Principles of Transnational Action
an attempt at a set of guidelines
- / -
Range of organizational styles
Implications of the use of "transnational"
Coordination and mobilization
Relationship with governmental bodies
Relationship with multinational business enterprises
Communication and facilities
Responsibility and rights
Published in: International Associations
25, March, pp. 138-144. rev ed [PDF version
Also in: The Open Society: report of seminar to reflect on the network of international
(a seminar in Milan of the Union of International Associations).
Brussels, UIA, 1973, pp. 104-114. Also French
, Italiano, Deutsch
To avoid confusion, repetition, and sterile debate in governmental or
nongovernmental assemblies, some clear statement describing the open society
into which we see ourselves moving is required, together with some description of the nature, functioning and interrelationship of the social entities
which are seen as having their place in it.
The following propositions were, in their original form, distributed to
Milan Seminar participants as an attempt to bring together various insights,
some of which derived from other working papers or from views expressed
by the participants in other contexts. The intention was to provide a starting point from which some form of statement could be built up to provide a
first set of guidelines to the desirable "style" of voluntary and
non-governmental action in the future.
In its present form, the text has been restructured and clarified in the
comments made. In addition, a set of action proposals has been related to
I. Range of organizational styles
styles of organization may be used in different cultures and
political systems to accomplish the same ends. Such organizations may be
either governmental or non-governmental, profit-making or non-profit, permanent or ad hoc, etc. They may even be replaced in some societies by
periodical readerships, radio audiences, demonstrations, "invisible
legally-binding agreements, information systems, or informal movements of
- improved and more comprehensive organizational typologies
are required, sensitive to organizational styles in different cultures;
- study required of the manner in which organization styles
can substitute for one another in different settings.
organizational styles at the national level give rise to equivalent
styles at the transnational level. Transnational organizations of different
cultures may therefore be organizationally incompatible, although having
equivalent functions with respect to their own cultural systems.
- study required of new organizational forms which could
link currently incompatible styles of organization;
- it may well be time to abandon the misleading term "international
nongovernmental (nonprofit) organization" (INGO). "International"
has increasingly the sense of "intergovernmental"; "organization"
is associated with formal legally-constituted, and, increasingly, with heavily
bureaucratized bodies. "Non-governmental" needs to be dropped, because
many varieties of mixed or "intersect" organizations are increasingly
important, particularly in developing or socialist countries -- also
in some cultures or language systems, "non" may well
mean something very close to "anti". In addition, to define "X"
as "not-Y" is a plain confession of inability to conceptualize "X".
The abbreviation "NGO" is meaningless to the uninitiated and particularly
to the many bodies in that category at the national level. A term such as
"transnational association networks" has a more positive, dynamic
connotation and takes the socially unrealistic stress off organizations as
II. Implications of the use of "transnational"
3) A transnational context avoids the need to structure thinking about all
activity crossing national boundaries in terms of the governments responsible
for those boundaries. There is less emphasis on monolithic or even monopolistic
government and more emphasis on the many different central, regional, or urban
administrative boundaries independent of any central control, or at least
without the need for it. Furthermore, in this more complex environment, less
emphasis is placed on the conventional categories (governmental, business,
nonprofit, etc.) so that the many blends of organization types do not have
to be forced into artificial categories. More emphasis is then placed on the
patterns of interaction of organizations -- of which the governmental component
may or may not be of major importance with respect to a particular question
over a given period.
- statistics on different types of social action at different
levels need to be considered within the same context, rather than separated
on the assumption that local and intergovernmental actors
do not interact.
III. Organizational network
4) No organization exists in isolation. It may have formal relations and
collaborative agreements with other bodies. It has regular information exchange
with some bodies and informal relations with others. The pattern of these
many types of relationship constitutes a network which is a major feature
of social organization.
- greater effort should be made to map out organizational
relationships as networks so that organizations can see their direct and
indirect relationships to one another. (Inter-organizational maps should
have the same status and accessibility as road maps in order that people
can move more effectively through the social system);
- computer-based information systems should be designed
to facilitate and reflect the growth of inter-organizational links.
5) The inter-organizational network is constantly evolving in response to
new insights, values, possibilities, problems, and developmental needs. It
is therefore less the pattern at any one moment which should be the focus
of concern and much more the pattern-forming potential of organizational subunits
and active individuals. It is this pattern-forming potential which enables
the individuals and organizational sub-units to generate new groupings appropriate
to new crises.
research is required into the manner in which organizational ecosystems
evolve over time and in response to new concepts, technologies and problems.
