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Specific Proposals

Next Step in Inter-organizational Relationships

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Proposals of: Next Step in Inter-organizational Relationships. Notes on the problems associated with the current crisis in the relations between intergovernmental and nongovernmental bodies, with particular regard to the United Nations Specialized Agencies and the consultative status arrangement. Distributed by the Union of International Associations as UAI Study Papers ORG/1.

1. From organizational form to information system
2. Multi-meetings
3. Creation of contact bodies
4. Creation of international centres in cities
5. Committee to study future of information systems
6. Convention to give formal recognition to international NGOs
7. Organizations as statistical indicators of social development
8. Interorganizational cooperation as a focus of education

1. From organizational form to information system

With regard to modifications in the inter-organizational machinery and particularly the consultative arrangement, with United Nations. Agencies, any changes proposed should not be considered as, being a change of structure from one organizational mechanism which has been adequate for twenty years to a new organizational mechanism which will be adequate for the next twenty years.

The change required is rather a change of attitude from one depending upon and requiring a "permanent" and formal organizational structure as the foundation for collective action to one which focuses on a problem-oriented information system which acts as a permanent dynamic foundation for a series of formal or informal temporary organizational relationships between participating NGOs and with the Agency in question. Such formal patterns should be frequently modified or evolved into new patterns of formal relationship as problems evolve or new) problems are detected.

Note that in fact each 2 yearly meeting of NGOs (and associated working groups) is such a temporary(5 day) formal relationship based upon and tied together by the information system constituted by each Conference Secretariat's card file of NGOs. But such information systems are embryonic in relation to their potential, -particularly if linked, together to give each NGOa complete picture of the network of potential NGO and IGQ contacts with respect to each possible programme area.

The change of attitude is therefore from a focus on a particular organizational form to a focus on an information system which permits a series of organizational forms to be generated progressively better adapted to the changing array of problems. The changé from a focus on the actual to a focus on the potential places NGOs in a much more powerful and flexible position.

2. Multi-meetings

As a relatively simple change of procedure which does not imply any "massive structural reorganization" of NGO relations (such as is strongly opposed by many NGOs), each of the various "consultative status" NGO Conferences could be scheduled to take place at the same place during the same period, instead of being held in different places at different periods. In other words without in any way linking them together procedurally it would be quite possible to hold the plenary sessions in the same physical setting (e.g. in neighbouring conference rooms with a common reception/refreshment area) as mainly concurrent sessions with the possibility of joint sessions on substantive matters where these were felt to be useful (e.g. a briefing on development).

This technique of arranging what might be called "multi-meetings" is not new. Multi-meetings in the U.S.A. may involve many specialized, particularly academic, societies meeting during the course of a ten day period. A good example is the thirty-odd specialized societies which schedule their own independent meetings within a common time framerwork on the occasion of the multi-sessionedannual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (for which some 10,000 people may register). A programme committee schedules sessions so that those on related topics (irrespective of which body is responsible for the session) are held consecutively rather than concurrently, and allocates meeting rooms accordingly. There need be no special relationship between any of the bodies holding their meetings within the multi-meeting framework.

In the case of international NGOs a multi-meeting could be arranged every 1 or 2 years to bring together the NGO representatives which meet for the ECOSOC NGO Conference, the UNESCO NGO Conference, etc. But. the programmecommittee, which could include representatives of any such bodies and of the relevant Specialized Agencies, need not limit the multi-meeting to sessions on the procedural aspects of consultative status. Substantive matter meetings of NGO representatives could also be scheduled so that the following range of possibilities is made availablefor use as required:

Nor is it necessary for the programme committee to limit participation to Agency-oriented NGO groups. If the multi-meeting setting is a useful occasion for an NGO group, not specifically associated with the UN or its programms, to meet (perhaps because most of the members are present for other sessions within the multi-meeting framework), then such activity should be facilitated. (For that matter, what NGO activity is not in some way relevant to UN programmes ?) The attitude should be to maximize inter-NGO activity, and the possibility for NGO-IGO activity, rather than to set, up barriers to it based on procedural or other criteria which are suspect in functional terms.

