An NGO Collective Long-term Objective
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Printed in: International Associations 24, March, pp. 151-154.
extract from: International
Organizations and the Generation of the Will to Change: the information system
Joint action, however tentative, needs to be guidedby some insight into the
direction in which it is desirable to move. Where do NGOs want to be 10 or
15 years hence? What do NGOs except to be achieving at that time? What mechanisms
do they expect to be using?
These are questions worthy of very careful study. Similar studies have been
made in other fields which have noted the possibilities of dramatic changes
in organizational ide generally. How can an NGO act now to ensure that it
will be relevant to the problems of the near and more distant future?
As an indication of how such an objective is formulated, the following is
cited from the preface to a study by the Committee on Bibliographical and
Documentation Services. (Chairman L. Larry Leonard), of the needs of association
Those in quest of a more effective information system in their field can
now be quided by on image of the ideal drawn in bold strokes by the National
Academy of Science's Committee on Information in the Behavioral Sciences under
the Chairmanship of David Easton. The ideal is here portrayed as a computer
analogue of the available, intelligent, and informed colleague. Such an ideal
colleague would read widely, have total recall, evaluate what he read; he
would be able to reorganize materials, recognize fruitful analogies, and synthesize
new ideas. In addition, the ideal colleague would always be accessible and
available to all, either in person or by phone. Finally, he would be aware
of the general intereste and current problems of each scientist, and he could
adapt both the content and style of his communications to each researcher's
knowledge, skills and habits. To approximate this ideal, and perhaps one day
achieve it, requires the fashioning of a complex of components incorporating
computer and telecommunicatins technology.
This shows the scholar's ideal environment. Could NGO's define their own
ideal working environment as a guide both to their own actions and to those
of the governmental bodies with which they are in contact?
It is curious that NGO's, who are so forward thinking with respect to the
desirable changes that need to be made in the world, are so reticent and apparently
lacking in courage on the question of the impact of these changes on their
own methods of organization, operation and cooperation - whereas
paradoxically it is the organizations which are least concerned with the
future of the world as such (rather than for their own benefit) that are most
creative and imaginative In the evolution of now and more adequate organizational
forms. Advocators of change should be more than willing to preparetheir
organizations and mode of operations for the consequences of the changes
they advocate - or else find their resolutions faced with the retort. Physician
heal thyself. It is precisely this remark which may emerge from the debate
within the UN on the function of NGO's and the consultative relationship.
In the following sections an attempt is made to summarize some of the
features of an ideal NGO working environment to stimulate debate on these
The activities of International NGOs should be facilitated by International
conventions covering such points at the following :
international legal statut (whether "recognized" by UN Agencles
or not) and special status in the countries in which it has its offices.
- right to be informed of programmes, problems and organizations affecting
its area of subject, programme or problem competence,
- right to exercise activities in other countries.
right to negotiate and be rapresented at governmental meetings on
its special field of competence.
right of participation in the formulation of programmes to combat
social problems which are its special field of competence,
right of its national member bodies to participate fully in international
right to inviolability of offices as well as correspondence and telephone conversations,
right to protection of funds and assets against Intervention by public authorities.
right of access to media of mass communications.
right to protection against any discrimination in matters of affiliation and activities.
right of access to voluntary conciliation and arbitration procedures.
right of members to further education and training.
These rights should be recognized as a natural extension of human rights,
necessary for the adequate protection of the latter. (This list, with the
exception of the first two points, is an adaptation of that established
by the Committee on Trade Union Rights of the International Labour Conference,
54th Session (1970) in a resolution on trade union rights and their relation
to civil liberties. The ILO Director-General Is instructed by the Governing
Body to - undertake further comprehensive studies and to prepare reports
on law and practice In relation to these rights with respect to trade
(See also : The Universal
Declaration of the Rights of Human Organization; an experimental extension
of the, Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man. International Associations,
1971. January, pp. 7-26).
Rights of NGO staff
- rights to certain privileges and immunities during the course of their
service with the NGO, particularly with respect to travel documents, residential
requirements, taxation, social security andpension rights.
