For civil society to steer discussions and be heard, it helps considerably to speak with one voice. This requires internal coordination, both at multi-stakeholder group and wider CSO levels. Civil society representatives should engage with other CSOs so they can present positions at the EITI with broad backing among their constituency and resist attempts by other actors to drive wedges between them. In many EITI implementing countries, CSOs have created a dedicated coalition or network for coordination, often with support from the PWYP movement. Such platforms foster agreement among CSOs about common goals and priorities under the EITI, providing a clear mandate and lines of accountability that help representatives manoeuvre strategically in multi-stakeholder group meetings. Effective coalitions rest on agreement over objectives, governance procedures and membership, and require considerable time and management, but this investment can provide representatives with a wider pool of expertise and support with their workload. In Colombia, for example, a dedicated advisory group provides civil society representatives with feedback on documents tabled for discussion and tactical advice on defending civil society interests. This builds CSO solidarity and strengthens the representatives during tripartite negotiations.
Maximising influence and negotiating power
Context and challenges
The EITI is a space of permanent negotiation between civil society, industry and government. Civil society may sit around the table, but this does not always mean it has the ability to influence outcomes. To make important gains, it needs a sophisticated strategy to influence the other parties. It also requires resilience. Many difficult conversations drag on for months, if not years.
However, as a diverse group of actors, pursuing many different interests, civil society is prone to divisions. From Guatemala and Kazakhstan to Tanzania and the United Kingdom, civil society has suffered internal tensions that have undermined its influence over EITI implementation. The institutional arrangements which govern interactions between the three constituencies can also affect civil society’s influence. Having the best argument is not always sufficient to achieve consensus over a civil society proposal. Where decisions are taken by simple majority voting8 – as opposed to by consensus or qualified majority voting – civil society is deprived of its influencing power, while the government and companies can stand together to protect the status quo.
To create goodwill among other constituencies and increase the likelihood of support for its proposals, civil society is encouraged to engage in countless formal and informal interactions in the margins of official meetings. There are usually various forms of working group or committee meetings which prepare for the final discussion in plenary. These are crucial for civil society to introduce and test its proposals, build alliances with actors from the other two constituencies and shape the drafting of important documents.
To strengthen its negotiating power with government and business stakeholders in EITI discussions, civil society can take several steps.
Representatives should ideally also coordinate among themselves if they are to negotiate most effectively with the other two parties. Smart preparations and articulate rhetoric during a meeting are crucial. Before discussions, representatives should define both their ideal objective and their minimum acceptable position, and prepare supporting arguments backed by convincing evidence. This is particularly important when civil society wants to table a new item. By preparing and coordinating this way, PWYP representatives in Cameroon had the issue of beneficial ownership included in the 2014 work plan, well before this type of disclosure became a requirement in the 2016 EITI Standard. Impressed by civil society’s professionalism, the other stakeholders seconded the proposal.
Representatives may wish to decide before a meeting who will say what, and when. Tactics may include the “good cop-bad cop” approach, where one representative takes a more radical position at the beginning so others can come in subsequently with a stance seen as more moderate. Alternatively, it might be preferable to let other constituencies speak first so civil society can address their points in a final statement, to say nothing until asked or simply to conserve influence for more important agenda items. As well as in advance, such tactics must also be considered during the meeting, for instance via SMS or Whatsapp group messages.
Under the EITI, civil society can feed into the terms of reference for the multi-stakeholder group, meaning it can seek to maximise its chances of being heard. For example, if simple majority voting is proposed for decision-taking (which could disadvantage any one single constituency), civil society should challenge this on the basis that the EITI Standard requires inclusive decision making.9 A rotating chairmanship among all three constituencies can also influence the sequence in which civil society will table subjects considered more controversial. MSI Integrity’s 2015 report10 offers valuable guidance on the governance of national multi-stakeholder groups. Recommended steps include adopting a participatory approach to developing internal governance rules for multi-stakeholder groups, and ensuring that provisions comprehensively address policies, procedures and expectations for members.
Forming, joining or volunteering to chair a relevant working group are excellent ways to steer a discussion. However, in many cases the chair is expected to be impartial, so civil society should weigh the pros and cons of accepting a chairing position. Another useful approach is to develop close ties with the national EITI secretariat which supports the work of such committees and drafts papers that form the basis of further discussion. Working closely with a secretariat can enable multi-stakeholder group representatives to see initial drafts and provide input early in the process. This helps prevent unpleasant surprises and enables civil society to align itself over controversial points.
Both formal and informal interactions can help CSO representatives win trust from the other parties. This does not eliminate difficult discussions, but does enable healthy dialogue. As well as at meetings, civil society representatives can nurture relationships with company and government colleagues informally, during breaks, dinners, conferences, workshops, dissemination activities and journeys. Coordination among CSO representatives is crucial in such efforts behind the scenes, given their time-consuming nature. Strong relationships allow civil society representatives to identify potential allies and gather intelligence that can help them frame issues in acceptable ways or arrange a deal where another party agrees not to block a decision in exchange for support on a different agenda item. By mapping allies in the multi-stakeholder group – as well as among advisers or staff members – representatives can focus their influencing efforts on their most likely supporters or those most influential within the group.
When facing barriers in the multi-stakeholder group, civil society may sometimes need to increase pressure on the other two constituencies. Overcoming resistance can require substantial and sustained campaigning, based on long-term planning and constant coordination. This can involve strategic manoeuvring in meetings and working groups, media campaigning and advocacy, and leveraging relationships. Although intensely demanding, such efforts can yield substantial benefits. At international Board level, for example, it took civil society several years to obtain a compromise acceptable to all parties over mandatory disclosure of beneficial ownership.11
Even in cases of extreme resistance, leaving the table until certain demands are met should not be considered as a negotiating tactic. Whether refusing to participate in one specific meeting or walking out of the entire process, civil society risks many disadvantages by withdrawing. Even threatening to do so could undermine its reputation as a mature and reliable negotiating partner. If civil society is not united and its representatives could easily be replaced by ones less legitimate and knowledgeable, who were not chosen by self-selection, withdrawal offers little benefit. It can also bring unintended consequences. In 2017, the UK Civil Society Network withdrew from the EITI in protest against perceived government interference in the civil society selection process. The network has since been blamed for jeopardising the UK’s EITI Validation, even though its decision followed two years of continuous engagement with the government and other stakeholders to find a solution. A decision to withdraw must only be taken collectively, in extreme circumstances, and after substantial consultation with broader civil society.