Merhav Meshutaf ("Common Ground") was created within the framework of the Government-Civil Society Initiative, which was established in 2012 as a joint venture of the government, Diaspora Jewry, and the JDC-Israel Institute of Leadership and Governance (which is also responsible for implementing the Initiative's activities). The overarching goal of the Initiative is to enhance the interface between the government and civil society in order to strengthen social resilience in Israel.
The program was set up on the understanding that there was a need for a group of key personnel in government ministries and civil society organizations who would be committed to promoting this goal and could act as agents of change. It is a new format of the earlier Merhav program, which shared similar goals, but included participants from the public sector only.
The main goals of Merhav Meshutaf were to impart knowledge, change perceptions, and provide tools to enhance the interface between the sectors (government and civil society); to create professional contacts among the participants; and to promote a shared identity for the participants from both sectors while recognizing the special quality of each sector.
27 directors from government ministries and civil society organizations participated in the first cycle of the program (December 2015 to April 2016). The program included a phase of learning in single-sector and dual-sector formats and a phase of developing projects in small groups.
Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute was commissioned to conduct an evaluation study of the program. To this end, all the graduates received a self-administered questionnaire upon its completion (85% response rate).
In addition, observations were conducted during the program.
Among the main findings:
The program contributed to the acquisition of knowledge and the strengthening and change of the participants' perception of the other sector and cooperation with it. The participants reported that they initially had quite negative attitudes towards participants from the other sector at the start of the program, but there had been a significant improvement by the end. During the program, professional contacts were made between participants from the two sectors and a potential basis for cooperation was formed.
Many of the participants reported that they had already begun to implement what they had learned in the program in their work, and particularly to incorporate discourse with the other sector during the planning and designing of new projects.
The program made a smaller contribution to imparting skills and tools than to other aspects. Compared with the participants from civil society, those from the government felt less equipped with tools and less prepared to lead inter-sectoral projects. They were also less inclined to see themselves as leading inter-sectoral discourse in their workplace.
Only half of the participants felt that the work on projects had helped them try out effectively what they had learned in the program.
The participants thought it is important that participants from both sectors are heard during the program. Many of them, particularly participants from civil society, thought that the government representatives in the program were not heard enough.
The participants expressed broad agreement to include representatives from local government in future cycles of the program.
Altogether, the program dealt well with the new multi-sectoral composition of participants and made it possible for them to experience inter-sectoral interaction in a complex and productive process.
The findings have been discussed with the program staff and they serve as a key input for designing the next cycle.
The study was commissioned and funded by the Government-Civil Society Initiative.