2. The OECD approach to civic space in Romania

Under the purview of the OECD Public Governance Committee and the OECD Working Party on Open Government, the OECD has been supporting countries around the world to strengthen their culture of open government by providing policy advice and recommendations on how to integrate its core principles of transparency, integrity, accountability and stakeholder participation into public sector reform efforts. The OECD’s work on civic space is a continuation of this effort, recognising that civic space is an enabler of open government reforms, collaboration with non-governmental actors, and effective citizen and stakeholder participation. As a key contributor to an open government ecosystem, civic space is thus fully integrated into the OECD’s open government work in support of the OECD Recommendation of the Council on Open Government (2017[1]).

The Observatory of Civic Space was established by the OECD in November 2019 to support member and partner countries in the protection and promotion of civic space. An advisory group comprising experts, funders and world-renowned leaders on the protection of civic space guides its work.1 The observatory was established from within the Open and Innovative Government Division of the Directorate for Public Governance in light of the recognition that, while many countries were making significant progress in furthering their open government agendas, civic space – which facilitates and underpins open government reforms – was under pressure in different ways in many of the same countries. There is also a well-documented decline in the protection of civic space at the global level (OECD, 2022[2]).

The OECD approach to assessing civic space, developed in 2020, is articulated in the Civic Space Scan Analytical Framework in the Area of Open Government (OECD, 2020[3]). The starting point for this work is the OECD’s working definition of civic space as “the set of legal, policy, institutional, and practical conditions that are necessary for non-governmental actors to access information, express themselves, associate, organise, and participate in public life” (OECD, 2020[3]).

As the above suggests, the OECD approach to civic space is informed by its longstanding focus and expertise in good governance and open government, in addition to its constructive relationship with civil society actors. From a good governance perspective, the work aims to evaluate how existing legal, policy and institutional frameworks, as well as the public sector’s capacities and management practices, shape and affect civic space. The open government focus addresses how these frameworks translate into participatory practices and mechanisms for accountability; in other words, how civic space can be transformed into a vehicle for effective stakeholder participation in policy making and service design and delivery as part of enhancing democratic governance. The intent is that this unique government perspective will contribute to a better understanding of civic space vitality, progress, opportunities, constraints, and outcomes at both the national and global levels.

Civic Space Reviews focus on four key thematic areas:

  • Civic rights and freedoms, i.e. freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, access to information,2 and protection for activists and human rights defenders.

  • Media freedoms and civic space in the digital age, i.e. press freedom, an open Internet, privacy and data protection.

  • The enabling operational environment created by governments for civil society organisations (CSOs) to operate in citizen and stakeholder participation in policy and decision making.

  • Citizen and stakeholder participation mechanisms, methods and innovations.

Cross-cutting issues, such as inclusion and non-discrimination, emergency laws, civic literacy and the impact of COVID-19 are also key concerns (Figure ‎2.1).

For governments interested in an external analysis of their civic space, Civic Space Reviews provide in-depth qualitative assessments of theory (de jure conditions) and practice (de facto conditions). The data-gathering process adheres to the well-established Open Government Review methodology and is based on a partnership with the requesting country (OECD, n.d.[5]). In all cases, the analytical framework is used as a guide and the precise issues discussed in reviews are determined at the country level.

The Civic Space Review is part of a broader project on Enhancing Policy Coherence, Transparency and Coordination at the Centre of the Government in Romania, which is funded by the European Commission. The project aims to support Romania in its efforts to strengthen institutional and administrative capacity, including at regional and local levels, to facilitate socially inclusive, green and digital transitions. Within the framework of this project, the OECD Secretariat agreed to produce an assessment report of Romania’s protection and promotion of its civic space, including benchmarking with OECD Members and European Union (EU) member states. Based on the findings and recommendations in the report, the OECD is supporting the General Secretariat of the Government (hereafter “General Secretariat”) to develop a component on engaging civil society in decision making into its forthcoming national Open Government Strategy.

The Review draws on a wide range of sources and materials:

  • Government background report. The General Secretariat responded to a questionnaire from the Observatory of Civic Space in January 2022. The detailed questionnaire included 20 questions covering a range of issues in the policy and legal context, Romania’s strategic vision for civic space, challenges in protecting civic space, key actors, oversight mechanisms and related public funding.

  • Literature review. The OECD team conducted an extensive review of legal texts, government policy and strategy documents, think-tank and academic reports, and government websites in both English and Romanian (using translation tools). The government background report and literature review were used to prepare a background report for the Civic Space Review and tailored questions for each of the fact-finding interviews.

  • Library of Congress legal analysis. As part of a partnership with the OECD, the United States-based Library of Congress submitted a detailed background report on Romania’s legal frameworks to the Observatory of Civic Space in November 2021 (Library of Congress, 2021[6]). This report will be published by the OECD alongside the Review.

  • Public consultation. The Observatory of Civic Space held a month-long online public consultation (December 2021 to January 2022), inviting submissions from non-governmental actors on the following issues:

    1. 1. How can Romania strengthen its commitment to civic space?