6) The system of organizations can be viewed as a switching network which
transfers communications along complex paths through society, filtering, colouring,
amplifying or reinforcing the information in unforeseen ways, which change
over time as the network adapts to new situations. The time taken by these
social communication processes, even if technically rapid, ensures that groups
are maintained in relative isolation and therefore adapt differently to information
as it filters through to them.
study is required to establish the degree of relative isolation and
privacy necessary for organizations to provide participative, creative environments
and guarantee optimum variety and response to crisis.
7) The degree of interconnectedness and direct or indirect interdependence
of organizations suggests that, where two organizational systems have common
or complementary concerns, it is shortsighted and counterproductive for the
first system to request the second for assistance in the accomplishment of
its own objectives -- and to ignore the second when it pursues the same
objectives in a different manner. Both should rather seek to improve their
functioning as interdependent systems and ensure that their operations mesh
and reinforce each other effectively.
information systems are required which map problems and their interrelationships
showing also the organizations concerned with each problem and their interrelationships.
8) The representativeness of an organization is a complex matter; many cannot
be geographically universal because of constitutional limitations which explicitly
or implicitly constrain them to regional focus; others, though universal in
intent, have no counterparts outside a particular region, either because of
the highly specialized or geographically limited significance of the concerns
of the organization, or because there is some incompatibility in the constitutions
of the potential national counterparts with the transnational body.
statistics on organizations should distinguish more carefully between
types of organization.
9) The characteristics and performance of an organization should be judged
as much by the manner and extent of its interaction with other bodies as by
any quantitative evaluation of its size or programme. "Insignificant"
organizations may be very important communication centres in a network.
weighted formula for evaluating organizations should be developed
to measure more than one characteristic of an organization.
10) Improvement to the functioning of the network of organizations is achieved
by focusing on the network as a whole, and not by concentrating exclusively
on the performance of one body embedded in the network.
11) Evaluation of an organization, whatever the quantitative conclusions,
should recognize the significance of the organization as a focus of a community
of interests. It may constitute a node of (possibly direct) importance to
the network or organizations in which it is embedded, as a socializing force
for those involved, and, through its activities, as a vehicle for social development
of those participating in those activities.
VI. Coordination and mobilization
12) There are natural limits to the extent to which non-governmental action
can be coordinated with present methods. Assemblies at which more than 6-10
bodies are represented can reach action-oriented consensus only with difficulty,
since above this number of organizations, adequate dialogue and participation
becomes increasingly impracticable and without it no satisfactory consensus
can be achieved.
the technique of using small organizational ad hoc task forces to
handle very specific problems should be developed. Formation of task forces
should be facilitated by designing participative programme information systems.
13) Transnational organizations are faced with a two-fold problem of coordination
between geographical areas and of functional coordination across disciplines
or modes of action. In part these may be sidestepped by regionalization and
specialization, but the fundamental problem of interrelating differing fields
of interest remains and must be solved in order to handle multidisciplinary,
global problems adequately.
14) The interlocking complexity of the non-governmental sector may be considered
a major insurance against undetected manipulation of social processes by elite
groups -- provided that such bodies have sufficient freedom of action to fulfill
techniques of analyzing organizational networks should be developed
to determine their degree of flexibility and freedom.
15) The degree of fragmentation of the non-governmental sector in part reflects
the need for sufficient organizational frameworks through which active individuals
can meaningfully participate in the social process with a sense of freedom
of action and opportunity for personally significant contributions.
the conflict between coordination and mobilization for development
programmes and the inhibiting effect of such directive action on the social
development of those mobilized should be examined.
16) The network of organizations permits all the decentralization necessary
to satisfy the need for autonomous organizational development and individual
initiative. If supported by an adequate information system, it also provides
for very rapid centralization, canalization and focusing of resources, the
moment any complex problem (or natural disaster) emerges which requires the
talents of a particular configuration of bodies. The centralization is only
binding on the organizations concerned with the problem in question, and for
the period during which they have common cause.
design of rapid response, participative information systems.
