Global Policy Forum

Political Responsibility in NGO Advocacy Exploring Emerging Shapes of Global Democracy


Lisa Jordan and Peter van Tuijl

Europe's Forum on International Cooperation
April 1998



Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) manifest a new political reality in the global realm. NGOs have come to mobilize, articulate and represent people's interests or concerns at different levels of decision-making: locally, nationally and internationally. The central argument of this paper is that the relationships which emerge among NGOs engaged in advocacy across geographical and institutional boundaries are highly problematic. The dynamics in these relationships determine the quality of NGO advocacy, both in terms of its function as a substantive channel to articulate different development aspirations as well as in terms of effectively shaping new forms of democracy. This paper introduces a concept of political responsibility to describe representation and accountability in transnational NGO networks. Based upon different case-studies of NGO advocacy campaigns, the paper also introduces four typologies of relationships which may develop among NGOs, leading to different levels of accountability.



Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are working to contribute to the elimination of the structural causes of poverty, to the realization of human rights, to protect the environment and to achieve sustainable patterns of development. As these issues are multilayered and complex, NGOs worldwide increasingly cooperate across geographical and institutional boundaries to strengthen and improve the impact of their work. In this paper, we examine NGO relationships which develop in the process of promoting people's interests. We argue that relationships between and among NGOs, and relationships between NGOs and people whose interests are advocated by NGOs, come with a specific set of political responsibilities which need to be recognized and embraced by all NGOs, including those who currently believe their role to be subordinated to the realm of politics as they consider themselves operational NGOs or simply providers of services. However, the political responsibility of NGOs derives from the position of intermediary between different people who aspire to different things, which is the primary position of most NGOs.1

This paper is born out of the notion that NGOs urgently need to establish a more profound understanding of the political foundations of their work. The roles of NGOs in national arenas and in the global arena are contested. Economic forces which collectively represent the rich and powerful narrowly define the role of NGOs. If NGOs are not able to firmly center themselves and their political role in the global society, a narrow definition of their role will be thrust upon them - one which is apolitical and does not contest power relations. NGOs must grasp the bull by the horns and deal with the political responsibilities inherent to advocating on the themes of poverty, environment, human rights and sustainable development. This paper puts the NGOs' role in the realm of global political realities and focuses in particular on questions of democratic quality, representation, participation and accountability.

To highlight the political responsibility which derives from the NGO position of intermediary is controversial from all sides. International and national forces such as military-based governments or the World Bank which try to define NGOs as deliverers of social services (not including the service of defining and providing political rights) reject or avoid the concept of political responsibility towards recipients of those services. Many NGOs also prefer to deny having any direct political responsibility, especially those who accept that they are merely operational NGOs without a political or advocacy role. Lastly, many NGOs

who are consciously advocacy oriented will not totally denounce a sense of political responsibility, but will deny concepts tied to "representation", because they see their advocacy as a service to local communities which are perfectly capable of representing themselves. In this paper, we try to explore these forms of resistance to the concept of representation and argue that this is a problem which derives from political geography, the particular mix of geographical and institutional arenas within which NGOs operate. In NGO networks, the concept of representation is reconstructed through different NGOs cooperating in information sharing and in adopting a particular position in separate political arenas at the same time. The quality of the cooperation among the NGOs is the key to establishing what level of accountability or political responsibility will be achieved, especially towards the people whose interests are being promoted. This paper introduces typologies of NGO relationships which we hope will help NGOs to better understand how to perceive and deal with their political responsibilities.

NGO relationships manifest a new political reality in the global realm. High hopes are put on NGOs as a conduit for economic innovation, public participation and social progress, or at least as a competent substitute for public services on the national level.2 NGOs are particularly active, or pushed to be active, in a space where nation states recede, have disappeared or have otherwise lost their capacity to intervene, but where an effective system of global governance is still absent; in other words in the global space. Many scholars frame the role of NGOs in a vision of "globalization". We argue, however, that NGO advocacy and the political role which NGOs play is not yet well understood by academics or by NGOs themselves. NGOs are often perceived and described as vaguely threatening by governments or multilateral institutions.

This paper is an effort to bridge the gap between NGO practice and relevant academic literature. We believe that NGOs should embrace the advocacy aspect in their work and approach the question of NGO accountability through the concept of political responsibility. NGOs can make vital contributions to promoting poverty alleviation, human rights and sustainable development. Perhaps a more exciting potential, however, is that by consciously organizing and developing their relationships in order to take sides in a variety of political arenas, NGOs are the nascent fledgelings of global democracy.



We begin our exploration of the political aspect in the work of NGOs with looking at how NGO advocacy and the role of NGOs in development is perceived by different actors, against a background of different views on globalization. In this paper, we adhere to the term "NGOs", as it is widely understood and used globally as private, not-for-profit and self-governing organizations that are working to promote objectives across the broad agenda of human rights, poverty alleviation, equity, environment and sustainable development.

The World Bank and other international institutions, governments, academics and some NGOs have developed a discourse on NGOs which now dominates the global arena. This discourse characterizes NGOs and NGO networks as a kind of privatized worldwide delivery system for services, such as education, health-care, clean water etc. These services are in high demand, but must be provided universally, thus the market is not the most efficient distribution mechanism available. However, the provision of social services is not seen as a part of the states role anymore and NGOs are identified as important actors to fill the ensuing gap. This approach places NGOs into the structural adjustment paradigm whereby the role of the state in providing social services is reduced. While there are a number of assumptions made in this dominant discourse, the most important one regarding NGOs is that NGOs are operating closer to local communities and disadvantaged groups and are therefore more efficient and cheaper providers of social services than the state. From this perspective, the comparative advantage of NGOs in facilitating peoples' participation is turned into an effort to economize dealing with the poor.

What is called "NGO advocacy" within the structural adjustment discourse is an expansion of communication between NGOs and government or multilateral bureaucracies, to exchange opinions about and improve upon the implementation of aid-supported projects. Within this discourse, the political aspect of the role of NGOs does not seriously threaten the status quo. NGOs end up in a niche of the efficient management of what is in fact the global public good, even though it is never identified as such.

