In September, the Department for International Development launched a public consultation on its new policy for addressing conflict in the developing world. The trouble was, the consultation was scheduled to last for only four weeks.
Respondents were expected to give the government department their opinions on complex issues, such as how to prevent conflict and the link between conflict and development, in double-quick time.
For NGOs, the timeframe was unrealistic. "Our members needed to consult their country offices, and that takes time," says Dragan Nastic, network advocacy officer at Bond, the body that represents UK international development charities. "They also wanted time to consult their partners in developing countries."
Bond asked NCVO's Compact Advocacy Team to negotiate with DfID to extend the consultation period.
DfID had actually organised a meeting in July at which it had outlined its plans, but this was not sufficient. "There had been dialogue, but nothing is a substitute for a formal consultation period," says Nastic. NCVO pointed out that four weeks contravened the Compact and appealed for 12.
Shortly before the four-week consultation period was due to end, DfID announced it was extending the deadline by four weeks. The NCVO did not secure the 12 weeks it sought, but it had succeeded in getting the eight-week minimum as outlined in the Compact.
International development secretary Hilary Benn wrote to NCVO chief executive Stuart Etherington saying his department aimed to adhere to a 12-week consultation period but exceptional circumstances had forced the eight-week limit on this occasion.
"We really hope in future they stick to 12 weeks," says Nastic. "Eight weeks is absolutely the minimum."
Saskia Daggett, who manages the Compact Advocacy Programme at the NCVO, says: "We are delighted with the response we have received from DfID, which shows that the Compact works and is a real tool that voluntary organisations can use to influence government."