Onthe same basis, participation of an individual NGO at multimeetings should not be based on the consultative status criterion (except for admission to procedural or other closed sessions). Indeed, as with the AAAS meeting mentioned above, there is much to be said for making many sessions open to any individual or organization representative sufficiently interested to wish to pay the registration fee. This in no way affects the rules on the right to vote or. speak developed for any particular session, open or closed.

This policy :

Furthermore, this policy permits individual NGOs to schedule meetings of their executive bodies on the occasion of such multimeetings (whether within the multi-meeting framework or not), with the consequence that members of such executive bodies can both gain some understanding of inter-NGO activity and respond rapidly (if the executive meeting is appropriately scheduled)to questions referred upwards by the NGO's official representative at a particular NGO conference session.

The organization behind the multi-meeting need only be limited to the programme committee and arrangements for a reception desk, document distribution, interpretation and translation. (The latter tasks are usually undertaken by the Agency Secretariat concerned). An additional feature which could well be considered is charging a registration foe to those participants which are not registered as members of an NGO Conference. This could prove to be a very useful source of income, particularly if members of the general public are admitted.

The advantages of this proposal may be summarized as follows :

  1. all the people necessary to make any new NGO-NGO or NGO-IGO activity happen are brought to the same location. What happens and when it happens depends on individual initiative and "corridor activity "during the multi-meeting.
  2. the multi-meeting provides an occasion on which a variety of. formal or informal inter-NGO activities can be catalyzed
  3. NGO consultative status conferences for those NGOs in consultative relations with a Specialized Agency for which such a conference does not exist (Note that such conferences could be single session conferences within the multi-meeting framework. Such short sessions would not normally justify bringing NGO representatives together just for that purpose outside a multimeeting framework).
  4. conferences of NGOs with a special concern with a particular continent or region (e.g. Africa, Latin America, etc.)
  5. conferences of NGOs with a special programme interest (youth, peace, human rights, development, environment, discrimination, crisis relief, etc.)
  6. conferences of NGOs with technical or scientific preoccupations.
  7. more meetings arescheduled covering a wider range of topics. It is therefore more useful for an NGO to be represented which should therefore build up attendance and therefore increase the significance of such events. The aim is to make of the multi-meeting an ideal environment from which inter-NGO and NGO/IGO projects can gel possibly catalysed by the presence of foundation representatives.
  8. from a public relations point of view a yearly or two-yearly multi-meeting would be an ideal opportunity to make evident to the general public any NGO perspectives emerging from the individual conferences. The substantive matter resolutions of some sessions would not be swamped by the procedural context which is totally insignificant to the mass media. Such meetings would merit press
  9. participation because of the concentration of NGQ representatives (as opposed to the current dispersion which never results in a significant international press reaction). Consequently more attention would be paid to resolutions, where voted, by governments and Specialized Agencies.
  10. the multi-meeting is an ideal occasion for the Specialized Agency representatives responsible for contact with NGOs to meet. Furthemore, the switch to greater possibility of discussion of substantive matters would encourage the participation of Agency officials responsible for programmes as opposed to the current limitation to those responsible for NGO relations.
  11. the multi-meeting provides an occasion on which an NGO's own representatives to each Agency can meet and coordinate their approaches. This helps to resolve the problem of the lack of communication between representatives of the same NGO to different Agencies.
  12. as in the U.S.A., a multi-meeting is an ideal environment to give NGO executives and "outsiders" interested in NGO activity an appreciation of NGOs as a career opportunity. It reinforces a spirit of internationalism.
  13. the looser framework should encourage the participation of NGOs currently avoiding the formal NGO Conferences because of their . procedural/human rights emphasis. The framework would for example permit scientific, medical and professional NGOs both to arrange their own sessions and to participate in procedural conferences or UN programme-oriented sessions where this seemed warranted. The multi-meeting is seen primarily as a collection of meetings of NGOs and only secondarily as a forum for discussion of consultative status matters.
  14. controversial procedural points which tend to arise in consultative status conferences and block discussion of substantive matters or joint action by limited groups of NGOs are restricted to the appropriate meetings which were conceived for such questions. NGOrepresentatives do not have attend such sessions in order to benefit from inter-NGO action-oriented debate, as at present.
  15. restriction of UN programme oriented discussion to certain sessions could have the advantage of freeing NGOs from their current consultative status role of "followers" commenting on minor details of UN defined programmes. Some of the informal multi-meeting sessions should permit NGOs to recover their pionneering spirit and to discuss new initiatives which could later take the form of UN programmes.
  16. grouping the consultative status conferences physically should reduce the time and Funds which NGOs have to spend on représentation at meetings in different locations.
  17. the loose framerwork guarantees that, whilst substantive matter plenary conferences cutting across Specialized Agency interests may or may not form part of a multi-meeting in a given year, any such conference session is not a formal grouping of which NGOs are obliged to be members, but need only be an informal discussion session, in which a given NGO representative is not in any way obliged to participate.
  18. the multi-meeting can be hold in several cities in successive years since there is less justification to relate it to the Secretariat of the Agency of the consultative status conference. (On this point, the last ECOSOC/NGO meeting in Geneva was held in the ILO building). NGOs should not ignore the possible financial and other advantages which they can derive from government and city administrations anxious to encourage individual NGO conferences in a given country or city by partially subsidizing multi-meetings in their own cities. This would also help to increase public understanding of NGOs in each such city.
  19. the multi-meeting environment should lead to a much improved exchange of information between all Secretariats of NGO Conferences and Committees whether specifically concerned with the consultative status machinery or not
  20. the multi-meeting environment is an ideal setting for NGOs to work towards the elaboration of the long-term solution to their information system requirements, particularly with regard to the links between :
  21. Secretariats of the formal "permanent" NGO groups and the secretary'sof . temporary or ad hoc groups. Conference Secretariats and Agency Secretariats Conference Secretariats and NGOs NGOs and NGOs NGOs and Agency Secretariats.
  22. A first step towards this might be an information service at the reception desk to permit NGOs to register topics in which they are interested with a view to contacting other NGOs, and possibly arranging a small meeting within the multi-meeting framework. New activities are in this way facilitated. (This constitutes the beginning of a potential association centre as described in the body of this report).
  23. prolonged contact between the Secretariats of the NGO Conferences and the representatives to the plenary NGO Conferences should lead eventually to gradual modification to the formal structures
  24. Conference Secretariats might enter into reciprocity agreements with regard to representation of NGO members at Specialized Agencies or meetings in the cities in which they are based. This could be particularly important with respect to regional activity (e.g. African or Asian Conference Secretariats) other more fundamental changes can be investigated whenever appropriate.