This perception of NGOs is an extension of a particular vision of "globalization", which is defined as increasing interdependence at all levels. In this view, globalization is characterized by a homogenization of cultures, the expansion of free markets, economic integration and an omnipresent vibrant capitalism, in a world which has been relieved from the burden of communism and the stifling impact of the cold war. Privatization and the withdrawal of state bureaucracies to make room for the energy and efficiency of the market are essential elements in this understanding of globalization. NGOs are accepted by the Bretton Woods Institutions, governments and multinational corporations as agents of privatization. The "global citizen" is defined by marketeers and others as the person who can afford to be a global consumer in the global village.

However, the world is far from a romanticized village, and few people wake up in the morning thinking what a wonderful day they are going to have as a "global citizen". These are concepts that no-one can relate to, other than via the images and language of advertising agencies. Globalization has its positive manifestations, such as the ability to instantly communicate with someone else from across the world. But globalization has a nastier side as well, which is a tendency to either centralize or delocate political decision making to an arena which excludes legitimate representation or the right to representation or participation of people affected by these decisions. In today's world, a decision affecting a local community in a developing country may very well be composed of an initiative in Washington, standards set in Brussels and money provided out of Tokyo. Growing numbers of people are governed by political regimes which are increasingly ineffective in establishing and realizing policy objectives in their own political space. The average person is left with diminishing political choice and is perhaps more aptly described as a global serf rather than a global citizen.

Globalization is better defined as an economically driven process, which incorporates an increasing institutionalization of unequal relationships. It affects social, cultural and political patterns as we know them:

  • In the organization of industrial production, where increasingly powerful multinational corporations demand concessions of suppliers and governments and demand the so-called "flexibilisation" of labour;3
  • Between countries: with governments and parliaments in developing countries becoming more sensitive towards parliaments in developed countries or to the Bretton Woods Institutions and the World Trade Organization (WTO) rather than to their own people;4
  • Among international organizations: where a sustained expansion of the Bretton Woods Institutions and the WTO is taking place at the expense of the United Nations system;5
  • Between cultures, languages and knowledge-systems: with some becoming increasingly dominant, while others are destroyed.6

Most NGO interventions, if viewed in the light of this perception of globalization, are trying to undo these unequal relationships, either individually or jointly. They do so in a practical sense - by providing capital, services, knowledge etc. where it otherwise would not be provided - or by voicing opinions in national, international and local arenas. The latter entails the advocacy aspect in the work of NGOs, to which we return in the next section.

If the term "global citizen" is to have any meaning in the real world, it has to be understood that the concept of citizenship gives one a series of rights and responsibilities, including the right to participate in political decision making. That is where the concept of citizenship stems from - as a legitimization for individuals or non-representative bodies or non-state bodies to make decisions at the global level. Part of what many NGOs are trying to do is to champion a lateral expansion of decision making, based on the protection and exercise of civil and political rights, including efforts to institutionalize those rights where they have been eroded or do not exist. NGOs are pushing for participation within the international globalization process as described above - i.e. changing the global serf into a citizen with democratic rights of participation in decision making, representation in powerful political bodies and equal distribution of rewards or penalties, as the case may be, which come from changing economic and political conditions.



NGOs have come to be a force in many societies, or are at least so perceived.7 As NGOs have gained experience and credibility, they have recognized that national and international policies as well as commercial market forces often undermine sustainable development efforts and limit the ability of people at the grass-roots level from participating in public or private policy decisions that will affect them. Informed by the needs and experiences of the poorer or disadvantaged sectors in their or other societies, NGOs have come to mobilize, articulate and represent people's interests or concerns at different levels of decision-making: locally, nationally and internationally. This advocacy work is increasingly seen by NGOs as an integral part of the role they play in civil society. Using information as a key tool, it entails the ambition to change the course of human development by promoting equal power relationships in national and international arenas. NGO advocacy is to organize the strategic articulation of information to democratize unequal power relations.8

Advocacy, as practiced by NGOs, is the righting of unequal power relations. Equalizing power relations is both the nature and goal of advocacy. All NGO activities can be viewed as having an advocacy aspect, and all are inherent in the contested process of globalization. The operational space for NGOs is a political space. NGOs take sides in processes of change and take sides on behalf of the least powerful element in a political battle. This can be the poor, the politically repressed or something like the threatened biosphere.

Advocacy is pervasive and embraces both "operational" and "advocacy" NGOs. There is a false dichotomy often articulated by the World Bank, governments and other powerful actors in the global community between "operational" and "advocacy" NGOs. This approach to defining NGOs is fundamentally invalid because all acts which create space for the weak and powerless are political acts. Even the smallest bread and butter intervention by an NGO at a local level will affect local power relations. Digging a well, for example, will increase the availability of water and will affect patterns of ownership, distribution, income and social-cultural intercourse in a village. Usually, NGOs that are actively involved in conserving natural ecosystems, promoting human rights or a vision of development different from the official vision are both operational and advocacy oriented. Those who make the distinction between operational and advocacy NGOs do so as a stepping stone to marginalize the advocacy aspect in the work of NGOs and to firmly frame NGO activities in the limited realm of social services provision in a kind of pseudo civil society.9

The act of advocacy to empower weaker sectors of society is not limited to helping people to access information or giving them tools to reach out to decision-makers. The underlying function of advocacy is often to enhance the self respect of weaker communities, to improve their self confidence, constitute integrity and promote mutual trust: all essential ingredients to develop a healthy community. It is often overlooked that NGO advocacy also entails a fight against cynicism and despair to which powerless communities tend to fall victim, in the face of massive political and practical obstacles impairing them to improve their lot.10

The language used in the context of NGO advocacy is of Anglo-Saxon origin and is often confusing for non-native English speakers, let alone for the great majority of people who do not speak any English at all.11 In particular the words "lobby" and "advocacy" are commonly used interchangeably. However, lobbying is a more narrowly defined activity than advocacy. The original meaning of "lobbying" is focused on influencing the formal political process, and stands for the theory and practice of persuading one or more legislators by approaching them in the "lobby" of a parliament. "Advocacy" in the way we have defined it is a broader notion which puts more emphasis on the representative and promotional aspects of what usually is a series of activities, which very well may include but is not necessarily limited to lobbying. Advocacy goes beyond influencing decision-makers to influence public opinion as well as the views of many other social sectors of power at home and abroad. Other words often used are "development education", which stands for awareness building, yet without referring to any particular action, and "campaigning". The latter usually puts an emphasis on publicity and efforts to actively mobilize public opinion to build political pressure around certain issues. NGO advocacy includes lobby, development education and campaigning, all aimed at strategically articulating information to democratize unequal power relations.

