This paper takes as its starting point the perspective that civil society participation in governance—particularly policy processes such as the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) and related policy developments—largely takes on a mere consultative rather than a transformative role when initiated and driven by government or donors.
In order to understand attempts at changing this situation, the paper explores the experiences and strategies of civil society organisations specifically linked to the Policy Forum network in Tanzania in its objective to transform the consultative engagement to a more meaningful re-politicised participatory engagement. The emerging factors and key findings indicate that the following aspects require considerable attention: (1) engagement in both invited and autonomous spaces to avoid co-optation; (2) strategic coalitions to avoid situations of dominance and control; (3) representation informed by political responsibility; (4) front-stage local engagement with back-stage international support; and (5) linking the macro and micro policy considerations within larger political processes. These factors point to an increasing awareness and strategic negotiation of the dynamics affecting civil society participation in policy processes. Furthermore, they indicate that these dynamics need to be continually assessed and evaluated within the changing political landscape so that civil society is able to position itself more effectively to influence policy towards transforming the structural conditions which perpetuate poverty.