Challenges to Comprehension Implied by the Logo
of Laetus in Praesens
University of Earth

30 January 2005

UIA Survival: Separating Siamese Twins?

a challenge of conflicting cultures

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Introduction
Unrecognized sibling rivalry: UIA vs. UAI
Dissociation of the statutory UAI Culture from the operational UIA Culture
Survival vs Centennial celebrations?
Surrogate strategic decision-making
Erosion of integrity and ethical sensitivity
Hidden agendas?
Recommendations

Introduction

On 21-22 January 2005 a meeting of the UIA Bureau was held on the initiative of members of the Bureau, despite earlier reluctance on the part of the President. Members of the Bureau were unable to articulate an agenda for the meeting in advance - other than to 'review' the current situation. A draft agenda prepared by the Secretariat had been accepted with modifications by the Bureau and circulated to other Council members for information and to solicit possible inputs. Numerous documents on the situation were prepared - most circulated in advance. The prepared agenda was not followed and extensive time was devoted to points that had not been placed on it. Discussion of urgent matters was avoided.

Information was provided by the Secretariat concerning the cash flow crisis that was forecast to re-emerge in June-July 2005, partly as a consequence of having to repay the loan made by the UIA publisher to survive a similar crisis in August 2004, if income generating measures already put in place by the Secretariat are less successful than forecast (subscriptions, etc). This crisis would result in immediate inability to pay salaries.

The following account is a description of the circumstances that resulted in the author, as Secretary-General ad interim, renouncing this function during the course of the meeting. The function had been attributed by the Bureau meeting of June 2004 in order to take swift remedial measures to ensure the survival of the UIA through 2004 and 2005 - following the inability (for family reasons) of the elected Secretary-General, André Onkelinx. Survival through to June 2005 seems assured.

This account is extremely frank because a principal challenge in UIA decision-making processes is the marked tendency to hide behind formalities and politeness to the advantage of some in avoiding unpleasant management challenges and implementing effective responses to them. Any effort to acknowledge challenges is labelled as negative and unconstructive - to the point of being perceived as rude and inappropriate. Use of criteria of politeness ands due process as a form of procedural manipulation or blackmail is unacceptable - especially at a time when the survival of a 100-year old institution is threatened. A high degree of frankness is then called for from those who have invested decades of effort in ensuring that it thrived.

In engaging in this report, the challenge is to find a form that can help to reframe the debate rather than to exacerbate its dysfunction characteristics. This suggests that, although the 'UIA' is an apolitical organizaton, it is effectively faced with a political struggle to preserve and develop a particular set of values in the face of forces that would seek to eliminate them.

Unrecognized sibling rivalry: UIA vs. UAI

The point has been made that the 'UIA' is the expression of two cultures, which might well be described in terms of schizophrenia as two dangerously disconnected personalities (cf Secretariat note of 28 May 2002). These can be usefully labelled by the English and French initials of the Union of International Associations (UIA and UAI):.

Those in the UIA Culture see the challenges and opportunities of international organization in general (and civil society in particular) in relation to the technicalities of knowledge management within the information society -- and visibility on the web. Those of the UAI Culture see the challenges in terms of communications amongst duly qualified authorities assuring media impact - and are much frustrated by the lack of visibility of the 'UIA' in those terms. Whereas the UIA Culture is focused on the longer-term meaning associated with products and services, the UAI Culture is focused on the immediate meaning associated with meetings and speeches - the photo opportunities characteristic of modern politics. The fact that it is from the UIA Culture that revenues are almost entirely generated is a cause of underlying resentment between the two cultures. Those of the UIA Culture resent the inability of those of the UAI Culture to comprehend the challenges and opportunities of ensuring the 'thrival' of the 'UIA' in the 21st century information society, whether in terms of knowledge management, outsourcing or partnerships. Given their inability to generate resources, those of the UAI Culture resent the inability of the UIA Culture to make available to them more adequate resources to permit more frequent gatherings, with important speakers on important topics - however much these may be criticized as merely repetitions of statements made elsewhere to little detectable effect.

The dysfunctionality of the relationship between the two cultures is much aggravated by the fact that those of the UIA Culture tend to be either Secretariat 'employees', non-French-speaking members of UIA statutory bodies (in which their participation is thereby highly constrained, if not completely marginalized), or regular consultants. These asymmetries provide a means for dysfunctional power dynamics. The UAI Culture uses statutory advantage to inhibit initiatives of the UIA Culture even though . this may inhibit revenue generation. The UIA Culture is however able to use its technical skills and partnering potential to engage successfully in revenue-generating activities. The failure of the UIA Culture to generate income according to the terms of the UAI Culture is then a further source of resentment.

The UIA Culture values the ability to act innovatively to finance further innovation - evaluated by those who engaged in it in a manner consistent with the open source philosophy. The UAI Culture values recognition by external authority figures and due process irrespective of any subsequent appreciation of its significance. 

