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Next Step in Inter-organizational Relationships

Use of information, rather than organization, as the foundation
for the inter-organizational activity of the future

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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. A revised extract of Part A appeared in International Associations, 1972, 24, May, pp 287-296 under the title Summary of the crises in inter-organizational relationships at the international level  [searchable PDF original with tables]

Specific proposals
A. Summary of the crises in inter-organizational relationships at the international level

B. Yesterday's problems or tomorrow's problems
C. A collective NGO, long-term objective
D. Checklist of possible points for discussion
E. Interdependence and isolationism
F. Summary of functions performed by NGO Conferences
G. The significance of the world network of organizations
H. IGO-INGO and INGO-INGO Relations: a possible approach
I. Opportunities and dangers in the development of NGO information systems
Annex I Wanted: a new social entity [PDF version]
Annex II Matrix organization and organizational networks
Annex III Sketch of a world action-potential information system


The Director-General of UNESCO clearly states in his "Long-term Out- line Plan for 1971-1976," on the subject of international nongovern- mental organizations (NGuc) and UNESCO National Commissions, that:

"The moment has therefore come, I believe, to make a thorough review of the way in which UNESCO collaborates with these two categories of organisations. Practices have grown up which, with the passage of time, have become mere habit. They should bo revised and, if need be, dispensed with, so that a new spirit -- a spirit of greater initiative and generosity -- may come into relations on both sides."

This series of notes attempts to show that the problems which gave rise to the above comments are also evident in the consultative arrangements with other Specialized Agencies of the United Notions system and are indeed symptomatic of a general crisis - in the relations between governmental and nongovernmental bodies (see Section A). If this is the case, then it is important to decide whether the incidents in the relations between IGOs and NGOs are to be considered as the problems themselves or merely as symptoms of some deeper underlying problem - as is to some extent implied by the Director-General's comment. If there is any possibility that the latter may prove to be the case, then remedies for the symptoms will merely enable the underlying problems to reassert themselves in new and unpredictable ways.

Restricting attention to the problems of NGO-IGO relations, obscures the fact that many such problems are in fact common to relations between NGO and NGO. No solution to the former can be satisfactory without a solution to the latter. A final aspect of the current difficulties of NGOs is that of lack of adequate resources and consequent ineffectiveness, whether in support of or independent of UN programmes. It is argued that this is an inter-organizational problem which can be solved by considering an inter-organizational solution (see Section A, part 3).

It is further argued that it is not sufficient to look at the prob- lems which have emerged in the recent past. A serious attempt must be made to examine the problems which are likely to emerge in the foreseeable future (see Section B) so that any solution imple- mented now will not immediately prove inadequate to the demands placed upon it - or alternatively will not cripple inter-organiza- tional activity to a sub-optimum level unrelated to its potential. An attempt has therefore been made to envisage the direction in which NGO activity will develop to highlight the problems and op- portunities of inter-organizational relationships which will arise and in terms of which decisions should be taken now.

In an attempt to broaden the debate in the interests of all non- governmental organizations concerned with the effectiveness of their relations with United Nations programmes, a list of points has been developed (see Section D) to indicate some of the topics that could be discussed - from those involving insignificant changes to major changes.

There is amarked tendency to restrict the debate to the relatively narrow circle of each individual NGOConference based on the belief that each such Conference is totally unrelated to any other NGO Conference. This view is opposed (see Section E) by showing that in fact there is a very high degree of overlap between the membership of the different NGO Conferences -- aside from the fact that each Agency recognises the interdependent nature of its relationship to other Agencies within the UN System.

Discussion of inter-organizational problems, and consultative ar- rangements in particular, is generally based on the assumption that it is possible to consider the administrative and programme relations between organizations without taking into consideration the people involved, either in their personal capacity or their capacity as representatives. This ignores some important functions of inter- organizational activity which must be considered in selecting any new arrangement. (sea Section F)

Another theme missing from the debate on the consultative arrangement is a recognition of the nature of the vast interlinking network of social structures which make up world society(see Section G) Some impression of this is conveyed, in a later section of the Oirector- General'sreport quoted above:

"Above all, UNESCO cannot hope to make an impact on the world unless it has a place for all the energies of a nature to as- sociate themselves with its efforts. Its programme must be devised as an appeal, a guide, a focus for the mobilization of these tremendous multiform energies ..."

It is this network which provides, the "hidden" background or context for the debate on the relationship between NGOs and IGOs. The con- sultative relationship linksare potentially most significant links, but their significance is derived from the extent to which the energies of the larger network are focused through them. If this network is ignored, however indirectly some parts are related to INGOs or the UN systems the international community is cut off from the sources of its strength at the national and grass-roots level.If the consulta- tive relationship problems are solved without considering the inter- organizational problems which have their origin in other parts of the world network then the continuing presence of the latter will quickly destroy any temporary benefits gained by superficial attention to the consultative relationship mechanism.

Just as UNESCO has to heed the warning given by the Austrian delegate. to the 1970 General Conference:

"It is unfortunately true that an organization whose activities and successes are known to only a few specialists simply does not exist in the mind of the public at large. UNESCO in par- ticular just cannot afford to be satisfied with recognition by an álite alone..."

so, INGOs in general cannot be satisfied with an inward-looking attitude either towards themselves or towards the consultative relationship - when neither is widely known to international rela- tions scholars, let alone to the "mind of the public at large." The consultative relationship can only fulfill its promise when it is deliberately related to other parts of the network and ceases to be "an old boy network club" (as one NGO representative recently expres- sed it) reducing "uninformed and irrelevant, outsiders" to acon- dition of apathetic frustrated onlookers (in those cases in which optimism persists). One possibility is described for galvanizing inter-organizational activity and the consultative relationship. This is based on the more dynamic useof information on the individual programme interests of NGOs and the possibility of facilitating much more frequent ad hoc inter-NGO activity (see Section H). This suggestion draws on descriptions of recent developments in inter-organizational techni- ques (described in two special Annexes), and hopefully by-passes most of the threats to autonomy detected in the rejected solution of NGO groupings. (An information system is described in Annex III).

No solution is ideal. The final section has, therefore, been devoted to the identification of some of the problems and opportunities which arise if an emphasis is placed on the use of information as an inte- grating factor in intern-organizational relations (see Section I ).

International NGOs should take a careful look at the threats with which they are currently faced: rejected by some developing countries, ignored in the conception and implementation of major UN programmes, criticized for their lack of effectiveness, ignored by the mass media, labelled as racist or government-front organizations by some govern- ments, considered insignificant by the majority of international rela- tions scholars, "outlaws" in terms of international law, considered outmoded by youth,handicappedby lack of resources, etc.

International NGOs, to some extent through their imitation of inter- governmental procedures, have lost their pioneering role:

This many-faceted crisis in NGO affairs should not be considered a disaster. In the evolution of social structures periods of crisis are inevitable and a sign of continuing growth. (The Chinese ideogram for "crisis" is a combination of the ideogram for "danger" and the ideo- gram for "opportunity".) The question is whether NGOs, in associa- tion with the UN system, can reject those habits which are no longer useful (and for which they are rightly criticized by youth) in order to seize the new opportunities available - or whether NGOs will cling to the outworn modes of operation, to be bypassed by new social processes.

Careful study is required to determine the most appropriate new methods needed to contain all features of the more complex NGO-IGO relationships or the future. In the next section some Specific Proposals are made which serve as a conclusion to the arguments and views expressed in the body of the report.


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