The international conventions required should not function so as to favour
the creation and continued existence of permanent organizations (tending to
decay into a " series of memorials to old problems ") but should
be structured to as to facilitate the formation and operation of ad hoc,
transient, short-life bodies constituted and dissolved rapidly In response
to specific problems. Hopefully legal recognition of both national and International
bodies can be automated to the point at which (possibly provisional) registration of both the organization and its interests can be made at one of many
computer terminals (such aswill be found in post offices) In a manner somewhat
analogous to the current automated issue of flight insurance contracts at
transient nature of organizations linking a rapidity-changing network
ofbodies and individuals
- need for rapid legal recognition
- need for sophisticated weighted voting procedures to permit the existence
of morecomplex organizational patterns (on this point see International
Associations, 1970 February, pp. 67-79.
and the relationship of all three to the future world-wide computerized informationsystem, require careful reexamination of the legal concept of "
in relation to the rapidly evolving operational definition particularty
In so far as an outdated legal conceptcouldseverely retard, rather thanfacilitate,
the evolution of organizationalforms adequate to the problems and opportunities
of the future.
NGOs should be able to eliminateall the current delays in their contacts
with intergovernmental organizations, other nongovernmental organizations,
multinational corporations and the mass media, whether these take the form
of initiative from the NGO or from outside in response to the NGO's programme.
In particular the relationship between organizations and potential NGO's
information should be considerably accelerated.
It is very important when an outside body desires to make contact to be able
to respond before the interest "
wears off "as ittends to do rapidly at the
moment with the delays built into the postal system and the procedures before
a letter can be appropriately answered. The goal for NGOs is to be able
to respond to an inquirer before his "thinking momentum" inrelation
to the NGO's activites is dissipated. Whilst such delays and hindrances are
accepted, many potentially valuable contacts are lost - this loss
represents a loss resources and support for the whole international network
A few years ago, the UAI offered to give some publicity to a booklet on NGOs
by one of the NGO corderences. The horrified response of the person responsible
was. "But me do not want any publicity". .And yet Curtis Roosevelt,
Chief of the ECOSOC NGO Section, has repeatedly stressed that government
delegates still do not know what NGO's are, what they stand for, or what the
contribute to the UN system (or any government operation, for that matter).
This is a major reason for the negative votes on NGOs in government assemblies.
Some form ofcommon public relations programme could be envisaged which
would establish continuing professionalcontact with the press and news media
around the world - regularly feeding them copy on NGOs. A fundamental
problem is that NGOs lack a public Image and operate in a vacuum of recognition
at the transnational level. Not only do they lack a public image, but NGOs
in general do not respond to the label "NGO". NGOs with one concern
lend to view those with another In the same manner as governmental officials
view NGOs as whole.
Each NGO should be able to have access to a pool of shared services in the
cities in which it has offices. These services might, as appropriate, take
the form of any or all of the following :
a) low cost rental In a modem office centre reserved for internationally
active non-profit organizations. Such a centre could also house :
UN and UN Agency Information Offices, and in the developing countries,the
UN Agency Representative responsible for coordinating country-level
international activity. This would facilitateIGOINGO interaction and would
ensure optimum use of UN Information, especially if an integrated libraryinfromation service could be developed with INGOs. This approach would
counter the current tendency for Information services to be underused and
- National Commissions of UNESCO and other Agencies.
National NGOs with international activities.
- National Inter-NGO organizations. This would facilitate interaction between
thenational and international levels.
- foundations interested in international activities. This would improve
understanding between fund sources and programme-imptementers.
- National Institutes of international relations (and the associated liIibraries) to facilitate interaction between academic and operational programmes.
- International press agencies, both at a source of Information and a means
of increasing knowledge of NGOs and their programmes.
b) special services, possibly in the above centre, for organizations not
requiring full-time permanent office accomodation:
temporary offices on an hourly or dally basis for small organizations
requiring only a part-time secretariat and for visiting representatives
of organizations based in other countriesIrtes.
