The World Network of Organizations
a symbol for the 1970s
Contribution to a seminar discussion of the Union of International Associations (Milan, May 1972) on new styles of organization management appropriate to the more complex social environment of the future. Published in International Associations, 24, 1972, 1, pp. 18-24. [PDF version]
Interdependence of Organizations
There is a widely prevalent tendency to think of organizations, particularly international organizations, as functioning within the social system like billiard balls on a table. In this view, they may "knock into" one another, but essentially they are completely unrelated to one another -- there is no permanent organic relationship between them.
This view resembles that which lies at the base of current environmental problems, namely that each factory can function in its environment as though its products had no significant effect on other parts of nature. In the past two years, however, it has become widely recognized that man exists in a very delicate and complex equilibrium with his environment --- any industrial activity may have consequences for any other. Each factory functions in a web or network of dynamic relationships with other factories, via the processes of the natural environment. To what extent is it recognized that every social activity of man -- the domain of most INGOs -- may have significant consequences for any other social activity ? It is, in fact, impossible to predict which organizations will give rise to problems by their actions, which other bodies wilt be affected, and which bodies will then be in the best position to undertake compensatory action. All social entities -- INGOs, IGOs, groups, national or local bodies, movements, and individuels -- are bound together in a delicate web of interdependent social relationships, in which each is autonomous and at the same time, dependent on the actions of others. It is a truism that "No man is an island unto himself" but it is not so widely recognized that none of man's organizations can function in isolation. This is clearly recognized for one field in the following extract from a speech by Henrik Beer, Secretary General of the League of Red Cross Societies, at the 15th International Conference on Social Welfare :
The excessive stress placed on the autonomy of organizations masks the links between them. Excessive focus on one type of link -- the consultative relationship with UN agencies -- de-emphasizes the many other links, formal and informal, between organizations of many types, thus rendering impossible any balanced understanding of the social system.
Can INGOs -- recognized or unrecognized by the UN system -- adopt any course of collective action which is so shortsighted and procedure-oriented as to expressly favor only isolated international organizations whilst ignoring the immensely complex world network of organizations of all types which stretches from the individual to local, national and international bodies to include the potentially highly-significant inter-INGO groupings ?
For that matter, can the UN agencies afford to encourage any action which fragments INGOs Into unrelated agency-oriented groupings at a point in time when the global crisis is completely multi-disciplinary and demands the utilization of every available resource ? Can the agencies and the many INGOs each treat the world network of organizations as an administrative problem when it clearly represents an unstudied social phenomenon? Is it not an unexplored global, network of organizational resources -- of which the governmental and business worlds are an integral part -- which has not yet been effectively related to the peace / population / food / development / education / environment crisis precisely because the functional relationship of all the parts to the social whole is repeatedly and systematically ignored in organizational decisions ?
Network of Organizations
It is no longer useful to concentrate on the problems of one "independent" organization or group of organizations (as though each operated as an autonomous frontier outpost surrounded by uncharted terrain). Not is it useful to focus on a single geographical region or subject area -- it is now essential to look at the problems of the network of interdependent organizations and their interrelated concerns. (The terrain is now charted and populated so that the previously isolated frontier posts can now link together to survive as a community.) The nature and complexity of interdependence between plants and animals in nature has been the theme of the whole environment/ ecology issue and the 1970 European Conservation Year. Perhaps this interdependence, still only recognized with great difficulty, between extremely different organisms can be used as a parallel to illustrate the nature of the interdependence between organizations of different types and social function. This social interdependence has yet to be recognized with precision despite frequent use of such terms as the " international community ". A century ago it was precisely this theme of interdependence between natural organisms which was forcefully stressed amid much controversy with texts such as the following :
The example showed how two species of flower were fertilized with the aid of humble-bees whose nests were attacked by field-mice, which were in turn preyed upon by cats.
With this perspective, what can be said of the relationship between such social structures as governmental, and nongovernmental, profit and nonprofit, formal and informal organizations, movements, periodicals, mass media, etc ? Is enough yet known of organizational ecology, namely the chains of interdependence between social organizations of totally different types, to be able to determine which actions of one type of organization will directly affect the operations and even the survival of which other types of organizations responsible in society for other funtions ?
In view of the ignorance of these interorganizational processes and of the ecological role of different categories of the social flora and fauna :
Styles of Organization
Within the above context, it is useful to look at different styles of organization, how they function and how they respond to their environment. The Traditional, Charismatic, and Classical styles are quite familiar. The Human Relations style has recently appeared on the scene, together with the Systemic style. These five styles are described and compared in Table 1. These five styles and their descriptions are based on an excellent typology given in: Peter F. Rudge. Ministry and Management ; the study of ecclesiastical administration. London, Tavistock, 1968. Descriptions have however been much modified in a number of cases, the sixth style and some points have been added.