The question of language is not merely a matter of semantics. It cannot be emphasized enough that when dealing with NGO advocacy the economic, political, social and cultural variables must be fully taken into account. Because of the wide differences between societies there are simply no fixed formulas for conducting advocacy. The art and science of using information to change a political discourse and effectively influence important decision-making processes is as solidly society-bound as communicating in native spoken languages.

Focusing on language also helps to clarify some of the confusion with respect to the frequent use of the word "alternative" in NGO advocacy. Some NGOs tend to speak about their advocacy as setting forth an "alternative" model of development or even an "alternative development paradigm". However, by definition, NGOs are representing a plurality of interests and visions. Theoretical discussions centered around community involvement, the poor, participation, protection of natural resources and universal freedoms, tend to have a vague notion of homogeneous needs and desires among vastly different populations. NGOs who set out to do advocacy and create political space for new ideas soon find out that this homogeneity is a myth necessary for theory construction but impossible to find in reality. NGOs represent alternatives, and certainly not one substitute model of development. A claim by NGOs to represent the new development paradigm would be as monolithic and reckless as the World Bank- IMF's claim that structural adjustment is the only possible way to develop a country, or for that matter, the claim of fundamentalists that strictly adhering to their interpretation of a religion represents the only way of governing a culture or a society.

Representing differences is part of NGOs' strength, part of a new vision of development that incorporates cultural pluralism, and that has room for indigenous cultures and a variety of development aspirations. From this angle, one could see the representation of a great variety of interests and concerns by NGOs as an attempt to give meaning to globalization as a principally diverse and democratic process, where space should be created for the plurality of human identities and aspirations. This would contradict the version of globalization which dominates the current discourse. This is not to deny that pluralism also has its problems, as choices and trade-offs between different values and interests eventually have to be made. The issue is to find means and ways to reinstate these choices as political choices and to situate resolving these trade-offs in settings of democratic decision making. Some of this is happening in NGO networks, probably little understood, less perfect than one would like and not without pitfalls, but still an avenue worthwhile to explore.

Our approach allows for some further comments on existing perceptions of the role of NGO advocacy put forth by John Clark, David Korten, Michael Edwards and David Hulme and others who write about NGOs.12 First, the source of NGO advocacy is not a matter of "scaling-up" the impact of NGO activities or a question of arriving at the appropriate "phase" in the growth of an NGO as is often stated.13 These visions contend that NGOs are subject of a kind of linear or functional development and sooner or later will ask themselves: "why do we try to save one tree if the forest is on fire?". Subsequently, it is assumed that NGOs will attempt to have a larger impact on what are identified as the more important "bigger" or "global" questions, like saving the forests. However, these are mechanistic ways of approaching NGO advocacy, capturing it in the currently dominant language of globalization, which represents increasing unequal relationships. This approach runs the risk of contradicting the political function of NGO advocacy by removing it from a level of authentic community concerns. We consider the championing of all concerns - no matter how seemingly irrelevant to larger political questions - imperative for the democratic quality of NGO advocacy. NGO advocacy loses its essential value if it is cut off from the notion that change has to be based on a construction of human dignity and progress in a space and language which ordinary people - including NGO advocates - can understand and relate to. At all times, an effort to save one tree ought to be respected even though it may not be enough to save the forest and despite the fact that collective levels of NGO action may very well be more justified from a strategic point of view or in terms of effective use of scarce resources.

Critically looking at "scaling-up" does not suggest a return to "small is beautiful". But small is where most people live. The problem with an important part of the current discourse on NGO advocacy is that the language of scaling-up beholds a promise of bigger impacts and therefore encourages NGOs to tip the balance in their actions and resource allocations towards the global arena, while the necessary debate among NGOs on effective strategies and the efficient use of resources should be on how to better cooperate and integrate advocacy and operations in a scope of activities which reaches from local to global arenas.

Finally, approaching NGO advocacy from the angle of democratizing power relations rightly puts upfront the fact that NGOs challenge the status quo. In general, NGO advocacy reveals a truth which is not liked by vested interest and power holders. Being involved in NGO advocacy therefore entails taking risks: politically, legally, and mentally or physically in the South as well as in the North. Managing these risks are essential in NGO advocacy and are central to the next sections of this paper.



Advocacy is most clearly seen in the context of global campaigns, generally carried out by NGO networks or NGOs working in a loose alliance. These campaigns challenge projects, policies and political forces which threaten to further marginalize local communities or ruin pristine ecosystems. There are political responsibilities which are inherent to taking part in these advocacy campaigns.

