Frameworks for Global Change Network Strategy Development

Posted by Steve Waddell in Net Dev on February 7, 2011

A couple of weeks ago I spent some time with staff of the UN Global Compact Office (GC).  We used some frameworks from my work with Global Action Networks to explore their applicability and potential usefulness for the GC’s development.  Others involved with network development will find the experience of interest.

The GC is a multi-stakeholder UN initiative founded in 2000 to give life to UN principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption that have long languished as largely empty statements.  Its particular focus is integration of these universal values into the way businesses work.

We started with the seven strategic characteristics of GANs to test how appropriate they are for the GC, and to provide a new way to think about the GC’s strategy.  The seven strategic characteristics expand on three that GC Executive Head Georg Kell usually refers to as core: that the GC is a multi-centric, network-based, global-local initiative.  There is inherent value in minimizing the number of core characteristics.   However, problems can arise if a strategic characteristic is indeed core and it is not recognized as such explicitly because of a “necessary but insufficient” situation.  For example, if “voluntary leadership” is core to the way the GC works, but is not explicitly recognized as such, future changes might unwittingly inhibit the development of the GC.  The characteristics can provide a lens through which proposed actions are assessed:  does the action reflect the characteristics?  If not, can the activity be redesigned or should it proceed in any case?

GC staff divided into 4 groups and filled out the following table for the “current” and “aspired” state of the GC.

 The basic message from their rating is that staff identify strongly with the strategic elements of GANs:  not only is there currently quite high rating across the board, but the aspired state is to be more like a GAN.  This suggests that further application of the GAN frameworks will be useful.

There was high similarity of rating across the 4 groups, except for the aspired states for systemic change and voluntary leader.  The differences around “voluntary leader” appeared to be largely with some definitional confusion.  However, the differences with “systemic change” appeared to be more about different senses of the change strategy and the relationship between incremental, reform and transformation with the GC’s work.  This suggests that the GC could benefit from further discussion about this.  It could undoubtedly benefit from further thinking explicitly about how it operationalizes the characteristics, what is working, what is not, what the characteristics suggests should not be done.

We then explored application of the table What GANs Do (below).  This is about the function of a GAN in the “issue system” they are working to influence – for the GC, the system is the behavior of business.  Participants were asked to identify the important activities for the GC;  there was broad consensus that for the GC the most important are System Organizing, Shared Visioning, and Learning.  There was good discussion around “Advocating”, with the conclusion that this is important for the GC.  However, people questioned the use of the word “blocking”.  I find that “advocating” is always the most confusing activity for GANs, since doing this in a multi-stakeholder setting with voluntary leadership is quite different from traditional advocating.  This probably also deserves more clarification for the GC.

People were also asked to identify a program or project that they felt was an exemplary illustration of the activity.  With more time, this could have developed into a deeper discussion about what is and isn’t working, and what one program area of the GC might adopt from another in the context of the GC’s strategic elements.  However, the meeting aimed to just introduce frameworks so we moved on to the question of development stages with the table below. 

Behind this table is the idea that although at any one time GANs face questions and challenges from different stages, GANs can most powerfully develop by ensuring questions and challenges associated with one stage are addressed before tackling the challenges of the next stage.   If a Stage 2 question lingers while the GAN generally is tackling Stage 4, this will create problems.  In general the GC is advancing into Stage 4. 

One particularly unusual element given the GC’s age – arising probably from the high value of the GC’s grounding as a UN initiative – is the GC’s strong connection with a number of other GANs and the GC’s own development of associated networks (the “multi-centric” strategic characteristic listed by Georg).  The GC works closely with the Global Reporting Initiative and Transparency International, for example;  it sponsored Principles for Responsible Investment that is now an independent GAN;  it has a number of sub-networks organized around its principles and strategies.


The associated networks of GC, including the Global Compact Local Networks (in 90 countries), Caring for Climate, the CEO Water Mandate, Global Compact Cities Programme and the Women’s Empowerment Principles, need particular attention.  They are at a range of development stages.  These frameworks can be applied to each of them to see whether they are aligned with the strategy and function of the GC as a whole.  For example, do they have a similar approach to the seven strategic elements, participation and governance issues?  Do they “fit” within the broader GC’s strategy? And is it important that the associated networks have all seven characteristics, given the importance staff gave to them for the GC as a whole?  Maybe for some at least.

Given the entrepreneurial nature of GC and the associated networks’ development, problems with alignment would not be surprising.  If there is not alignment, the GC’s image will become “muddy” and associated networks’ development might be frustrated.  If the lack of alignment is core to an associated network’s strategy, it might be a good candidate for a spin-off.  And of course this raises questions about how this family of GC-associated networks should be connected.  The logic behind GANs is to support multi-centric action, and connections to a “parent” body may inhibit a networks’ development in ways that suggest spinning-off is a good option. 

As well there are questions about the relationship between the GC-associated networks and other GANs.  At what point does an issue field become so crowded that networks should consider merging or creating closely integrated strategies?

Lots of food for thought about GC’s development.

Comment on this item
  • Steve Wallis February 19, 2011 at 21:34

    Steve – a pleasure to e-meet you.

    in the same way that people within (and between) organizations must be interrelated to be effective, it is also true that there must be a high level of interrelationship within the structure of their theories/policies/perspectives for those to be effective.

    Many theorists and practitioners seek some “core” which is really a way to create a false simplicity of understanding. Instead, my research suggests that the core of a theory or policy is the part that is more closely integrated while the fringe is disconnected.

    If this sounds interesting – drop me an email – I can send you some articles and we can discuss some possibilities.



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