II. EMBRACING A PARTICIPATORY PROCESS
Many, if not all, of the components of a successful and relevant needs assessment require inputs from stakeholders other than government actors. Indeed, when new volunteerism laws or policies are implemented, the success or failure of such initiatives will ultimately be tied to volunteers and volunteer-involving organizations rather than government officials.
It is therefore of great importance that stakeholder consultation be utilized and maintained throughout the entire process of crafting new volunteerism initiatives – not just as part of needs assessment, but as part of the drafting and implementation processes as well. All stakeholders – national and local government officials, CSOs, volunteers, and external experts – must be involved and consulted. Participatory needs assessments allow government officials to benefit from the specific on-the-ground experiences of volunteers and volunteer- involving organizations, and in this way increases the likelihood that volunteerism initiatives will be targeted, relevant, and timely. Similarly, when a participatory process is utilized in the drafting stage – that is, when laws or policies are actually being written – the level of “buy-in” by volunteers and organizations is vastly increased, as these stakeholders come to feel that their voices are heard and therefore share a commitment to effective, sustainable, and successful initiatives. Moldova’s Ministry of Education and Youth has sought inputs on its draft Law Promoting Volunteer Services from the international community, Moldovan civil society organizations, and several other ministries, and has worked with prominent CSOs and civic leaders to amend its initial draft law in response to these inputs. Tanzania’s 2007 National Volunteer Policy was the product of shared consultations and studies made by the national government, the UN Volunteers office in Tanzania, domestic civil society organizations, and the international donor community – stakeholders that now play a major role in implementation of the new policy.
Participation allows for the development of higher- quality laws and policies. The inclusion of all parties can help to identify priority issues and goals and allow for improved drafting. In addition, by reaching out to civil society, policymakers can benefit from the practical experience of organizations and volunteers who are affected by laws and policies.
The following techniques can be used to ensure participation and consultation:
Establishment of working groups composed of all parties. Working groups composed of affected ministries, key CSOs, Members of Parliament, academics, and other stakeholders should be established to consider the goals and desired outcomes of the legislative process. Working groups allow stakeholders to gain a sense of ownership and involvement in the process from its earliest stages.
Organizing in-person consultations and widely distributing draft laws for comment. Consultations with experts and representatives of ministries or other bodies promote open communication between government and civil society and improve the likelihood that a government / civil society partnership will be created to further develop and implement a policy or law. Policymakers should consider open public debates and presentations of draft laws or statements of principles that will inform the drafting process.
Organizing consultation sessions. Roundtable discussions open to the public and especially volunteers and civil society organizations allow for enhanced public awareness of volunteerism laws and policies.