Political responsibility is generally understood as something which derives from the act of representation. Yet many NGOs deny the concept of representation, pointing out that local communities are able to adequately represent themselves. NGOs generally feel more comfortable describing themselves as information brokers or issue-oriented advocacy groups, but not as representative entities. We question this position. While it is true that local communities are often able to adequately present their own interests, local leaders or spokespersons are often tied to the local geographical space within which they live. They do not have daily access to other politically important geographical spaces like national capitals, or internationally important political spaces such as Washington D.C., New York, Brussels, Hong Kong or Nairobi. Nor have they invested the time required to understand the mechanics of investment banks, the United Nations, etc. We call these differing political spaces where decision making takes place 'political arenas'.14

In advocacy, local communities or NGOs often call upon NGOs elsewhere to articulate their concerns in political arenas which they do not know or cannot reach themselves. With the globalization of decision making on the increase, we can only expect that the need to articulate concerns in more than one political arena will continue to grow. A democracy deficit is on the rise precisely because of the dispersed nature of decision making across national borders. NGOs, by organizing advocacy campaigns in different political arenas at the same time, try to address this democracy deficit, either implicitly or explicitly. While cooperation in an advocacy campaign does not easily compare itself to academic concepts of representation, it cannot be denied that NGOs are in fact representing interests when they operate with a specific expertise geared towards a specific political arena and using that knowledge to carry a campaign issue to a new level of decision making. The sheer fact of participation in a global campaign or in an NGO network, embodies a political responsibility. One can think about it as representation or participation, regardless, it is an act with inherent political responsibilities.

A key problem in political responsibility is that international NGO networks constitute both direct participation and an unusual form of political representation. Beginning with the political representation issue, the concept of political representation as we know it embodies a one-to-one relationship between the representative, be it a person or an organization, and a constituency defined by a concrete geographical space and an equally concrete body with political power. The mandate of a member of parliament is limited by national boundaries. The mandate of the cadre of a labour union is equally limited by the boundaries within which her members are living, who gave her the mandate to negotiate with the private corporation that employs the members.

This one-to-one relationship between the representative and the represented takes on a multiple anatomy within international NGO networks. NGO networks bridge geographical spaces as well as institutional gaps and operate in different political arenas at the same time. The checks and balances established by NGO networks must flow through multiple political arenas and cover institutional gaps. Only then are they meaningful for people in a particular local situation, and embody the possibility to establish a form of consent with regard to a particular decision. These are essential elements in the application of democratic principles. What is created in NGO networks is a form of representation which, in its optimal version, is shifting from local to national to international levels and vice versa, in accordance with the objectives of the campaign. In an era of global political realities but no global system of checks and balances, democracy has to stand up and walk.

Political responsibility in NGO advocacy manifests itself in the following seven areas:

  1. dividing political arenas;
  2. agenda setting and strategy building;
  3. raising and allocating financial resources;
  4. information flow;
  5. information frequency and format;
  6. information translation into useful forms;
  7. the formalization of relationships.

In each area there are parameters by which political responsibility can be assessed. The sum of all actions combined can help NGOs to measure the extent to which they have successfully managed political risks and embraced their political responsibilities. While in case materials below, we have predominantly used examples of environmental campaigns to further illustrate our arguments, these areas of political responsibility arise in any development action which utilizes more than one political arena. In any action whereby an international and a locally based organization are engaged, be it a food delivery service in an emergency situation or an agriculture extension service, these responsibilities arise, regardless of the nature of the partnership between beneficiaries and NGOs.

Dividing Political Arenas:

From the outset of becoming involved in advocacy it is important to explicitly recognize that there are various political arenas in which each NGO operates. It is typical for an international campaign to grow from the need to engage more than one political arena. And no one group generally has the understanding of each arena that needs to be engaged. For example, it cannot be expected that a grassroots social movement organization in the hinterland of India will know all of the politically important people in Washington D.C., will understand the protocol associated with contacting relevant decision makers, or will have the resources to bring pressure to bear in that political arena. The opposite is true as well. Organizations based in Washington, New York or Geneva may be intimately familiar with the way in which those arenas work and how decisions are made, but will not be able to understand the pace, the mechanisms or the reality of a local situation in Africa. Many readers may interpret our division of arenas to be a North-South division. That is not the case. Expertise in a political arena is based upon a long term presence in that arena. Thus, FAVDO, which is an African based organization, maintains a presence in Washington D.C. and thus has expertise in the Washington arena that we would argue should be respected by partner organizations when practising advocacy. Recognizing who has expertise and knowledge in which political arena and respecting the boundaries established by that expertise is the first necessary act of accountability in a joint NGO advocacy effort. By recognizing the boundaries within which each NGO prevails, campaign activists go a long way towards recognizing the political responsibility in advocacy.

Agenda setting and strategy building:

The second major issue which NGOs need to engage is the question of agenda setting and strategy building. What are the substantive priorities, for whose benefit, using which time frame and with what level of antagonism are authorities or power holders approached in which political arena? These are some of the questions which need to be answered, pointing at the fact that agenda setting and strategy building is closely related to the management of risks. Tactics and strategies decided upon can have major consequences for all actors involved. Agendas in advocacy will vary depending upon the objectives of each NGO. It is therefore essential to find a format to lay out explicitly what one's objectives are and to then develop a strategy with transparent goals. Among the issues which need to be recognized is who bears the risks associated with campaign positions or even with project failure. (This is particularly relevant in the case of service delivery.) Not surprisingly, often specific attention is needed for the partner organization in the campaign who has fewer resources or has to deal with a repressive regime.

Allocation of available financial resources:

The need for financial resources varies from arena to arena. The availability of financial resources is a major factor contributing to the risk of lopsided relationships among NGOs around the globe, as the bulk of financial resources is in the hands of a relatively small group of NGOs in the North. Prioritizing expenses is an issue which can cause tension among organizations. Determining who has money and can pay for activities, who has access to other sources of financing and who cannot contribute financially to the activities agreed upon is one step towards recognizing the relationships of power which money generates among NGOs. A rough review of a number of NGO networks and relationships we have been involved in has taught us that it helps for more powerful, i.e. financially resourceful, organizations to clearly separate the responsibility for raising and appropriating money from advocacy.15 Financial accountability and political responsibility are different and should not be confused in management.

Information flow:

In advocacy, information is the most powerful tool. In social service delivery, information is critical to decision making; for example, when determining where the most vulnerable or needy group is located, what kind of services are required and when prioritizing these needs over the needs of other groups elsewhere. The direction in which the information flows between and among different NGOs, whether all participants in an advocacy campaign have equal access to the same information, the density of the flow of information and the quality of available information will all have an impact on the level of accountability. The ability to actually analyze, process or generate information is equally important.