- letter boxes for the mall of organizations without fixed permanent offices
but requiring apermanent mailing address.
- temporary offices for ad hoc, project or campaign organizations, particularty those constituted at short notice in response to natural disasters.
- shared use of high-quality modem office equipment (duplicators, offset,
photocopy, addressograph, accounting machine", franking machines. etc.)
which ara not economically Justifiable for a single organization.
- services which can be associated with the presence of many NGOs in the
same building (telephone exchange permitting "
conference calls ", receptionist,
porter/messenger/handyman /concierge, cafeteria /restaurant, travel agent,
bank, post office, telephone answering service, telex, reception area/reading
room, library, film library, videotape library, photograph library, record
fire/theft/ security vaults, etc.)
- joint services which can be run under contract for groups of interested
NGOs (mailing and despatch services, accounting/ book-keeping, duplicating
and printing, copy typing, typing of leiten dictated onto tape, office cleaning,
secretariat administration, use of computer time for mailing and research,
publication sales and distribution services, bulk purchases of office stationery
and supplies, etc.)
- professional services (accountant, lawyer/tax consultant, translators,
Interpreters, congress organizers,, fund raisers, agents to obtain paid advertising
for insertion in NGO periodicals, public relations officer, press and information
service. librarian, abstractor, consultants on the formation, organization
or programme Implementation of NGOs. consultants on governmental relations,
- shared addresses for distribution of periodicals or salesliterature (e.g.
conference reportsto UN Agencies, or publication lists to libraries) or lor
the galvanization of a network of agencies and fund sources in response to
- collective or shared representation services, particularity to resolve
the problem of adequate NGO representation at meetings of UN Agencies with
which they have consultative status. (This rather resembles the type of representationwhich acountry's diplomatic service offers its many government departments,
businesses, cultural organizations etc.). Also need lot effective lobbying.
Such services couldalso be made available on areciprocal basis to NGOs which
do not have their offices in that city. In exchange for representation at
Agency meetings in other cities.
shared meeting rooms with simultaneous interpretation and audiovisual
Any or all of the above services could be run as a cooperative. This is a
thoroughly explored formula for partially associating independent agents
in a limited collective enterprise. (Undoublecly the views of the international Cooperative Alliance would be most valuable on this point). It is very
important to note that the more services that NGOs succeed in pooling the
more their overhead expenses will be reduced whilst at the same time diverting
founds from the commercial sector into the cooperative itself such that
the cooperative profits to the bene?? of the grouped NGOs as a whole (e.g.
the case where NGOs spend founds in their own cafeteria restaurant) There
is no reason why the existence of the cooperative should not be the basis
for a number of other services:
- sharing of some staff over holiday periods.
- group insurance and pension schemes for secretarial and other staff in
the centre who might otherwise be tempted to seek employment where there is
greater long-term security.
Nor is there any reason why the centre, as a cooperative, should not come
to an agreement with other centres in other countries to facilitate:
- mobility of secretariats and the establishment of regional or subsidiary
staff mobility and professional advancement without lose of financial
oparational contacts (e.g. talex links) to facilitate coordination of
activities initialed at different centres(e.g. New York and Geneva) or between
international centres and there rational equivalents.
If it is desirable that NGOs should be strong and effective in their chosen
domain, then any problem or weakness they may have through being forced to
work as follows, should be eliminated:
in inadequate office accommodation which may discourage important contacts
as being a symptom of functional inadequacy.
- with out of date equipment which produces poor quality results
- without thebenefits of a multitude of ancillary services,
- physically isolated form other NGOs with whom frequent contact could be
of benefit to the NGO's operations and the Initiation of joint activity...research
on creativity shows that a certain minimum number of people active in the
same domain need to be subject to frequent face-to-face contact (e.g. coffee
breaks) to provide the "critical mass" necessary for new and imaginative
solutions to a problem to be envisaged. It seemsto have been forgotten that
NGOs, collectively, contain amongst themselves all the expertise, in the
form of professional services, needed to make their combined operations highly
successful. NGOs should perhaps consider these points in relation to the needed
imaginative, multi-disciplinary, multiagency programmes which must be developed
and implemented in response to Increasingly complex global problems. A network
of International centres is a step in the right direction.