The disadvantages of the multi-meeting techniquederive mainly From the practical problems of organizing adequate meeting space with simultaneousinterpretation.

But such problems are surely minor compared to a recent congress in the U.S.A. which brought together 26,000 participants and, with the aid of a computer and a very limited staff,scheduled the presentation of 5,000 papers in 50 different meeting rooms.Participants scheduled their own movements between sessions guided by the programme committees timetable. The congress also performed the function, little discussed in NGO circles, of channelling 8000 people into new job opportunities. A dynamic environment of this kind, in which morenew people from the national level can each year be involved in international activity, is surely a desirable NGO goal.

It should be remembered that the plenary sessions of the main NGO Conferences,together or separately, are by no means large meetings when compared to the average international congress. It may be that the usual five day meeting period would be insufficient even with some sessions run in parallel but this must be offset against the number of small meeting sessions which could benefit from the multi-meeting framework. Finally, the problems are practical problems and therefore more manageable than the semi-political/procedural/autonomy problems which arise if significant formal changes to the consultative arrangement machinery are considered.

3. Creation of contact bodies

In conjunction with, or independent of the previous proposal, the creation of a number of informal or formal contact bodies should be considered :

  1. a regular contact meeting of representatives of the NGO consultative status conferences, preferably extended to include representatives of other NGO joint bodies. This could be a means of reducing overlap in the substantive matter concerns of each such body. (Note that an informal meeting of this type has been organized annually on the UN's side between officials from each Agency concerned with contact with NGOs. The value of this initiative should be recognized in an NGO resolution addressed to UN/ ECOSOC).
  2. aprogramme committee to be concerned with harmonizing the schedules of the various NGO conferences. This could be a development of the activities of the contact meeting proposed above and could be developed into the programme committee described in the proposal above whore participation of Agency representatives is suggested.
  3. aspecial committee of representatives of the NGO conferences and the relevant Agencies to study the problems of the organization of Agency-NGQ machinery on a continuing basis from the point of view of both the consultative arrangement and facilitating NGOIGO contact for programme activity irrespective of "recognition". This body would pay particular attention to the information system required.
  4. in the event of neither Agenciesnor NGOs being able to justify the creation of the committee mentioned in the previous point, equivalent bodies should be created to study the same problems with respect to each Agency individually.