Information frequency and format:

The frequency with which NGOs relay information to one another is not only important in the context of the management of political responsibilities, but also in the effectiveness of the same campaign. Significant events can erupt at any given moment and can either positively or adversely affect any member of a campaign. Getting information out can help other partners in the campaign to be prepared and/or protected. Equally important is to determine an appropriate mix of communication formats. The necessary trust to seriously discuss agenda setting, strategies and risk-management cannot be developed by Email alone (if it is available). Again, certain participants in the advocacy effort at hand may prefer to speak rather than write, which requires using the phone, while a certain frequency of meetings in person will also be inevitable, preferably including meetings in the political arena(s) where the most urgent problems occur.

Articulating information into useful forms:

Information by itself is not enough to pursue effective advocacy. Often the available information needs interpretation in accordance with the political arena in which it is being articulated. For example, World Bank documents and Indian newspaper articles are equally difficult to understand unless they are translated for the reader who is familiar with neither the institution nor the political arena. Pointing out the critical statements or aspects of the documentation to fellow activists in other political arenas, translating the important pieces of information (either from the local language into English or vice-versa), are critical aspects of accountability. In many situations, oral communication is the only method of communication which is effective at a local level.16 A key indicator of accountability in NGO advocacy is the lengths to which NGOs will go to break through communication and language barriers.

The formalization of relationships:

In advocacy campaigns relationships between and among NGOs are often fluid. Advocacy campaigns on the international level take time to determine who is going to be involved in the issue. As campaigns develop, relationships tend to become more formalized. They can even get to the point where they have statutes such as in the case of World Rainforest Movement (WRM) or the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID). Action committees, a memorandum of understanding, the production of joint newsletters etc. represent varying levels of formalization of mutual relationships in NGO advocacy. Formalization can help to establish transparency, which is another key issue in advocacy. Transparency is a very valuable tool in that it often highlights the lack of transparency in counter forces.

Recognizing and clearly establishing the parameters of mutual relationships among NGOs involved in an advocacy effort can help in defining political responsibilities, certainly if the relationships in question are expected to be productive over a longer period. The more parameters that are defined, the more explicit the level of accountability and the better that risks can be managed.17



Coming face-to-face with the political responsibility inherent in NGO advocacy is not easy. The areas demarcated in the previous section are intended to help NGOs recognize the parameters of their relationships as they may develop in an advocacy setting, and in particular across national boundaries. Below, we suggest four typologies of NGO relationships to contextualize the political responsibilities inherent to NGO advocacy. These four typologies are highlighted by campaign case studies meant to illuminate the above areas in practice. They are not meant to be the definitive historical description of what happened in each of these cases. Nor do we explore the success or failures of these campaigns vis-a-vis their ultimate goals or objectives. The sole purpose of suggesting these typologies is to further elaborate our argument and to propose an additional tool for NGOs to come to terms with the political responsibility in NGO advocacy.

The typologies in this section are based on a condensed version of the seven areas of political responsibility which we have identified in the previous section. In our typologies we match the commensurability of different objectives of an advocacy campaign in different political arenas with a qualification of what happens with information and how strategies, risks and funds are managed. The level of accountability in each typology is an outcome of these indicators. An overview of the four typologies is given at the end of this section.


V.A The Hybrid Campaign

We call our first typology of relationships among NGOs engaged in advocacy a "hybrid campaign". In a hybrid campaign, the level of accountability towards the most politically vulnerable actors is at its peak. For the most part, advocacy agendas and strategies are set in close consultation with the groups who are supposed to benefit from the campaign and risks are assumed only in regard to the burden that can be born by the most vulnerable. There are four dynamics which frame the typology:

  • a representation of interlocking objectives by different NGOs in multiple political arenas is intertwined;
  • a very fluid and continuous flow of information among all NGOs involved;
  • a continuous review of strategies and joint management of political responsibilities by all NGOs involved. Risk management is purely based on local realities in the political arena where participants in the campaign are most vulnerable;
  • a high level of accountability.

To highlight the parameters of political responsibility in a hybrid campaign we take the relatively well-known case of Narmada as an example. The Narmada campaign had a high level of accountability among campaigners in our view because the above four factors were achieved. The objectives of each set of actors in their own political arena were clearly defined, understood and eventually intertwined. There was a fluid and continuous flow of information among all actors involved. There was a continuous review of strategies and joint management of political responsibilities by all actors involved. Risk management was based upon the strength of the most politically exposed.18

By way of providing the reader with a very brief history, the Sardar Sarovar dam in India came under controversy from its inception in the early 1980's. The project became controversial because in its original formulation it would have resulted in the flooding of the traditional lands of over 250,000 tribal people living on the banks of the Narmada river in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. In total, over one million people were expected to be affected. The NGO campaign to stop the dam became an international campaign when the World Bank agreed to finance the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam.

On the local level, the objectives of the tribal people were first limited to obtaining proper resettlement compensation. On the international level, the destruction of pristine wildlife areas motivated the first campaigners in countries other than India to raise their voice. The concern for the environment, however, was quickly blurred by a concern for the rights of the tribals. Once it became clear that the authorities involved would not be able to properly compensate 'oustees', the campaign on the local level became an anti-dam campaign. Gradually the anti-dam message filtered through to the international campaign.

The targets of the various actors in the campaign differed from the outset. The tribals targeted the national state of India and the three states involved in the project. The tribals employed national NGOs in India, based in New Delhi, to help influence both national level ministries and as the campaign developed, the national court system. International actors targeted national bilateral aid programs and the World Bank. Each actor in the campaign concentrated on their own political arena, developing dialogues and tactics specific to those arenas. However, there were many instances where shows of mutual solidarity worked best and thus there were many instances when actors visited other political arenas than their own. The purposes of these visits were either to tell their own stories, as in the case of the tribals coming to Washington, or to better understand the realities and threats at the local level and to provide protection to those who were politically exposed, as was the case when international actors went to the Narmada Valley. While the varying political arenas were shared, the strength of each set of actors in specific arenas was recognized and respected. Overlap was by invitation only.

