All you need to know: HIC Action Research on civil society’s achievements in influencing public policy


HIC’s Action Research (AR) publication ‘Understanding the nature, effectiveness and lessons of civil society strategies for influencing policy‘ was launched on 27 May 2021 in a panel discussion with some of the organisations featured in this publication . Through real cases of organisations and social movements from Africa, Latin America and Europe, this research highlights how citizens and social movements advance the  political agenda through  their strategies and tireless efforts.

The launch featured the voices of several protagonists of organisations engaged in this work. The speakers reflected the diversity of cases documented in the publication, stories that narrate the enormous and continuous effort of civil society actors to influence public policies in favour of human rights related to habitat and the right to the city.

How did this research come about?

The beginnings of this project date back to 2017, when the HIC General Secretariat secured support from the  Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation for the Progress of Humankind (FPH) and  Misereor to pursue this research, thereby deepening a  main objective of HIC, namely learning between regions.

Many of the accounts featured in the publication  are from grassroots communities, organisations that are not registered as entities but rather self-organised communities that  defend their rights.  The initial idea was to make cases of HIC members visible, but there was also a strategy of contacting allies in some regions who could share strategies from civil society to influence public policies in favour of human rights.

From the beginning of the project, the intention was to work with cases from Africa and Latin America. In addition, it was decided to have a European chapter, in order to broaden the geographical diversity and show, at the same time, that the struggles, although different in objectives and methodology, are happening in all regions and at all levels. In each of the continents represented, there are a number of challenges and organisations are addressing them by influencing public policy. The publication highlights these strategies and how they interact with local, and in some cases regional, governments.

The importance of sharing experiences in order to reverse the powers that appropriate land and territory

The presentations echoed the importance of the exchange of struggles between different regions, struggles originating in different parts of the world that show that this is truly a global struggle for human rights related to habitat. How to reverse the processes in which land and territory are appropriated by private powers? Who owns the land? Speakers highlighted the role of loca, national, regional and international institutions in fulfilling the social function of land For movements and organisations involved in fighting for local  causes, it is difficult to know what is happening in other places, even though it can serve as inspiration. How do we influence public policies? What proposals do we have? It is important that this kind of publication makes visible the  strong movements and organisations that are already defending human rights, that in some cases, where  local governments are more sympathetic to civil society, breakthroughs  can be achieved. However, in other cases where the government does not want to collaborate, there are strategies of confrontation, of international visibility and denunciation, as shared by comrades from the Africa section of the research. 0

Why should I read this publication?

1) In the words of HIC President Adriana Allen, the book represents a unique example of what “actionable knowledge” is: knowledge that actually helps us become more powerful to make change in meaningful ways. What verifies this “actionable” knowledge is relevance and effectiveness. The conversation showed that this publication expands the repertoire of tools that we have,to address really deep struggles. As civil society we have a role that is not just relegated to the state to implement policy. Civil society is organising to challenge in a very powerful way the role of the state to implement policy.

2) The historical perspective: the book celebrates history.  Transformative historical changes do not happen in an instant, they have to be worked on, developed and processed over a long period of time. The book allows for the construction of a collective memory, where we come from, what were the continuities and discontinuities that made a better present and a better future possible.

3) Another quality of the publication is that it celebrates the possibility of cross-regional learning, an open window to see the common elements of struggles at the global level, to learn from other regions and experiences, and also the common elements that recur in how different movements in different regions approach those struggles.

4) The way the publication adopts a very powerful normative framework: the publication shows us the importance of incorporating different normative frameworks, the change that the complementarity of a human rights and right to the city perspective brings. 

What’s next?

This publication is intended to be a living document , one that can incorporate other stories to inspirestruggles elsewhere and ensure that the rights that have been won are maintained and can be replicated in other regions.

In addition, the spirit of learning continues in HIC through  co-learning spaces with Members and Allies over the coming months.

These co-learning spaces will focus on: 

  • Feminist Approaches to Habitat (August – November 2021)
  • Land rights (September – December 2021)
  • Multi-level advocacy(October 2021- January 2022)

These will be multi-session inter-regional gatherings where interested HIC Members, Friends and Allies will generate and multiply emancipatory learning practices based on habitat-related human rights. These spaces are intended to contribute to strengthening the social strength and capacity of HIC and its Members to influence progress and the integration of gender and habitat-related human rights in our individual and collective work.