4. Creation of international centres in cities

The UN System and Member States should take active steps to facilitate and encourage the creation of international centres in major cities. Such centres would provide office accommodation and meeting facilities for

The creation of such contres would build up the "critical mass" of internationally oriented competence in one physical location thus facilitating the iniation and implementation of new programmes. This approach may be contrasted with the current situation in which the bodies in question are dispersed in such a way that there is little creative interaction and no real centre of academic and operational excellence on international affairs in each city. (The lack of such centres must surely contribute to the scepticism of youth with regard to the commitment to international activity such centres should act as channels for young people anxious:to work in international organizations or as volunteers in developing countries, to participate in cultural or student exchange, etc.)

It might be of particular value to create such centres in developing countries to facilitate integration of country level activity.

5. Committee to study future of information systems

UN Agencies and Member States should consider the creation of an IGO/NGO committee to study the future functions of international information systems, particularly to avoid the sort of incompatibility problems now plaguing the UN Agencies because their information systems were designed independently without considering the need for interaction. Some of the information problems which need to be considered are :

  1. organizational contact from IGO to INGO, INGO to IGO, INGO to INGO, INGO to national NGO, national NGO to INGO.
  2. public information contact from IGO to public, INGO to public, public to INGO.
  3. regional contact from INGO to developing country bodies, developing country bodies to INGO, developing country body to developing country body
  4. cross-disciplinary contact from applied sciences to social sciences, from social sciences to applied sciences (particularly to ensure adequate disciplinary participation in multidisciplinary programme)
  5. information types, including: information on organizations, meetings, programmes
  6. means of transferring data, including data links and telex, satellites, physical transfer of computer tapes (e.g. by mail as within the U.K.), physical transfer of computer print out through the mail (either directly from an Agency computer centre or from a regional computer centre which recieves a computer tape from the Agency).

6. Convention to give formal recognition to international NGOs

The consultative arrangement was developed at a time when this was considered to be sufficient recognition of international NGOs to permit them to work effectively as partners of the UN system. Since that time the world situation has evolved considerably, as is repeatedly stated within the UNsystem. Consultative status is no longer sufficient to give recognition to international NGOs, particularly since the technique of private participation in international activity is not widely practised or encouraged in the developing countries which now form the majority in Specialized Agency plenary bodies. The UN System and Member States should therefore reconsider the need for an international convention to give formal recognition to international NGOs as a means of clarifying their function in relation to intergovernmental bodies, as well as facilitating their programme activities.Steps in this direction have already been taken fay the Council of Europe and ILO (with respect to the rights of national workers organizations) . On. their part, international NGOs should establish a committee to elaborate the basis for such a convention to avoid being crippled by a convention developed on governmental initiative as a means of controlling the operations of INGOs.

7. Organizations as statistical indicators of social development

The current debate on social development , "quality of life" and the need for social indicators (as a counterpart to economic indicators) is based on concepts which do not attach significance to nongovernmental and participative social structures. And yet one very important aspect of social underdevelopment is the limited ability of the individual to participate in activities of formal or informal organizations (aside from those by which he is employed or via which he receives his food as a consumer).

The degree of formal or informal participation: of an individual in community organizations, of local organizations in national organizations, of national NGOs in international NGOs, arid of INGOs in international NGO groupins, is however a clear measure of social development at each level. But the inter-organizational problems which constitute the theme of this report are not recognized as being social development problems in their own right as would be evident if the degree of inter-organizational linkage were made the subject of social indicators. Such inter-organizational problems are confined to a theoretical "limbo". If the debate on social indicators results in a selection by government and the UN of a set of social indicators which do not measure the degree of development of NGO and participative social structures then there will be no theoretical foundation for government recognition of such structures or their development. This lack will strengthen the arguments of governments interested in by-passing NGOs and diminishing the importance of their relationship to the UN system.

