Istanbul Principles

CSO Development Effectiveness


After a 2-year consultative process and several international meetings, civil society organizations (CSOs), partners, governments, traditional donors, South-South co-operators, emerging national economies, and private donors agreed on eight principles for development effectiveness.

Development actors like CSOs—a term that includes non-governmental organizations like ours—carry out a wide range of development initiatives. We as practitioners know how complex this process is, and that, over the past 50 years resources have been misapplied in attempts to create sustainable development.  Agreement on what effective development is, is essential for our work. When the application of human and financial resources leads to beneficial results as determined by all stakeholders, effective development has taken place. 

These principles for CSO development effectiveness, approved in Istanbul in 2010, are called The Istanbul Principles and form the foundation for the International Framework for CSO Development Effectiveness  and the Busan Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation. Both of these documents were instrumental in the creation of a Canadian specific Civil Society Partnership Policy in 2014.

The Istanbul Principles on development effectiveness:

  • Respect and promote human rights and social justice
  • Embody gender equality and equity while promoting women’s and girls rights
  • Focus on people’s empowerment, democratic ownership and participation
  • Promote environmental sustainability
  • Practice transparency and accountability
  • Pursue equitable partnerships and solidarity
  • Create and share knowledge and commit to mutual understanding
  • Commit to realizing positive sustainable change.

The Istanbul Principles set a standard for how we carry out our work and provide guidelines on how to improve our development results. Applying these Principles can assist us to hold our partners and ourselves accountable to a shared standard. It helps us explain to donors what they can expect when they support us to carry out development initiatives. It establishes credibility for the international development sector at all levels—community partners, public, governments, and funders.

BCCIC is a network of CSOs, individuals and affiliate organizations that supports its members to network and improve their practice. On behalf of members, BCCIC represents the international development sector provincially and nationally. Understanding and working towards implementing these Principles becomes central to why BCCIC was formed and why we see a benefit in being members.

The Open Forum website, in English, French and Spanish, contains the history and details of how these agreements were reached. It is constantly being updated to assist CSOs like ours to implement these Principles and you are invited to become active participants. 

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So how can we, as CSOs working in development, integrate the Istanbul Principles into our vision of development and framework for achieving change?

Here are some steps to consider:

  1. Become familiar with the Istanbul Principles and review the Canadian CSO Case Studies. Request and attend workshops and networking events offered by BCCIC.
  2. Raise awareness about the Istanbul Principles with your staff and Boards. Print and distribute the poster available in 16 languages. Assess together which Principles you are already covering and which are a challenge for you to implement.  Document your analysis for future planning.
  3. Engage your development partners in a discussion to raise awareness and find common ground. Discover their perspective on the barriers to effective development they face. Find out your partners’ assessment of how well your organization implements the Istanbul Principles!
  4. Develop a strategic plan to implement the changes you want in your organization. Support your partners to implement their desired changes too. Be realistic about what you can achieve in a busy, often understaffed CSO office by implementing changes in practice gradually. Monitor your progress and learn as you go.
  5. Integrate the Principles into your mission, vision, objectives, action plans and evaluations.  Develop policies and procedures that reflect effective development practices to guide your organization. 
  6. Write up your case studies and ‘lessons learned’ and share them with members of BCCIC. We can improve our practice together.
  7. Make use of the Istanbul Principles tools and resources available on line:

Follow the research and papers on Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC)

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Istanbul +5: The Current State of CSO Development Effectiveness, Enabling Environment and Accountability in Canada

In 2009 and 2010, the CSO development effectiveness principles were built from the ground up, with more than 80 consultations in countries around the world. In June 2010, more than 170 CSO representatives from 82 different countries assembled in Istanbul to share their diverse visions, mandates, approaches and meaningful impacts as independent development actors (Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness, 2011, p.2). Civil society actors unanimously adopted the Istanbul Principles, which were complemented by the development of the International Framework for CSO Development Effectiveness at the Second Global Assembly the following year in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Five years following the international commitment to the Istanbul Principles and the accompanying Busan framework, there is a need to evaluate the current state of CSO development effectiveness in distinct national contexts. This chapter reports on the progress made in Canada on the adoption of the Istanbul Principles and on the strengthening of CSO development effectiveness.

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CSO Effectiveness Awareness Check

The CSO Awareness Check is a self-assessment checklist that gauges how we as civil society are doing in keeping with the principles of CSO effectiveness. This reflective tool allows us to look into how we work as accountable, independent development actors. By answering the CSO Check, CSOs are contributing to building evidence on CSOs’ commitment to further improve their own development effectiveness and accountability.

The checklist has you respond to a set of questions as they relate to the eight Istanbul Principles. We encourage our members to participate in the CSO Check and investigate their own effectiveness and accountability. At the end of the checklist, a report will be produced, with suggestions of areas where you might improve.

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Take the test here