IPA countries lack consolidated legislation, practices and implemented standards as a basis for functioning democratic institutions and processes and especially citizen participation in policy-creation and decision-making process. An enabling environment for civil society development (CSDev) constitutes a basic guarantee for functioning of the democratic institutions and processes in a given country. Lack of full functioning or enabling environment hinders the long term sustainability of the sector and threatens irreversibility of the reform process undertaken in the pre- and accession period.

In 2012, the Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN) with support of its members, partners and ECNL (project partner) developed the first Monitoring Matrix on Enabling Environment for CSDev aiming to define the s.c. Civil Society Acquis, i.e. the main principles and standards that comprise an environment that is considered enabling for the operations of CSOs in the Western Balkan region and Turkey and are needed to be in place in a country for sustainable development of the sector. It underscores the fact that enabling environment is a complex concept, which includes various areas and depends on several factors and phases of development of the society and the civil society sector. The development of the principles, standards and indicators (explained in detail in the Monitoring Matrix Tool-kit) has been done with consideration of the internationally guaranteed freedoms and rights and best regulatory practices at the European Union level and in European countries.

The Matrix covers 3 areas divided in 9 sub-areas:

(1) Basic Legal Guarantees to Freedoms (Freedom of association & Related freedoms (assembly and expression);
(2) Framework for CSO’s Financial Viability and Sustainability (Tax regime, state funding and human resources);
(3) Government-CSO Relationship (Framework for cooperation, involvement in policy-/decision-making and service provision).

As a research tool for measuring the health of the legal, regulatory, and financial environment in which CSO in WBT operate, the Matrix aims to respond to the need of CSOs to have evidence-based research products and capacities to advocate for policy changes towards a more enabling civil society environment. The research conducted under the MM aims to provide for shadow reporting on the enabling environment for CSDev and influence Enlargement policy and funding support towards sustainable and strategic development of the sector, including the Guidelines for EU Support to Civil Society in Enlargement Countries, 2014-2020.

In March 2014, BCSDN launched the MM website aiming to present the comprehensive MM tool and extensive research findings more visually in order to engage the audience and capture the visitors’ interest. Not only it presents a snapshot of the current state of the enabling environment for CSDev in the region, it provides key findings and recommendations aimed at improving this environment, which is very important as BCSDN sees this website and the monitoring reports as an important tool for advocating positive change within the space that CSOs operate.

The assessment of the enabling environment for civil society development with the categorization/coding system (from fully disabling to fully enabling environment) was created in 2016 in order to address the need for ‘compressed’ and effective visual communication of findings and systematic presentation of changes in the enabling environment for CSDev on the level of standards across countries and years. Moreover, the categorization system enables standardization of quality of the country and regional reports and contributes to more effective evaluation of indicators with the Monitoring Matrix Tool-kit.

The Monitoring Matrix has been implemented between 2014 and 2017 in the scope of the IPA FPA project “Balkan Civil Society Acquis: Strengthening the Advocacy and Monitoring Potential and Capacities of CSOs”, and continues to be implemented in the scope of the project “Regional Civil Society Development Hub”, supported by Sida, and beyond – as part of the core activities of the network.