By Rafaela Rigoni et al. / Harm Reduction Journal
Civil society organisations (CSOs) is assumed to function as intermediaries between citizens and policymakers. CSOs can act as transmission belts that filter societal preferences and channel them to policymakers. In practice, however, their capacity to effectively interact with policymakers varies considerably. In the field of harm reduction, CSOs play an essential role in developing and implementing effective measures to address the negative consequences of drug use. They work directly for, and with, people who use drugs (PWUD) and have a good understanding of their daily needs.
Due to the provision of low-threshold services, civil society-based harm reduction agencies are usually the first contact point for PWUD. For this reason, a functioning relationship between CSOs and decision-makers is crucial in ensuring that the public policy responds to the actual needs of PWUD. The inside knowledge and information of communities and grass-root organisations are critical in developing adequate drug policies and practice. Currently, however, a constructive and respectful relationship between policymakers and CSOs is missing in several European countries. In these countries, decision-makers may have minimal knowledge about what PWUD need, resulting in a lack of adequate, inclusive policies, based on mutual understanding and real needs.
Civil society is increasingly assuming the role of holding governments and donors, among others, accountable, by engaging in independent monitoring and evaluation of services and programmes. It has long been shown that community monitoring can play an essential role in improving service delivery. Moreover, in combination with advocacy, monitoring tools are crucial strategies to hold governments accountable and to improve the implementation of policies and programmes in line with the needs of PWUD and their environments.