Each succeeding style reflects a progressively greater concern with interdependence, but in each case with compensating weaknesses. The relationship between the different styles of organizations can be usefully illustrated in Figure 1. There is a progressive convergence towards a subtler and more sensitive type of social action, with progressibly smaller swings between the extremes shown in Figure 1. Each style of organization is of coure the most appropriate in a certain type of environment. But what style of organization is most appropriate to the complex environment noted in the earlier sections of this article ? Most management literature is full of descriptions of "systems management" as applied to large corporations and even to governments. Peter Rudge considers the Systemic style to be the most appropriate for complex organizations such as the churches with which he is especially concerned. And yet it is against the concept of a "system" that many left-wing and youth organizations are protesting. It seems certain that international nongovernmental organizations do not wish to conceive of themselves as being part of any system -- there is too much suggestion of coordination without respect for autonomy, or of being a "cog in somebody else's machine".
Working with the ideas in the earlier section of this article, and with highly innovative books such as that of Donald Schon (Beyond the Stable State. See article based on his book, by Anthony Judge, Wanted : new types of social entity. . International Associations,. March, 1971 p. 148-170), it seemed possible to identify a style of organization that combines some of the advantages of the Human Relations and Systemic styles and avoids some of their disadvantages. This can be termed the " Network Style ". It is described in Table 1 and is shown as the next swing of the curve in Figure 1. There is of course a range of systems management styles, and some would claim to include the Network style, but it seems as though organizations can become systems without becoming networks (The Systemic style defined in Table 1 has been modified from that suggested by Peter Rudge to clarify this distinction.). And it is the concept of a network of organizations which seems less constrictive and more fruitful.
Nature of the Network
In order for INGOs to survive and contribute effectively to social change in the 1970s there may be some advantage in attempting to define more clearly the nature of this new style of organization. It is as yet undefined because it is of less interest to business corporations for which inter-organizational relations are largely restricted to transactions which can be translated into financial terms. The case of nonprofit organizations is much more complex in many respects. INGOs need to work together to match the strength and demands of governmental and business programs. They also need to work together to ensure that the effects of their programs do not cancel each other out (e.g. in the case of environ mental programs), or compete with one another unnecessarily (e.g. in the case of educational programs in a particular locality). But in working together, they do not want to be sucked into an uncontrollable relationship under which their autonomy is threatened.
In a sense we are moving towards the idea that INGOs are autonomous bodies which at any one time may each have working links with " neighbouring "INGOs -- or may temporarily be working in isolation. As Figure 2 shows, this type of situation results in a network of organizations. It is not a frozen structure but a dynamic one. Each day new patterns of links are created some new links are formed, some links are terminated. Some patterns of links are more permanent than others -- but all links have their part to play in the activity of the network :
Network Action Strategy
The problem for INGOs is to develop a way of increasing the dynamism and strength of the network without retreating to the unsuccessful formula of the coordinating umbrella body -- which is probably following the dinosaurs into social history. Clues to a new action strategy can be obtained by looking at the now well-developed Systemic style.
The Systemic style has been specifically developed for closed-systems; that is to say for an organization and those parts of its environment with which it thinks it should be in contact. Every other outside influence is systematically excluded. But the relations
between the parts of the organizational system are conceived as being very sophisticated and subtle. It would seem possible to " translate " these features of the closed-system into open-system features by thinking of the INGOs not as interlinked parts of a closed system but as autonomous interdependent organs within an open society -- the social system as a whole. The Systemic style may then be said to be applicable to one organizational system, whereas the Network style is applicable to many interacting organizations. This might be considered a mere transposition of the Systemic style to a different level, but for one factor. In order for an organization to respond to the network environment of the open society, it must become less introverted and exclusive in its concerns, and as such one can speak of the emergence of a new organization style both externally for the network as a whole and internally for the organization itself. The stress is on interaction and interdependence, however the choice of interactant and form of relationship is entirely autonomous. Peter Budge (5) has summarized the characteristics of the Systemic style. In the light of the above comments, we can attempt to translate and modify these for the inter-organizational setting. The Network style may therefore be characterized by :
Each of these points concerning interorganizational relations may require some adjustment in the internal organization of the INGO and more specifically to the way the organization conceives itself. Although comment has been restricted to the INGO network, this is clearly intimately related to the network of governmental agencies to that of business enterprises and to that of the academic community.
The organizational network is an "organic" form appropriate to today's rapidly changing conditions which constantly give rise to fresh problems and unforeseen requirements for action -- requirements which cannot be rapidly and satisfactorily distributed to organizations working in isolation within rigidly defined programs. The network permits all the decentralization necessary to satisfy the need for autonomous organizational development and individual initiative. It also provides for very rapid centralization, canalization and focussing of resources the moment any complex problem (or natural disaster) emerges which requires the talents of a particular configuration or constellation of INGOs (or other bodies). The centralization is only binding on the INGOs concerned with the problem in question, and for the period during which they have "common cause" and in no way affects others in the network. The network is furthermore, multidimensional in character since INGOs may centralize themselves to different extents in many different partial networks and at the same time decentralize (or disassociate) themselves on other issues.
The network is not coordinated " by any body : the participating bodies coordinate themselves so that one may speak of "auto-coordination" rather than coordination. Similarly the network as a whole is not "directed" or "controlled" by any body, rather it is "self-directing" and self-adapting.
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