Governments in Change Networks?

Posted by Steve Waddell in Net Dev, Policy/ad. on February 2, 2010

…GWP, TI, GRI, TAI, Global Compact, IUCN

In a new new study of four Global Action Networks (GANs – multi-stakeholder change networks), Pieter Glasbergen concludes that involving government is key to success. “First, mainstreaming of concepts can only be realized by governments or by their recognition of the private governance mechanism as an alternative tool to solve a collective action problem. Second, governments are also important because most GANs operate in an issue field with many competing private and public initiatives.”

However, governments are usually more difficult than businesses or NGOs to involve in networks as peers. That’s for two reasons: because they usually think of themselves as “being in charge”…after all, their key role is making laws and regulations with the power to enforce them. And then there’s that thing called bureaucratic process…often part and parcel of “due process” to protect rights, transparency and accountability.

Networks have diverse strategies to involve government. Some like the Global Water Partnership they have active control through their Board; in others like the IUCN they are partners in governance. But some networks simply try to avoid government in governance…look at The Access Initiative (TAI) and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). They purposely don’t have any place for government in their global governance. But look a bit closer, and you see important government connections.

TAI is giving life to Principle 10 (P10) of the Earth Charter which promotes participatory processes in environmental decision-making. Think “access to information” and “public reviews of environmental disasters”. Most countries in the world have signed onto the Earth Charter, and that’s TAI’s hook: working with governments to realize their Principle 10 commitments. But globally TAI is governed globally by NGOs, out of concern that they must protect the integrity of their work, which includes holding governments accountable to their Earth Charter commitment.

TAI takes a “learning” approach when conducting “assessments” of governments’ performance and aims to engage governments as participants. “TAI members recognize that governments are not monolithic; they are filled with allies and opponents,” comments Joe Foti, TAI Associate.

This leads to a diversity of TAI strategies. One is that TAI gains government legitimacy and help because it receives funding from the government agencies such as the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. TAI country coalitions find that it usually helps the national Ministry of Environment to have civil society on its side because the MoE is usually weak on finance, political power, and science. Judges in Argentina and the Ministry of Information in Mexico also have helpful roles.

In Thailand the TAI coalition includes an institute sponsored by the King of Thailand, which gives it legitimacy in government eyes. And in Africa, the TAI-Cameroon representative was asked to speak on the government’s behalf at a UNEP Governing Council meeting when the discussion was about adopting the draft guidelines on implementation of P10.

The GRI has developed a different strategy as it promotes environmental-social-economic reporting, by business in particular. Governments aren’t members because of a concern that they will turn the learning spaces of a voluntary initiative into a regulatory space that would reduce openness to experiment. However, the GRI has obtained “legitimacy” with government by forming an alliance with the UN’s Global Compact to encourage companies and corporate responsibility organizations to support the synergistic platforms of the Compact and the GRI.

The UN Global Compact is playing this role with other networks as well, such as Transparency International. The Compact is an initiative with businesses to align their activities with UN principles. The UN imprimatur of the Compact opens government doors for the networks, without taking on other baggage.

The Global Compact – a multi-stakeholder network “of” the UN – has one of the most interesting government strategies of any global network. “We knew it was important to leverage the good parts of the UN – the ideas of peace, development and human rights – and yet avoid falling into the trap of the machinery,” says Compact Executive Head Georg Kell. “But how to do it, we didn’t know. It evolved over the years.”

Today the Compact has public advocacy and executive branch support through the role of the Secretary General as Chair of its Board; it has the legislative support of the General Assembly and protection from undue individual country influence through a resolution of support the GA passes every two years; and it has access to the vast UN system at the national and global levels through an Inter-Agency Working Group that includes the UNEP, the UNDP and other UN agencies.

What are your experiences and strategies networking with government?

Announcement: TAI recently undertook a network-wide process to review and redefine its approach, strategy, and governance. The process will be the topic of a webinar with TAI’s Director and the change process leaders. Join us on Feb. 17, 6:00am US/Canada Westcoast; 9:00am Eastcoast; 14:00 UK, 15:00 Europe, 21:00 Philippines/Malaysia. Go to

  • Browse the Archive

  • Subscribe via RSS or email

    Click here to subscribe to our RSS feed, or receive our blog posts by email.