore the factors and pathways which increase public support, build trust and increase legitimacy. This will involve continuously assessing progress and adapting approaches as required. The pilots will also examine how these efforts affect their ability to deal with threats, thereby enabling us to develop a better, more nuanced understanding about the relationship between accountability and resilience, in multiple different contexts.

  1. Foster peer-learning and wider uptake

Create mechanisms and tools for ongoing peer-learning between the pilot projects and collate the lessons learned from across the experiments. This evidence base will enable the production of resources that support other organisations to develop and adopt their own constituent accountability approaches, to achieve scale far beyond the original pilots.

Unclear about some of the language and concepts Resilient Roots is using? A glossary of key terms is available in English, French, and Spanish (coming soon).