The poor working conditions described above should be eliminated.
NGOs have four problems with regard to funds which should be overcome :
Locating fund sources
NGOs should be able to use an Information system to locate Individuals,
foundations and governmental programmes interested in making funds available
to NGOs in specific programme areas rather than depend on chance contact
as at present. Similarly the information system should penult the NGO to be
located by such bodies. The time taken for communication to be established
should be reduced to a matter of days or, in the case of natural disaster,
Locating channels lor programme funds
Similarly, NGOs should be able to use an information system to locale the
most appropriate international and national bodies through which to make available
funds for a specific programme. As above, in the case of natural disaster,
the time for communication to be established should be reduced to hours.
NGOs should be able to overcome the difficulty whereby fundsare voted every
two or more years for programmes which may become irrelevant during that
period in comparison with the need for new programmes adapted to newly detected
problems in the NGO's domain. Flexible fund allocation and distribution techniques
developed from the programme planning and budgeting system (PPBS) should
permit rapid and continuous modiftcation and funding of programmesin
response to new problems as they evolve.
NGOs should be able to reduce the current crude and expensive exchange of
correspondance which occurs before a potential member or supporter transfers
funds for dues or in support of a particular programme. Each action of the
NGO reported through the information system should result In automatic
fund transfers from supporters to the NGO's account (and from there to programme
accounts). This would be done as an extension of the current use of credit
cards to permit fund transfers to be registered via computer data links across
NGOs should be able to work with communication equipment which can overcome
the following barriers to communication:
Distance The geographical separation of NGO main offices (e,g. New
York, Geneva, Paris, London, Brussels, etc.) and NGO regional and national
branch offices (e.g. the developing countries) should be significantly reduced
es a factor hindering NGO activity. This could take the form of: subsidized
direct telephone lines between NGO centres permitting " conference calls
". subsidized telex lines, data links, etc.
Locating appropriate contacts The momentum of NGO activity should
not be lost at any stage because it is impossible to obtain the contact address
of aperson or organization (known or unknown) responsible for a given topic
or programme. This should apply not only with regard to single contacts but
also to multiple contacts (e.g. locating people or bodies which might wish
to participate in a given project; setting up a mailing list for the distribution
of a fact sheet during the life-cycle of some crisis). A series of International
referral centres may be an intermediate step.
Locating key problem areas The momentum of NGO activity should not
be diverted temporarily into operational cul-de-sacs at any stage because
of assumptions (known by some NGO in the organizational network to be incorrect)
about the relationship, or lack of relationship between, subject, programme
or problem areas. The communication equipment should guide the NGO user
across discipline boundaries in locating the key problem areas (and corresponding
contacts) where use of minimum resources has a maximum chain-reaction of "
multiplier effect " on the solution to a series of dependent problems.
Information overload NGOs should be able to use the information
system to register (on a daily or weekly basis) precisely
those fields in which they are inrested
- those fields which some consider relevant to their own but in which they
are not interested
with the assurance that this will ensure that other bodies will automatically
send documents, etc, corresponding to these limits - thus eliminating
the need to receive and read piles of documents to locate a few items of relevant
The interests registered by the NGO may be interpreted by other bodies as
being related (in terms of their perspective) to other subject, programme
or problem areas in which the NGO should be interested and about which it
may not be aware. The receiving NGO should recognize that it is essential
for it to remain "open" to information sent on the basis of any
such new understanding of the relationship between problem areas.
