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]
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
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:
in the eyes of the majority of governments and in the eyes of youth
in the eyes of those concerned with the future, such as Elise Boulding,
Professor of Sociology and President of the Womens International League
for Peace and Freedom "This means that one cannot accurately speak
of "world" images of the future emerging from these organizations.
The images of the futuresofar generated by NGOs are western images. Until
the transition to a more reality-based internationalism has been effected,
one cannot look for guiding images from this sector of world politics."
("Futurology and the imaging capacity of the West; the theory of the
image of the future." World Future Society Bulletin, December, 1970);
and even in the eyes of a contender, unexpected by either IGOs or INGOs,
namely the "other" nongovernmental organizations known as multinational
corporations: "The executives of the world corporations are the natural
hew loaders of apeaceful, humane world. In 1500 the papacy lost its dominance
over men's minds;in the 1960s the leaders of the nation-states have also
suffered a dramatic decline in confi- dence and power. The new world leaders
are the creative exec- utives of world corporations." (Arthur Barber.
"Global problem- solving; a new corporate mission." Innovation,
October 1970). And in support of this argument it is appropriate to recall
that less than 1% of aid passes via intergovernmental structures.
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.