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What are the UN System-Wide Community Engagement Guidelines? Overview and Next Steps

The Community Engagement Guidelines (CEG) are a manual for the UN actors operating in the field. However, it is also an opportunity for civil society to form effective partnerships to achieve the goals of inclusion and local ownership of peace processes. 

The Guidelines remind the UN of its commitment to engaging meaningfully with civil society and provides concrete suggestions for doing that. The Guidelines encourage the UN to: 

  1. gain a deeper understanding of local context through respectful, coherent, and flexible dialogue;
  2. advance operational and strategic coherence and effective coordination in community engagement across the UN in the field;
  3. ensure safety and protection in restricted environments through conflict-sensitive and risk-informed approaches;
  4. support inclusive and meaningful participation of local civil society actors;
  5. provide community-based capacity building, including financing for peacebuilding;
  6. ensure meaningful participation of local women and women civil society actors, in peacebuilding and sustaining peace; and
  7. provide opportunities for meaningful youth engagement in peacebuilding and sustaining peace at the field level.

Added-value of the Guidelines includes the fact that they were developed by a joint UN and civil society working group. The working group strived to ensure that civil society voices were included across all steps of the process. This included a global survey with respondents from 70 countries and in-depth VTC consultations with civil society organizations from several countries, as well as a global online consultation to validate some of the above principles. 

For civil society operating at the regional, national and local levels, the Guidelines are also a valuable opportunity. The Guidelines provide information on how civil society organisations can take action to reach out to the UN and begin the process of creating a partnership, rather than waiting for the UN to come to them. Additionally, the Guidelines also reflect a shared language that the UN and civil society can use to better communicate. 

With the development of the Guidelines as a resource for both the UN and civil society, the question remains: Where do we go from here? 

At the recent global launch of the Guidelines, the following ideas on the next steps emerged:

  • Implementing concrete regional and national UN strategies for community engagement. In order to be effective, the Guidelines will need to be used. If the Guidelines are picked up in at least one context, the lessons learned could inform and further inspire the operationalisation of the Guidelines elsewhere.  As such, the joint working group could provide support for resident coordinators and specific UN field presences on how the guidelines can translate into meaningful and operational regional and national community engagement strategies. The progress achieved in the coming years could then be reported through the next Secretary-General’s report on peacebuilding and sustaining peace in 2022. 
  • The UN and civil society should work together on monitoring the implementation of the Guidelines. This could be in the form of a yearly review of the implementation of the Guidelines at the local level conducted by the UN with feedback from civil society. This could also occur in a similar fashion at the global level with the Working Group reconvening to conduct an assessment of implementation.
  • Community engagement does not mean just formalising the relationships with the “usual suspects”: A broader mapping will need to be conducted to identify and engage with local peacebuilding actors, initiatives, and capacities, formal and informal. Mapping should also specifically identify women’s and youth organizations. Existing civil society partners can identify experts who possess complementary expertise.
  • The partnerships must be meaningful. This includes systematic and institutionalized engagement, where resources and time are dedicated by the UN colleagues to engage with civil society. The Guidelines also encourage risk-aware engagement, which is critical in many political contexts. Finally, the Guidelines encourage the creation of the working groups and informal advisory bodies that enable truly joint solutions such as UN Women's civil society advisory groups.
  • The partnerships need to be supported with adequate resources. Both the UN and civil society will need to invest in connecting and building the dialogue. Therefore, it is best to engage as a network with the UN to ensure that the capacities of all actors are strategic and not stretched. However, the UN has a specific capacity to create financing resources that make funding directly available to local peacebuilders, like the Peacebuilding Fund and the UN Democracy Fund.

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