17) The network of organizations is not "coordinated" or "directed"
by any body or group of bodies. Organizations adjust and continually redefine
their own programmes as a result of interaction or in response to other bodies
in the network. This is a process of "auto-coordination" which is
as successful as the information system upon which it depends; the network
is "self-directing" and "self-adapting".
research into the functioning of organizational networks with respect
to the problems of coordination, autonomy and the preservation of adequate
variety in the absence of any prime controller or any single permanent objective.
18) Any attempt by a particular organization to mobilize all other organizations
in unquestioning support of its own programs reduces the overall ability of
the network of organizations to respond to unforeseen problems.
mobilization against problems should be converted from the old directive
style ("do it our way") to the participative style ("how
can we help you to do it your way").
19) Efforts by any one organization to coordinate other bodies or to force
them into any position of dependence for needed resources, information, or
recognition needs to be carefully assessed for patterns of structural violence
carried over with elitist-imperialist thinking habits.
techniques should be developed to map and analyze patterns of inter-organizational
relationship and dependence to detect evidence of structural violence.
VII. Relationship with governmental bodies
20) The system of transnational associations is often well-equipped to adapt
rapidly to new crises, or, alternatively, to undertake or maintain long-term
programmes. This complements governmental concerns and reaction-times with
respect to the intermediate time period (represented by the period of office
for which it has a mandate).
the functions of different types of organization with respect to different
time periods should be made better known. Government should resist the tendency
to pressure other bodies into adjusting their programmes to its own timescale.
21) The major concern of governmental bodies in relating to nongovernmental
activity should be the manner and extent to which an area of nongovernmental
competence can be defined without destroying the initiative, interest or commitment
of the organization in question.
computer based programme information systems should be designed to
map out systematically areas of problem competence and activity for all
active organizational units (whether governmental or non-governmental) so
that claims to particular areas can be made and periodically assessed.
22) In order to achieve greater application of existing resources to detected
social problems and to develop the social structure, governmental agencies
should facilitate the action of any non-governmental body with a commitment
to the problem in question, rather than demand that the body place its resources
at the disposal of the governmental agency.
VIII. Relationship with multinational business enterprises
23) Transnational associations play an important watchdog role in responding
to any harmful consequences which may arise as direct or indirect consequences
of the action of economic enterprises.
information systems accessible to associations should be developed
to map the specific areas of action of enterprises and their effects on
24) Transnational associations can usefully collaborate in some clearly defined
roles with multinational enterprises where such enterprises have definite
interests in social and environmental problems and the social consequences
of their activities.
models for such collaboration should be studied and developed so that
its possibilities and limits become clear.
IX. Issue areas
25) The network of organizations that make up the map of society is, as it
were, a sort of clear overlay against a page underneath it, which represents
the reality of the social problems to be solved. The overlay is out of phase,
so that there is always a mismatch between the programmes of organizations
and the reality of the problems that people think are worth solving. To surmount
this difficulty, it is necessary to depend upon the ability of organizational
sub-units, within the network to recombine with a minimum lag into new configurations,
better-equipped to cope with the newly-perceived problems. The network roles
and functions of organizations become of major significance.
design of rapid-response participative information systems incorporating
maps of the network of problems.
26) Many non-governmental organizations are of major importance to society,
either as generators of new values more appropriate to new conditions or through
their efforts to protect old values. The non-governmental sector may be thought
of as a value generating and conserving system.
study the function of associations with respect to value generation
and preservation and make the conclusions widely known.
XI. Social development
27) Facilitating and stimulating the emergence of organizations at the community
and provincial level leads to an overflow of organized social activity onto
the national and transnational level.
studies on the facilitation of international activity should break
down the artificial separation between international, national and local
data. Systematic facilitation of local association activity within a country
should be seen as contributing to increased international activity.
28) The development of each organization generally has second and third order
consequences harmful to its natural or social environment. These consequences
can form the focus of concern and the field of action of new organizations
in a manner significant to social development.
- study should be made to establish a healthy range for
the number of social tensions and problems as opportunities for the involvement
of more people in the response process, thus contributing to their own social
- means should be developed to identify the negative consequences
of particular programmes and call attention to them as action opportunities
for new bodies.
29) Society as a network of evolving organizations constitutes a learning
environment in which the continuing emergence of new problems, major and minor,
provides an important domain within which bodies may find the opportunity
for meaningful action by organizing to resolve the tensions so created.
study should be made of the relationship between organization learning
and development and individual learning and development as two aspects of
social development. The results should be made widely known.