Inability to understand It should be possible to use the information
system to guide the user, as a " learner ", to greater understanding
of a particular subject, programme, or problem areas as it proves increasingly
significant to his NGO. This feature will become increasingly important as
specialization, organization and the pace of change oblige everyone to re-learn
continually to be able to respond to advances in understanding in their own
fields. Each NGO, and eventually each individual, should be able to participate
in a two-hold continuous process of interaction with a world-wide information
supplying specialized data to the system within its field of special
competence for the benefit of its members and other users
- retrieving information form the system on matters which it considers
relavant to its field of competence for essential to the administration
of its programme.
Supply of information by NGO
Each NGO should be able to supply to the system the details of:
its future meetings and the substantive matter topics to be discussed
topics of resolutions arising from meetings .
- topics of new projects of programmes on which the NGO is engaged
- new problems which it believes it has detected
- topics of new reports which it has produced
- names and addresses of contacts of the NGO who should be alerted automatically
if information on a given topic enters the system anywhere around the
Each NGO should feel assured that every " event " which it supplies
with reference to a given topic is automatically signalledto IGOs, NGOs,
governments, universities, etc., around the world which have already Indicated
continuing interest in that topic to the system.
Due to Increasingly rapid evaluation in understanding, of the many fruitful
alternative ways of categorizing, ordering, and interrelating disciplines
and problems, each NGO should feel confident that each of its now insights
into significant interrelationships across accepted subject boundaries can
be made known to the system in order to draw the attention of other bodies
automatically to new opportunities or dangers related to matters in which
they are currently interested.
Retrieval of information by NGO
Each NGO should feel entirely confident that it will automatically be alerted
concerning any of the following eventsaround the world on a given topic:
plans for or invitations to meetings
- proposals for or action on aprogramme
- proposals for the creation of an organization
- reports or documents
- resolutions formulated
- names and addresses (where nonconfidential) of persons or organizations
active on a given topic
- contractsor funds availability for programmes.
In addition each NGO should feel confident if a new problem is detected in
some other subject area which In any way affects its own field of concom,
then this relationship will be automatically signalled so that the NGO can
begin to receive information on events concerning the new topic as they affect
its field of competence.
Furthermore, given the increasing complexity and ?argonization of issues
and relationships between issues and the need for continuous re-learning,
each NGO should feel confident that it issues or relationships are signalled
by the system which, though supposedly relevant (due to some one's new insight), cannot be comprehended, then the system can be used in auch a way
as to make the relevance clear, using audio-visual instructional techniques.
Each NGO should be able to make use of such a sophisticated information system
in the full knowledge that the cost to the NGO of entering any event info
the system will be shared equitably between the NGO (wishing to inform certain
categories of persons or organizations) and persons or organizations (wishing
to be informed on the topic in question). And in addition, when neither the
budget of the NGO nor that of the bodies desiring to receive the Information
(i.e., low resource bodies or those of "borderline relevance", from
the sender's viewpoint) will ensure that the information is transferred, re,
sources from agencies interested in subsidizing communications on the topic
in question should automatically be drawn upon to maximize the number of bodies
The existence of such a world information system would be a disaster rather
than a boon II provisions were not made for the following features :
means of insuring that the very existence of the system does not create
an elite of users and a multitude of organizations and persons
excluded from participation because of costs or other criteria (creating
a further gap between developed and developing countries).
- means of administering the system to bo as loose, open, and democratic
as possible, such that no group can control its use or misuse the data it
- means of using the system such as to permit NGOs to detect, make known
and democratically counteract use made of It which they consider unbeneficial.
The stress has been placed upon the perspective of the nongovernmental organizations.
But clearly sucha world information system would be of diminished value without
the full participation of governmental and profit-oriented bodies, with programmes
on problems of significance to society as a whole. Given the increasing importance
of ad hoc bodies and the shorter life cycles of organizations, it is essential
to extend participation to active individuals who as potential members, executives,
consultants, representatives, initiators of new programmes, or detectors of
new problems, are the key to society's response to crisis, as well as being.
In many cases, the sole continuing link between a series of ad hoc organizations
on a given topic. (In this way the currently immutable organization is established
within the information system as a temporary pattern of relationships between
individuals or other organizations - to be dissolved In favor of more
useful of fufilling patterns when the members so choose).