In the Narmada campaign, advocacy agendas of different NGOs were varied: to seek proper compensation for the tribals; to get the Bank out of the project; to stop other governments from supporting the project; to expose the Bank's failure to be able to abide by its own policies; to expose the State governments' failures to abide by their policies and to ultimately stop the construction of the dam. Not all of these agendas were shared on the tactical level. But, all agendas were repeatedly discussed among the various actors involved and agreed upon. Different tactics were developed in the different political arenas and regularly shared.

A Narmada Action Committee (NAC) was established on the international level to keep communication flowing and to highlight new events and decisions taken in the Narmada Valley. The NAC fulfilled not only information needs but also established a level of responsibility to the tribals from many centers around the world. The tribals knew they could call collect to Amsterdam or Washington and their requests would be heard all over the world within a matter of hours. The NAC also helped people share in decision making. Generally, once a year, actors would meet to compare notes; to reaffirm their interest in the case; and to hear from someone who may have just arrived from the Valley. In this way, the global relationships among international campaigners active in the Narmada case was somewhat formalized. The lines of communication were relatively clear; the frequency of communication was substantial; the responsibility of each actor to the local arena and to one another was clear.

Similar mechanisms were employed between the national level in India and the local arenas. Information generated on the international level was translated into tribal languages while the Narmada Bachao Andolan produced updates of local facts and events for the international NGO community on a regular basis. These were often handwritten bulletins faxed to Washington and then distributed globally.

When particular activists might be tempted to go too far with a strategy, the threat of being cut off from the primary sources of information and the threat of being ostracized by the movement in the Narmada Valley was used. Futhermore, decisions made in the most politically vulnerable arena were respected by all players. When the actors in the local arena chose not to participate in an academic study about the movement, all international actors abided by that decision and did not cooperate.

The Narmada case was special in that money did not flow between various arenas. Money from the international arena was considered to be more harmful than helpful for the tribals. However, resources were shared. For example, faxes were paid for by the international organizations, telephone calls were made with charges being paid by wealthier NGOs, etc. Money hardly ever crossed from one political arena into another. This dissipated any unhealthy power relationships that might have developed in the campaign.


V.B The Concurrent Campaign

Our second typology of relationships among NGOs which are engaged in advocacy is the "concurrent campaign". The concurrent campaign has coinciding representation of different but compatible objectives. It does not achieve a high level of accountability given that the objectives in various political arenas are different. Thus, information loops are not as tight as they would be in a hybrid campaign where everything is intertwined and direction is taken from the most politically exposed. The dynamics of a concurrent campaign can be qualified as follows:

  • a coinciding representation of different but compatible objectives by NGOs operating in their own political arena;
  • a regular but multi-phased flow of information among NGOs involved;
  • a frequent review of strategies and coexisting management of political responsibilities by varying combinations of NGOs involved at different levels;
  • a medium level of accountability.

We present the Arun Dam campaign as an example of a concurrent campaign.19 The Arun III was a Japanese-conceived run-of-the-river dam project scheduled to be built in a remote area of Nepal, the Arun valley. The valley, while relatively sparsely populated, contained an eco-system rich in biodiversity. The dam was hydroelectric and meant to supply energy to two major city centers in Nepal and the rest to India. The total cost of the project (over a decade) was estimated at US$ 764 million, about the size of Nepal's annual national budget.

In the Arun case the objectives of NGOs in different political arenas varied. On the national level in Nepal, the Arun case was an anti-dam campaign from the outset. The issues advocated upon were purely environmental and economic. At the international level, the case was also anti-dam, predominantly because of its environmental impact. The case in part, however, became an international one because it arose at a time which coincided with the creation of the World Bank's Inspection Panel. The planned participation of the World Bank in the financing of the Arum Dam thus provided an opportunity to test the new inspection mechanism. These objectives were well understood by all actors and were not in conflict with one another. In fact, it was the national level actors who chose to use the Inspection Mechanism as an additional advocacy tool. Nevertheless, the possibility of using the mechanism generated interest in the case at international levels to a greater extent than before. Overlap in the objectives occurred in the writing of the inspection claim, where the economic arguments favored by the local people were predominant, next to alleging violations of environmental assessment, resettlement and other World Bank policies. After the Inspection Panel had completed a review of the project, newly appointed World Bank President Wolfensohn announced in August 1995 that the Bank would no longer support Arun III, thereby effectively killing the project.

The flow of information in the Arun case was specific as opposed to all-encompassing in the Narmada case. Information flowed between various actors but not across, so that the Nepalese were responsible for communicating with each and every contact made at the international level (as opposed to the contacts flowing between and among international players). Relationships between campaigners internationally were less formal than in the Narmada case. On the national level in Nepal, however, relationships were formalized by establishing two NGO coalitions, the Alliance for Energy and the Arun Concerned Group. The connections to the local arena were weak in the Arun case so theories about the needs and desires of the local people were not very well tested. This was the greatest weakness of the campaign. There was a low level of maintaining political responsibility with respect to the local region. As a result, when the World Bank's decision to withdraw from the project was announced, the Nepalese NGOs initially were afraid to openly show their satisfaction as they feared a backlash from some local interest groups who had anticipated to benefit from the project. At the same time, international NGOs were releasing a statement which presumed that Nepalese people were dancing in the street.20


V.C The Disassociated Campaign

The third typology to qualify the relationships among NGOs engaged in advocacy we call the "disassociated campaign". This type of campaign takes us one step further away from truly interwoven relationships among NGOs, to a situation where - based upon the same issue - advocacy objectives represented by various NGOs in different political arenas begin to clash.

The dynamics of the typology are:

  • parallel representation of conflicting objectives by different NGOs in their own political arena;
  • a regular but lopsided flow of information among the NGOs involved, usually more information flows from the South to the North rather than vice versa;
  • occasional and unaffiliated review of strategies and management of political responsibilities among different NGOs involved, predominantly exclusive to their own political arena;
  • a low level of accountability.

