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Four Roles for Change Networks in Global Policy

Posted by Steve Waddell in Policy/ad. on April 13, 2010

We all know that global policy making is pretty weak. Governments sign lots of agreements. But then, more often than not, nothing happens. Networks have a crucial role to play in correcting the situation.

Networks embody two approaches to policy and advocacy. The more traditional is advocating that others change, and urging others to adopt particular policies. Here the network power comes from combining organizations for size and power of voice.

The second approach is to gather diverse stakeholders together as peers who recognize that new approaches are needed, and collectively develop them. Here networks act as laboratories where diversity produces innovative, whole-system approaches that can be quickly disseminated through the participating organizations.

Networks for Global Policy Change

Global Action Networks, being multi-stakeholder, emphasize the second approach. Wolfgang Reinicke who introduced me to global multi-stakeholder networks, looks at them through a political science lens. He calls a similar group of networks Global Public Policy Networks (GPPNs) and emphasizes their contribution to resolving issues by producing global public policy and goods. I made a modest contribution to a 2000 report on this strategy to Kofi Annan, where Wolfgang was lead author.

Working with Tariq Banuri of the Tellus Institute, we built upon this work to produce the Figure below. This was first published in an article in Accountability Quarterly. It describes the traditional global public policy making process that produces international agreements and conventions such as the one establishing the UN and the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

GANs’ work can be framed as addressing weaknesses in this process. For example, The Access Initiative (TAI) categorically focuses upon giving life to Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration about participation in environmental decion-making; it was an empty commitment for most governments. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is doing the work that many thought should be done by international conventions.

In the national policy-making cycle there are basically four activities. Citizens (1) express their opinions to their elected representatives, who (2) get together in legislatures to debate what should be done. Legislatures pass laws and regulations that the bureaucracy (3) then translates into programs carried out by multiple organizations to (4) educate, enforce and take other supportive actions. If there is some controversy with this process, citizens are then able to go back to their elected representatives for changes.

Four Gaps

At the global level the underlying institutions such as effective legislatures, political parties, courts and regulatory structures are not present. Citizens have almost no options for connecting meaningfully with global decision-making processes, and this is referred to in the Figure as the participation gap. Participants must perceive that the actions of national governments in global policy making is legitimate and incorporates their views. When this does not occur, an ethical or values gap arises. The difficulty of identifying and organizing an effective response to implement international agreements gives rise to the operational gap. The fourth gap, the communications gap, arises as the need to communicate to citizens the global public policy goals and the value of abiding by their norms and rules. This should include incorporation of the global convention decisions into national laws and regulations.

Traditional advocacy NGOs emphasize filling the participation and ethical/values gaps and some communications gap work. They connect and mobilize people to pressure national governments to take specific actions.

The role of GANs is more nuanced. In general, they go about the difficult work of addressing the operations and communications gaps. The MSC is a strategy to address over-fishing, which is the topic of numerous conventions. It does not implement the Conventions, but works to achieve similar goals through certification and labeling of sustainably harvested fish products. Today over 12% of global capture production for direct human consumption has the MSC logo.

The MSC does not have formal government participation. However, another GAN called the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) began as a joint government, industry and civil society initiative to stem the flow of conflict diamonds. Today the trade in conflict diamonds is essentially stopped by the Kimberly Process, without offices or staff. It is an unusual approach because governments are not acting within a global inter-governmental convention, but they are acting with the support of the UN.

TAI’s approach is to create learning partnerships with governments, that use an assessment tool to analyze how governments are performing and can improve fulfillment of the Principle 10 commitments.

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