Civil Society Engagement with Political Parties During Elections

Lessons from Ghana and Sierra Leone

Publication date: 18 December 2013
Author: Francis Kwakye Oppong, Franklin Oduro, and Mohammed Awal, Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana); Emmanuel Debrah, University of Ghana / Associate of CDD-Ghana

This study examines the conditions that enable civil society organizations (CSOs) to influence political parties during election campaigns.

Drawing on desk reviews and the experiences of CSOs during the 2012 election in Ghana and Sierra Leone, the study found that, for CSOs to have their demands incorporated into party programs, qualities such as political neutrality, evidence-based data gathering, and consistency in judgments are critical. Furthermore, applying methods such as lobbying and strategic use of media were found to be very effective in engaging political actors. The study recommends that civil society organizations should be innovative in their strategies with political parties, in order to inject fresh momentum in the way political parties respond to CSOs.


  • CSOs hoping to achieve long-term influence over political parties should avoid every form of unprofessional conduct and commit more time, attention and resources to improving their internal structures and external relationships.
  • CSOs can minimize the risks involved in engaging political parties by avoiding partisanship in all their activities.
  • CSOs facing capacity challenges can enhance their effectiveness by working in coalitions.
  • CSOs should be innovative in their strategies with political parties, as developing new strategies appears to inject fresh momentum into political parties' engagement with them.
  • CSOs need to engage with political parties on an ongoing basis to ensure that the CSOs' concerns remain relevant to the politicians.
  • In order for CSO concerns to be taken up by political parties, CSOs need to engage the parties before manifestos or party programmes are drawn up. CSOs should assess every political party to determine which approach is suitable, and in some instances may have to deal both with individual candidates and with their parties.
  • To overcome the shortcomings in their engagement with women, CSOs must continually promote gender equality. In addition, CSOs must consult more intensively with women on the formulation of development-related demands, and where possible work to increase women's involvement in the lobbying process.
  • A combined effort from both political parties and CSOs is required in dealing with the external challenges CSOs face. Both sides need to be more open and appreciative of the importance of the other in national development. As for their internal challenges, CSOs need to address their divisions as well as concentrating on improving their internal capacity.

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