The example we use to illustrate the typology of a disassociated campaign is the intended investment of the US Scott Paper company in a pulp and paper plantation in Irian Jaya, East Indonesia. Like the previous cases, environmental concerns and issues of peoples' participation were at the forefront of the NGO agenda(s). However, next to national and provincial authorities, the main target of the campaign was a private company rather than the World Bank.21

In October 1988, the US-based Scott Paper company announced a US$ 653.8 million investment in a tree farm and pulp mill project in the South Eastern part of Irian Jaya. The project was to be realized by means of a joint venture between Scott Paper and PT Astra, a large Indonesian conglomerate, well connected to the Indonesian regime. The aim of the project was to gradually establish a eucalyptus plantation of up to 200,000 hectares to provide logs for a pulp and wood factory in nearby Merauke.

Soon after the public announcement of the project, local and national NGOs began to put forward criticisms and demands. The Indonesian Network for Forest Conservation (Skephi) led a coalition with 9 other Indonesian Jakarta-based NGOs, who began to raise concerns. Skephi questioned how a forest concession could have been granted to PT Astra Scott Cellulosa without the implementation of an Environmental Impact Assessment in conformity with Indonesian Environmental Law. Other issues raised by Indonesian NGOs were: how Scott and Astra planned to involve local communities in the project, especially with respect to the use of tribal land; the impact on customary land ownership; the selection of pristine tropical rain forest (which would lead to the destruction of genetic resources, while the resulting deforestation could lead to the drying up of natural rivers); the composition of the necessary labour force and how it would be recruited; and whether upstream and downstream wastes would be handled appropriately. NGOs in the US took over these demands.

In response to initial NGO criticism, Scott promised an environmental as well as a social impact assessment, and explained that there would be an extended test-period for the project to review its environmental and social soundness. The company stated that the intention was to carefully approach the project. The relationship with the local communities was described as a "win-win" situation with promises being made as to the creation of 6000 jobs, training for local people, as well as the provision of schools and medical facilities.

Subsequently, communication between Scott and NGOs developed on various levels, primarily in Irian Jaya and in the US. A group of five local NGOs got together and established fairly regular communication with representatives of PT Astra Scott Cellulosa. The local NGOs got hold of a copy of the project plans, which they translated into Indonesian and circulated among local communities. NGOs were assigned to help explain and discuss the documents and the project in general with the local communities, in a series of meetings which were organized by the NGOs. The local district authorities also got involved in these meetings.

In the course of 1989, an agenda for local NGOs emerged, in which they basically accepted the establishment of the plantation, trying to gain training and employment opportunities, fair compensation for tribal land and proper control over environmental, social and cultural impacts. The discussions with Scott went as far as the establishment of an agreement to keep away prostitution and bars from the project area. With respect to the important question of land ownership, Scott started making a map of the project area using village maps, as opposed to using official maps which did not properly reflect traditional land ownership. The local communities also expressed a preference to lease -- rather than sell -- their land, which Scott was willing to discuss. Part of the financing of the local level negotiations and capacity building efforts was provided for by USAID and the Asia Foundation.

Meanwhile, at the international level, an NGO campaign with a different character had emerged. The project in Irian Jaya was framed by linking Scott Paper to their responsibility for environmental damage in the US and Canada. Scott Paper in the U.S. and its subsidiaries in Europe were vigorously targeted by a number of NGOs, like the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and Survival International. NGOs threatened a consumers' boycott of Scott Products if Scott would not leave pristine rain forest and the areas of tribal people untouched. These NGOs cooperated in particular with the Skephi led coalition in Indonesia. Some Jakarta based NGOs and some international groups, such as the Indonesian Environmental Forum (WALHI) and the Environmental Defence Fund (EDF), tried to follow a road in between. They communicated in a less aggressive way with the Scott Paper company and stated to be willing to accept the project, as long as a number of demands were met.

While NGOs at the international level communicated intensively with each other, there was not much communication between the local and international levels of the NGO campaign. International groups suspected that local people were in fact not well informed and were already worn-out by years of Indonesian oppression and intimidation in this remote region of Irian Jaya. This perception was strengthened by the decision of the Indonesian government to virtually close off the area to outsiders.

The situation climaxed in the second half of 1989. The Scott Paper project was one of the cases highlighted by RAN in a full-page advertisement in the New York Times, pointing at the destruction of tropical rain forest. On October 13, Scott announced its withdrawal from the project, apparently quite to the surprise of PT Astra and the Indonesian authorities, who had already boosted the overall data of foreign investment in Indonesia in 1989 by including the project in Irian Jaya. The reason for the withdrawal given by Scott was that "extensive studies now indicate the Company can meet its anticipated needs for pulp from other sources". However, in interviews, Scott agreed that NGO pressure played an important role in the considerations of the company to withdraw.

The differences between NGOs operating at different levels in appreciating the outcome of the campaign, were best summed up in a letter from a local NGO to Survival International after Scott's withdrawal. The local NGO agreed that it would be best if the project would be stopped altogether. But PT Astra and the Indonesian authorities had already announced that negotiations with various new potential foreign counterparts for the project were on the way. What would the international NGOs do, was the question from East Irian Jaya, when a new company from Japan, Taiwan or Korea would enter the local arena, most likely much less willing to negotiate with the local communities or NGOs as compared to Scott Paper?


V.D The Competitive Campaign

Our fourth typology provides the worst case scenario, the "competitive campaign". In this situation, advocacy on one level may actually have an adverse or counterproductive impact at another level. There is a serious lack of information exchange and coordination among the NGOs involved, resulting in an absence of accountability and a failure to embrace political responsibilities. The dynamics of the competitive campaign are:

  • parallel representation of opposing objectives by different NGOs in different political arenas;
  • no direct flow of information among different NGOs at different levels;
  • no joint review of strategies or management of political responsibilities which may result in human rights violations or other negative impacts on the interests of local communities;
  • no accountability.

