CIVICUS Monitor: a new effort to study civic space

19 June 2017

After two years of deep thinking and hard work, the global civil society alliance CIVICUS has launched the beta version of the CIVICUS Monitor – the first ever online tool specifically designed to track and rate respect for civic space, in as close to real-time as possible.

The need for such a tool is more relevant today than ever. Based on a vibrant civil society research collaboration, the CIVICUS Monitor shows how over three billion people live in countries where civic space – in other words the fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression – is repressed or closed.

While it’s true that there is already a lot of data available on these fundamental freedoms, that information is dispersed, often months or years out of date and often not based on the views of civic groups under attack in the country under assessment.

CIVICUS members often tell us that indexes and measures of civil society fail to adequately reflect their local realities, which are often fast-changing and extremely complex.

We hope that the CIVICUS Monitor will help to raise the profile of this crisis facing civil society – most importantly by placing the voices of local civil society at the centre of our analysis.

The CIVICUS Monitor could be a powerful weapon in the fight back against closing civic space. It provides verified information on civic space developments, and is aimed at the public, civil society organisations, the media, academics, governments and international organisations.

The colour-coded civic space ratings reflect the spectrum of respect for fundamental freedoms around the world.
Ratings are generated by combining several sources of data on civic space.

Once initial ratings are assigned, the CIVICUS Monitor closely tracks developments in each country over time, such that ratings will change directly in response to events on the ground.

We have also developed a system to provide regular narrative updates from our research partners. We will tell the daily stories of civic space – the physical attacks on activists, protests disrupted, journalists killed – for country after country, based on updates from civil society organisations all over the world.

We also tell the good stories, when we can find them.

Of course, generating relevant and credible information is just the first step and we are excited about the many potential uses there are for data provided on the CIVICUS Monitor. For a long time, civil society has been asked by decision makers to produce concrete evidence of the global threat to civic space. We hope that this robust methodology now enables us bring such evidence to the policy table so that real change can happen.

It can also help to identify positive trends by describing countries or regions where civic space and the freedom to offer dissenting views remains protected despite challenges from regressive forces and trends.

The CIVICUS Monitor is still a work in progress. We know that the fight for civic space will be long and hard-fought. We know that alone, it will not cause governments, corporations and other non-state actors to stop violating citizens’ rights nor compel the international community into action.

But properly understanding the scale of the problem we face, and then telling that story, is a crucial component of the fightback. What the CIVICUS Monitor will do is provide civil society, the media and decision-makers with a reliable, updated portrayal of the reality of civic space. By so doing we can enable stronger, more concerted action to open up civic space, and challenge those that seek to close it.