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Guide for staff relations with civil society organizations

International Monetary Fund (IMF)

10 October 2003

SARPN acknowledges the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a source of this guide.
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This document is also available in Portuguese with the following title:
Guia para as Relaзхes entre o Corpo Tйcnico e as Organizaзхes da Sociedade Civil

The IMF is committed to being transparent about its work, to explaining itself, and to listening to the people whom it affects. Increasingly, public outreach is an integral part of IMF country work. This guide aims to assist IMF staff in their efforts to build positive relationships with civil society organizations (CSOs). Since individual circumstances surrounding civil society vary enormously between countries, staff must rely substantially on their own assessments of the specific situations that they face. The guide offers a framework that is intended to supplement--not replace--sound judgment and experience.

Definition: What Is Civil Society?

CSOs are highly diverse, so it is very difficult to generalize. For IMF purposes, civil society actors include business forums, faith-based associations, labor movements, local community groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), philanthropic foundations, and think tanks.

Aims of the IMF's Relations with CSOs

  • Public outreach: explaining the Fund and its activities
  • Policy inputs: obtaining information and insights from nongovernmental sources
  • Political viability: gauging forces for and against IMF-supported policies
  • Ownership: building national support and initiative toward IMF-backed policies
Basic Parameters

  • Priorities: treat public outreach as vital, but (given resource constraints) do not compromise other tasks or hamper relations with government.
  • Responsibilities: determine the division of labor for CSO liaison between EXR officials, mission chiefs, and resident representatives on a case-by-case basis.
  • Selection: make strategic selections as to which CSOs to engage, but attempt to interact with a broad range of CSOs.
  • Timing: meet with CSOs early enough in policy processes that the consultation is meaningful; meet ahead of and between as well as during missions.
  • Location: select appropriate sites for meetings, whether IMF offices, government bureaus, CSO premises, or more neutral venues.
  • Substance: be as forthcoming as possible with CSOs while strictly respecting confidentiality; don't overplay issues of confidentiality to avoid tough questions.
  • Cooperation: consult and collaborate with other multilateral institutions like the World Bank and UNDP that have extensive interaction with civil society.
Process of Meetings
  • Preparations: be well briefed about the CSOs to be met; agree a precise agenda in advance; agree explicit ground rules at the outset.
  • Proceedings: ensure ample opportunity for questions and comments; debate options; be sensitive to cultural differences; use plain language; if possible use the first language of the majority of participants; avoid impressions of arrogance. Listening is crucial in a good working relationship.
  • Follow-up: make a short note of meetings for IMF records; consider a follow-up note to the CSOs; publicize discussions with CSOs (subject to ground rules established); check with CSOs to gauge their impressions of meetings with the Fund.
The Government-IMF-CSO Triangle

The IMF is accountable to its member governments. Dialogue with and transparency toward citizens are important complements to this accountability.

Keep the initiative with government, whose responsibility it is to engage CSOs.

  • IMF contacts with CSOs supplement, and do not substitute for, government dialogue with citizen groups.
  • Handle links with CSOs in ways that do not alienate government. Do not use relations with CSOs to put indirect pressure on governments.
  • If a government raises objections to IMF-CSO relations, explain the rationale in terms of the aims identified above. If government resistance persists, refrain from the contacts and refer the matter to headquarters for possible follow-up.
  • Where a government is sensitive about IMF engagement with CSOs: (a) inform the national authorities of planned contacts; (b) encourage government officials to help arrange meetings; and (c) invite government representatives to attend the meetings.
Legitimacy Concerns
  • In principle, maintain an inclusive approach. Do not deny access without good reason (e.g., a CSO with malicious intent or a seriously distorted account of itself).
  • The legitimacy of CSOs can be assessed in relation to: (a) legality--i.e., they are officially recognized and registered; (b) morality--i.e., they pursue a noble and right cause; (c) efficacy--i.e., they perform competently; (d) membership base; and (e) governance--i.e., they operate in a participatory, tolerant, transparent and accountable manner.
  • In assessing the legitimacy of CSOs consult government officials, bilateral donor agencies, embassies, local staff in IMF offices, staff of other multilateral institutions, apex civil society bodies, academic specialists, other professional consultants.
Other Important Challenges
  • Avoid being manipulated in political struggles. Be aware of CSOs that are closely tied to governments, political parties, commercial enterprises, or media operations.
  • Be sensitive that the selection of CSOs to meet--as well as the ways that the Fund conducts and follows up contacts--can have the (unintended) effect of reinforcing (often arbitrary) divisions and inequalities in society.
  • Building trust with CSOs can take time and patience. In the beginning, it is usually better to focus discussions on finding and consolidating common ground rather than highlighting areas of disagreement.
  • Temper expectations. Encourage CSOs to be realistic about the extent and speed of IMF capacity to solve problems. Be realistic about the degree to which CSO consultations will yield immediately applicable specific policy inputs. Don't expect outreach to win all CSOs over to IMF positions. Some criticism will always exist.

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