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IGO-INGO and INGO-INGO Relations: a possible approach

Next Step in Inter-organizational Relationships

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Part H 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. Extended version: IGO-INGO and INGO-INGO Relations: a possible approach: Extended (1972)

1) Everyone resists changes to the existing methods of organizations particularly those proposed by outsiders. This is a classic situation. Those in favor of new approaches see the disadvantages of the old and turn a blind eye to its positive features. Those in favor of continuing the traditional approach consider its faults minor and remediable by gradual improvement, whilst remaining skeptic toward the need for any fundamentally new departures. Perhaps this awkward situation can be bypassed in the case of the needs of the NGOs.

2) Let all the existing NGO conferences, secretariats, and bureaus and working parties remain as they are, grouping those organizations which currently attend them. No changes at all are made, so that no one need fear that things are being reorganized with unpredictable results:

The existing mechanism is therefore safeguarded to the satisfaction of those who think the status quo is satisfactory.

3) The problem is therefore to satisfy those who are arguing for the pom methods of operation. Suppose that all NGOs, whether in consultative status or not, with a particular agency, are now approached so that:

Note that no NGO receiving these lists or sending information to the central secretariat need "recognize" the secretariat or the "potential association", or any other NGO associated with the potential association. (N.B.- For a description of the "potential association" technique, see Annex A)

4) On the basis of the combined resources of the NGDs currently interested in a given topic, the NGOs in question could arrange by their own independent initiative transient activities of the following type: Either

Note that no NGO need recognize any NGO not involved in the given transient joint activity in which it is interested - and of course is in no may obliged to respond to any particular initiative from one of the interested NGOs.

5) Nowthe existing NGO joint conferences, committees, secretariats, can be conceived as being structures which have already gelled or crystallized out of the potential association, around particular topics of interest with different degrees of formality and permanence.

Examples of the different types of existing, permanent and semi-permanent, joint NGO structures are based upon:

6) But by using the flexibility inherent in the potential association concept, theses NGOs involved in any of the existing structures could together, quite independently and where appropriate, and of their own initiative, decide to "dissolve" that particular structure into the potential association, and recrystallize a slightly different structure or simply to create new structures in parallel. The potential association concept facilitates this, and provides such actions with a conceptual and information framework for any such change.

7) With respect to the UN system and the consultative status mechanism, some newstructures which might each be crystallized out at some future date, when appropriate, only for as long as is necessary (i.e., either once only, periodically, or as a permanent structure) are as follows:

8) The stress should, however, be placed not on the joint NGO- NGO or NGO-IGO organizations existing at any particular point in time, but rather on the ability to switch flexibly to other patterns of NGO-NGO or NGO-IGO organization as new problems, crises and opportunities arose. These new coordinating or joint bodies might take any of the following forms:

The ideal would be to reach a peak of flexibility at which:

9) A very important feature of this technique is that the multitude of joint conferences organized according to subject, regional, or procedural interests, or geographical location of offices, is than recognized to be the most appropriate response to the need for contact at that particular point in time. Through the potential association mechanism, attention is constantly drawn to the possibility of other

Any of these might prove to be a more appropriate response at a later point in time. In this way, cumbersome plenary conferences need only be used when essential.

The potential association mechanism is therefore one which keeps the NGO organizational resources in a state of preparedness for any new form of combined activity -- for which the most appropriate combination of organizations cannot be predicted. In this connection, note the importance of this technique for response to crisis - whether procedural or natural

NGO interaction is therefore maintained at a maximum consistent with the desires and interests of the "potential associates" - hopefully this will evolve with the flexible assistance of the potential association mechanism to more and more fruitful forms of NGO-NGO and NGO-IGO activity.

The potential association mechanism does not involve any form of "recognition" at the stage when information is exchanged by "potential associates" with the central Secretariat. There is, therefore, no reason why intergovernmental bodies, UN agencies, or any individual agency departments should not be held on the mailing lists as potential "associates" -- unilaterally recognized as such by the central Secretariat.

In this way, on a given program topic - whether of governmental or non-governmental origin -- the exchange of information may lead to the crystallization of one of many forms of joint NGO-IGO activity in a particular case. The potential association mechanism, therefore, constantly draws attention to new forms of inter-organizational joint activity (irrespective of whether NGO-NGO or NGO-IGO, or even IGO-IGO). Hopefully, this will evolve over time into collaboration of greater and greater effectiveness.

10) There are two additional features of the potential association mechanism:

  • a) Just as individual NGOs and their objectives do not benefit in the long run from an isolationist strategy, so the effectiveness of the totality of the NGOs will be severely threatened unless the improvement of their own mechanism is meshed with that of the national NGO mechanisms which are the base and justification for international activity. In this context, two types of national NGOmechanisms may be distinguished

    b) In a similar manner, it is insufficient for NGOs to be satisfied that NGO-NGO and NGO-IGO, and NGO-national interaction mechanisms are satisfactory. Any NGO- oriented mechanism must be structured to mesh with IGO- IGO- information systems, particularly in the UN system, as they are created. Such information systems, once launched, are liable to develop much more quickly - if more inflexibly - than NGO mechanisms. Nevertheless, it is vital that NGOs systems should bo in a position to intereact with IGO systems.

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