If an intricate network of organizational relationships is a mark of social development (just as a similar network of commercial and industrial relationships is a mark of economic development), then such a network should not be condemned as "a Western phenomenon" anymore than industrialization can be condemned as a Western phenomenon. Both merely happen to be more highly developed in the West for historical reasons (although it is possible that the interpersonal networks in "underdeveloped" countries are more developed, on average, than in urban areas of "developed" countries). Just as economic development focuses on the increase in agricultural and industrial activity, social development should focus on the increase in group or organizational non-work activity otherwise social development is merely development of the individual to function as a unit in the developing economy. An indicative world plan for the development of individual and collective participative opportunities through local,national, and international organizations (formal or informal) should be considered of equal importance to an Indicative World Plan for industrialization and agricultural development particularly if, as studies of the. human environment now show, industrialized man is increasingly socially isolated within highly developed economic structures such as major cities.

It is therefore highly relevant to the future of inter-organizational relations that

should be considered indicators of social development in a given region or country.

As the key reference source of international social statistics, UNESCO should therefore be encouraged by NGOs to investigateand include some such measures of social development for each country in its Statistical Yearbook, as a counterpart to "non-participative" social statistics on newspapers, radio, cinemas, etc. per consumer .

8. Interorganizational cooperation as a focus of education

The UN and Member States should cease to equate "education for international understanding" in schools, universities and the training of diplomats with "education in support of the UN", such that the former is reduced to an understanding of the principles and activities of the UN Agencies and contains no reference to the function of non-UN bodies whether governmental or non-governmental (other than the contribution they make to understanding of the principles and. operations of the UN system). This can only lead to bias in the minds of those receiving this form of education a bias which has a cumulative effect on inter-organizational relations at the international level because neither government delegates nor Specialized Agency staff nor the staff of UN Information Centres and bookshops have been instructed in the function of non-governmental bodies.

"Education for international understanding" should give some emphasis to the "international community" as a network of interdependent organizations and not focus on the role of the Specialized Agencies with the implication that any other bodies simply gravitate around the UN bodies. (For example, there is no report on "Teaching of the purposes and principles, the structure and activities of the world network of governmental and nongovernmental organizations in schools and other educational institutions of Member States" which might complement the six ECOSOC reports in the series "Teaching of the Purposes and Principles, the Structure and Activities of the UN and the Specialized Agencies in Schools and Other Educational Institutions of Member States", see E/4762).

The focus of a world institution, based on the principle of universality, should not be restricted to concern for recognition of the operation of itsown organs (this is the public information/public relations/propaganda function). Just as, in the eyes of the Director-General of UNESCO, "UNESCO cannot hope to make an impact on the world unless it has a placefor all the energies of a nature to associate themselves with its efforts", the same argument, may be applied to the UN as a whole. All such "energies" (whether governmental or nongovernmental) should have their place in a balanced "education for international understanding" (seen as distinct from public relations).

Education is the key to international understanding. If bias is built into that education (through a disproportionate emphasis on one type or group of organizations) it is only natural that interorganizational problems, such as those between the UN system and NGOs, should arise. Furthermore, it is only natural that interorganizational cooperation should be severely handicapped. The UN can contribute much to improve this situation and to show young people the many different ways in which they can participate in the activities of the international community with the emphasis placed on the interdependence of these activities.

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In considering the challenge of inter-organizational activity within the framework of a world network of organizations, both NGOs and UN Agencies could well bear in mind the following extract from U Thant's closing statement to the Commemorative Session of the 25th Anniversary of the United Nations : "It is intolerable that the peoples of the world should have to live indefinitely on the brink of disaster and that so many of them continue in a state of utter misery. This is the rootcause of our general frustration. Our basic problems are ancient ones: the difficulty of putting accepted ideals and principles into practice, and that paradox of human nature which gives men reason to discern the course which common sense and the common good prescribe and then impels them to proceed doggedly in the opposite direction of shortterm self-interest even if it may lead to ultimate self-destruction".

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