For an organization seeking to celebrate its centenary, it would be historically inaccurate to forget the lengthy dormant phases in war-torn Europe. In addition however is the not-quite-forgotten bitter inter-war rivalry between Geneva-based initiatives and Brussels-based initiatives - and how this played out in terms of coalitions of international organizations. In fact Geneva became the successful focus for coalitions of international associations -- but with minimal effective secretariats. Whereas Brussels became the successful focus for ambitious clearinghouse-secretariats -- with minimal formal mandates from coalitions of NGOs. The first might be said to correspond to the aspirations of the UAI Culture; the second to the reality of the UIA Culture. Ironically the key Bureau members associated with the UAI Culture even now have strong associations with Geneva.

Few people, if any, in the 'UIA' can be said to move freely move freely between the two cultures -- however competent they may appear.

All the above dimensions were evident at the meeting of the Bureau in January 2005:

Ironically the cultural divide was evident in an exchange of preliminary communications in which the title of the Summary of Activities of the UIA Secretariat was deliberately cited using 'UAI' instead of UIA' by a leading member of the UAI Culture. The primacy of use of 'UAI' in any English-language reference to the 'UIA' was asserted, despite extensive statutory evidence to the contrary. [In the documentary tradition of the Secretariat, editors are reprimanded or fired for such deliberate bibliographic inaccuracies - anathema to the UIA Culture and destructive of 'UIA' credibility to reference librarians. It is however highly symptomatic of the identity crisis of the 'UIA'.]

Dissociation of the statutory UAI Culture from the operational UIA Culture

It is noteworthy that in the period July-December 2004, following formal recognition of the crisis at the Bureau meeting in June and the delegation of functions to the Secretary-General ad interim:

Survival vs Centennial celebrations?

Although the Council in October 2004 had specifically indicated that resources should not be allocated to these celebrations until they were available, the Bureau focused almost exclusively on the possibility of using the 2007-2010 period as a means to raise funds for the survival of the 'UIA' beyond June-July 2005. The credibility in the eyes of funders of seeking funds in preparation for a birthday so long before that event was not examined or questioned. It would be considered undignified, if not pathetic, on the part of an individual - or relatives of a nonagenarian.

Various conventional fund-raising approaches were optimistically envisaged - without questioning the probability with which they can be usefully associated. Many had already been extensively explored -- notably by André Onkelinx with respect to those in Belgium. Many offer only faint hope of success - at least in the short-term. Despite this, no due consideration was given to the need for alternative (or more radical) scenarios possibly involving liquidation, partnerships, restructuring, buy-outs, takeovers, etc - or the constraints on their fruitful outcome. Any such considerations were viewed as unconstructive and negative. The very real potential impact on livelihood of staff was ignored with the strong assertion that Belgian government social funds would provide any necessary support - which is in fact only the case for commercial enterprises and not non-profit bodies.  It was also firmly asserted that banks would provide a covering loan, despite the opinion of the auditor to the contrary.

As representatives of the UAI Culture, enthusiasm was expressed for holding small gatherings (financed by others) in the expectation that, directly or indirectly, these would engender sufficient income to survive the immediate cash-flow crisis.

One group held the view that the 'UIA' could invite key speakers on civil society to such a gathering. The 'UIA' would select the topics and speakers. How these might relate to the debates involving those same speakers (in events sponsored by other bodies) was not addressed -- nor how this was to be organized with current Secretariat resources. The focus was on the form, not the substance.  Curiously these initiatives had not been proposed or undertaken by the UAI Culture in response to the previous crisis period in 2004.

Another favoured approach was for the 'UIA' to present an 'interesting project' to potential funders. It was assumed that the Secretariat would articulate this project - as it has done with some success in seeking funds on many occasions in the past. The fact that projects proposed as credible by the UIA Culture of the Secretariat tend to be meaningless to those of the UAI Culture was viewed as an inability to respond appropriately to the priorities of the UAI Culture. The fact that the dysfunctionality of the clash between the UIA Culture and the UAI Culture had already severely eroded the capacity of the Secretariat to propose and implement projects with any enthusiasm was dismissed as irrelevant or 'incomprehensible' - despite extensive documentation provided  to that effect.

Surrogate strategic decision-making

Since the year 2000, the UAI Culture has accepted the placement of 'UIA strategy' clarification and elaboration on the agenda of its statutory bodies. Many documents have been elaborated from a UIA Culture perspective to help clarify these issues - notably the question of the 'identity' of the 'UIA', and the 'business it is in', or should be in. The agenda point has always been avoided in practice. Current initiatives point to ways in which strategy is effectively now being non-democratically and surreptitiously defined through proxies and surrogates:

Erosion of integrity and ethical sensitivity

Loss of integrity can quickly spread throughout an organization. In the case of the UIA Culture in the Secretariat it would have an immediate effect on the quality of work for which its products are admired.

Hidden agendas?

Although the 'UIA' is supposedly an apolitical body, it could be usefully argued that there are in fact several hidden power agendas in play:

Just what is who seeking to achieve? Whose cause is served by this?

Recommendations

Separate the cultures

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