30) There is an intimate relationship between the network of problems recognized
by a society, the value and concept systems evolved by that society, and the
network of organizations which mediate between them -- integration or fragmentation
in any of these domains during its evolution can propagate itself into the
others and have important positive or negative effects on human beings in
study should be made of these processes and their implication for
XII. Participative opportunity
31) The degree of organization of a society is one measure of its degree
of social development. The number and variety of organizations or officeholders
per capita is a measure of the participative opportunity or socializing potential
of that society. Such data should have the same status for development policy-making
as that on economic units.
statistics on organization units should acquire the same status and
utility as those on the individual and on countries. Much
greater effort should be made to collect such data within each country
and to publish it in the various international statistical yearbooks.
32) The transnational association system provides the only nonsubversive
action opportunity open to concerned young people disillusioned by (government,
military, business, academic, and religious) establishments and bureaucracies,
and close to total alienation from society.
the gap between youth organizations and conventional associations
should be reduced so that the latter can provide more meaningful opportunities
for individual action and involvement.
33) Transnational associations offer a means of canalizing, facilitating,
and focusing the activities of committed individuals to achieve maximum contact
with respect to the concern in question.
information systems on the organizational universe should be made
accessible to individuals and help them in their choice of action opportunities.
XIII. Communication and facilities
34) Provision of low-rent office and meeting facilities or other shared administrative
services in one centre within major cities brings a variety of organizations
with potentially-related concerns into fruitful informal contact. It increases
their effectiveness, leads to working contacts where and when appropriate,
provides the "critical mass" required for mutual encouragement and
outside recognition. It ensures the conception and germination of new programmes,
and provides facilitative bases for newly-established bodies during their
early growth period.
various formulae for such centres should be studied and proposed to
facilitate local and national level action, as well as international level
action in a particular country.
35) Provision of low-cost communication facilities (telephone, telex, datalink)
between organizations in centres in different countries permits organizations
to regionalize more effectively, and to mesh their programmes more effectively
with those of other bodies. This ensures more effective and rapid response
to emergencies, and increases their ability to interact with their counterparts
at the national level, and with other field-level programmes.
the relationship between communication power and interorganizational
effectiveness should be studied and proposals made to improve the current
XIV. Responsibility and rights
36) Disregard and contempt for the rights and significance of human groups
have resulted in irresponsible acts which have eroded vital social structures,
processes and cultures. They have opposed full participation of all concerned
groups in the solution of social problems and the compensation for inadequacies
in each body's activities. They have caused the creation of an impenetrable
maze of non-interacting social organs.
an essential part of any new programme should be consultation and
contact with organizations with competence in the area in question prior
to finalization of the programme.
37) Provision of status in international law for transnational associations
would considerably facilitate their activities and increase their effectiveness.
Such recognition should however avoid the imposition of artificial constraints
upon the network of organizations to give rise to a select class of isolated
unchanging entities which would obscure the presence of excluded bodies and
interrelationships of social significance.
attention should be given to the legal aspects of international association
activity, particularly when the absence of legal status hinders effective
38) Organizations, as participants in the social process, have responsibilities
for the well-being of individuals, other bodies, and society as a whole, in
the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The principal responsibility
is to make every effort to call attention to, or to counteract any, errors
of omission or commission in society which special expertise enables them
social groups should have right of access to sophisticated information
systems to communicate warning messages to responsible bodies concerning
new problems which they detect.
39) The programme of an organization, whether intended or not, affects a
wider sector of the organization's environment than it believes to be within
its domain of interests. Organizations that wish to deal responsibly with
their social surrounds must be capable of eliciting and evaluating responses
from those who realize they are affected but who are ordinarily silent, and
from those who are affected but may not realize it.
computer-based program information systems should be participative.
40) Organizations should have certain rights to protect them in the exercise
of their responsibilities. These include: right to be informed of matters
affecting its area of special competence; right to exercise activities in
other countries; right to negotiate and be represented at governmental meetings
in its special field of competence; right of participation in the formulation
of programmes to combat social problems in its special field of competence;
right of its member bodies to participate fully in international programmes;
right to inviolability of offices, correspondence, and telephone conversations;
right to protection of funds and assets against intervention by public authority;
right of access to media of mass communications; right to protection against
any discrimination in matters of affiliation and activities; right to access
to voluntary conciliation and arbitration procedures; right of members to
further education and training.
further study should be made of the rights and responsibilities of
international associations, possibly in conjunction with work on their legal