    2. 2. How can Romania strengthen the enabling environment for CSOs, e.g. relevant laws, policy frameworks, access to public funding?

    3. 3. How can Romania better engage with CSOs in policy making and service design and delivery?

    4. 4. What steps could the Romanian government and CSOs take to build trust in one another?

    5. 5. What content would you like to see included in a strategy for civil society involvement in decision making?

The consultation was advertised on OECD social media, in the OECD Civil Society Newsletter,3 on the OECD website and by the General Secretariat. The consultation yielded over 70 substantive inputs from 14 different non-governmental actors or organisations overall. Submissions received were incorporated into the findings and recommendations.

  • Fact-finding mission. On 31 January 2022 an OECD team hosted a briefing session for government officials taking part in the Civic Space Review to explain the purpose and format of the interviews, in addition to desired outcomes. They then undertook three weeks of one-hour interviews as part of a fact-finding mission with government officials and non-governmental actors, followed up with ad hoc interviews over the following months. The OECD team undertook separate interviews with non-governmental actors (academics, CSOs, think-tanks, journalism associations and umbrella organisations). Due to travel restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of these interviews were held online. Interviews were frequently followed up by email with requests for information and clarifications.

In total, government representatives from 35 public bodies were interviewed during the fact-finding mission, either online or in person. Questionnaires were sent to five public bodies that could not participate in the interviews. The OECD also conducted interviews with 21 non-governmental actors in total. The content of the interviews and questionnaire responses was fully integrated into the report.

  • Peer review process. Representatives from Finland’s Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Justice participated in the fact-finding mission interviews as peer reviewers. The process was broadly in line with the OECD methodology on peer reviews (OECD, 2003[7]), which was adapted due to the need to hold many interviews online. Adaptations included allowing flexibility in terms of the number of interviews that the peer review country attended and the number of peer reviewers from each country. Following the interviews and a debrief on preliminary findings from the OECD team, peer reviewers provided analytical input and shared examples of good practices from their administrations, then reviewed and commented on the draft report. Similarly, government representatives from Chile and Scotland (United Kingdom) reviewed and provided feedback on the draft report.

  • OECD missions to Romania. The OECD team travelled to Romania from 11-14 April 2022 to meet with their Romanian counterparts, conduct follow-up interviews with selected government bodies, and undertake additional interviews with government and civil society actors. The mission served as an opportunity to present preliminary findings of the Civic Space Review to the General Secretariat and to discuss the strategy and roadmap for engagement with civil society.

A follow-up mission took place from 28-30 September 2022 to conduct two workshops with government officials and civil society, in support of drafting the civil society component of the Open Government Strategy. Learning from these workshops was fully incorporated into the report findings.

  • Fact checking and transparency. A draft report was sent to the General Secretariat and peer reviewers for fact checking in July 2022 and to the General Secretariat again in November 2022. A draft was also sent to all fact-finding mission interviewees in October 2022. All comments and data received were incorporated into the analysis, to the extent possible.

The analysis in the Review is fully aligned with the forthcoming OECD Open Government Review of Romania (OECD, forthcoming[8]). This review will assess the governance of open government and elaborate a set of actionable recommendations on how to improve mechanisms that can allow for open government policies and practices to be successfully implemented, including the capacity to establish collaboration mechanisms with citizens and CSOs.


[6] Library of Congress (2021), Civic Space Legal Framework: Romania, https://www.loc.gov/item/2021687420/ (accessed on 22 April 2022).

[2] OECD (2022), The Protection and Promotion of Civic Space: Strengthening Alignment with International Standards and Guidance, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/d234e975-en.

[4] OECD (2020), Civic Space, OECD, Paris, http://www.oecd.org/gov/open-government/civic-space.htm.

[3] OECD (2020), Civic Space Scan Analytical Framework in the Area of Open Government, GOV/PGC/OG(2020)6, OECD, Paris.

[1] OECD (2017), Recommendation of the Council on Open Government, OECD, Paris, https://legalinstruments.oecd.org/en/instruments/OECD-LEGAL-0438.

[7] OECD (2003), Peer Review: An OECD Tool for Co-operation and Change, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264099210-en-fr.

[5] OECD (n.d.), OECD Open Government Reviews, OECD, Paris, https://www.oecd.org/mena/governance/open-government-review-flyer-en.pdf (accessed on 26 September 2022).

[8] OECD (forthcoming), Open Government Review of Romania, OECD Publishing, Paris.


← 1. The advisory group comprises: the Government of Finland; the Open Society Foundations; the Robert Bosch Foundation; the Ford Foundation; the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law; the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; CIVICUS; and the Open Government Partnership.

← 2. In this Civic Space Review, access to information is addressed in chapter 4 on media freedom and civic space in the digital age in Romania.

← 3.  More information on the OECD Civil Society Portal is available at https://www.oecd.org/about/civil-society/about/ and newsletter subscription is available at https://account.oecd.org/subscribeEmail.aspx?categoryKeys=4056.

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