As an example of a competitive campaign we take the case of the Huaorani fighting against American oil interests in Ecuador.22 Since 1967 American oil companies have exploited oil resources in Ecuador with impunity. Leaking pipelines, oil-fires, violence and intimidation have all been part of the operational realities in search for the black gold. Rainforests and thriving tribal communities have been destroyed by the practices of Texaco and Petroecuador. In the battle to keep Texaco or any other oil interests out of the Huaorani territory, some international activists fought to save the rainforests while the battle on the local and national level concentrated on protecting the lives and rights of the indigenous peoples. While these two interests did not necessarily compete at all stages of the campaign, at various points in the campaign the differing interests did result in competition. The international campaign against Conoco ran from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s.

In the case against Conoco drilling in Huaorani territory, many U.S. and European based environmental and human rights groups had taken up the issue and staked out political positions which ran the gamut from opposition to Conoco to support for the company as the best option in a bad situation. For the most part, these positions were taken without consultation with the Huaorani (who were deep in the forest) and at best using information provided by a variety of national level actors in Ecuador, but sometimes with no in-country contacts at all. According to one source, the only thing the European and U.S. groups had in common was that the Huaorani people did not recognize any of them.

There was very little flow of information in the campaign between different actors. Strategies were adopted based upon what was considered to be politically feasible, as opposed to what was requested by the affected communities. Deals were agreed to which undercut the rights of indigenous peoples to manage their own territories. In some cases, environmental and human rights organizations raised money in the name of the campaign but did not share those resources in any way with the people on whose behalf they had raised the funds. In fact, activists close to the indigenous people operated on shoe string budgets while those operating in the United States or Europe had lots of money. At one point, a U.S. based environmental organization attempted to cut a deal with Conoco which would have allowed the company to build a road straight through the Huaorani territory. While decisions taken in the international political arena did not immediately jeopardize the safety of the people on the ground in Ecuador, those decisions in effect cut off the negotiating abilities of the indigenous communities and destroyed a fledgling alliance between the local arena (indigenous peoples) and the national arena (Ecuadorian environmentalists). The struggle of the Huaorani is still continuing.

The campaign against Conoco in Ecuador provides an example of the worst kind of campaign when measuring political responsibility and accountability.


Overview of Campaign typologies












High frequency,

global distribution,

easily accessible,

freely shared

Regular, multi-phased, more tightly directed, freely shared

Infrequent, lopsided, difficult to access, shared with reservation

Minimal, no direct flow, inaccessible, not shared


Continuous review, joint management, risks based upon most vulnerable

Frequent review, coexisting management, risks based upon national arena

Occasional review, management and risks exclusive to varying arenas

No review, separate management, no recognition of risks








The central argument of this paper is that the relationships which emerge among NGOs engaged in advocacy are highly problematic. If not handled with care, they may represent as much inequality as they are trying to undo. The inability of national and international bureaucracies and powerful sections of the private sector to include and respect a variety of development aspirations is perhaps the main driving force behind NGO advocacy. But it is difficult to deal with multiple desires for change, which can only be realized by engaging many organizations in complex relationships. This is true at a practical level as well as for theory construction. Many academics and NGO observers like to reduce the fundamental plurality which is expressed in NGO advocacy to a format which is easier to grasp and allows for picking up on what is seen as hopeful signs of a vaguely homogeneous "globalization from below". However, if it is at all possible to still distinguish an "above" and a "below" in globalizing political realities, changes need to be - and are - advocated by NGOs in different arenas simultaneously. This creates a variety of patterns and dynamics in relationships between and among NGOs. To an important extent the dynamics in these relationships determine the quality of NGO advocacy, both in terms of its function as a substantive channel to articulate different development aspirations as well as in terms of effectively shaping new forms of democracy.

There is no empirical evidence which allows for generalizing about transnational NGO advocacy networks as "a set of relevant actors working internationally on an issue who are bound together by shared values, a common discourse, and dense exchanges of information and services".23 There is a discourse in NGO networks, but the common elements are only partly shared. The exchange of information or services may be dense, but irregular and unbalanced. Few NGO advocacy networks will start out by determining their shared values, and if they do, it usually means the end of the network. In a democratic world, shared values may very well lead to still having different opinions on a particular problem. The opposite is true as well. Various NGOs can establish a common position based upon different value systems or different objectives. The ideal form of cooperation and interaction, which we have labelled a "hybrid campaign", is the exception rather than the rule. In that sense the success of the Narmada campaign has perhaps set an example to strive for, but at the same time has misinformed the debate on NGO advocacy, precisely because the case is not representative for what often happens in transnational NGO networks.

We believe that NGOs will set themselves a more feasible and still very useful target if they begin with trying to manage their relationships minimally at the level of what we have called a "concurrent campaign". The concurrent campaign leaves more room for a variety of objectives in different political arenas, however, with care taken to respect the interests or aspirations of the most vulnerable groups involved in the campaign. The overlap between different players at different levels in a concurrent campaign is dispersed and far from complete. That is what most NGO advocacy efforts will look like when the participants try to embrace their political responsibilities but take into account the limitations in their capacities.

What many academics, NGO advocates and other observers refuse to accept is that it is extremely difficult to operate effectively and responsibly outside ones own political arena. First, people and NGOs primarily act upon incentives which emerge in their own space, certainly not upon a notion of "planetary risks".24 In this respect, the popular slogan "think globally, act locally" is highly confusing, because it suggests an inherent link between local actions and an aggregate global political clout of local actions which is far from evident. Connecting activities from a global to a local level and vice versa is a long road full of pitfalls. Second, the expansion of NGO relationships, as suggested by a number of authors, to overcome the limitations of one's own specialization in one political arena and create more effective alliances, is often not a feasible solution. There are numerous ideas for human rights NGOs to work with environmental NGOs, for private aid agencies to work with knowledge-based NGOs, for development NGOs to work more with trade unions or local governments, for intermediary NGOs to work with grassroots organizations and social movements etc. But what NGO is capable of managing such a multitude of relationships effectively? Already at the basic level of information exchange, the maintenance of every relationship requires resources. Effective and responsible alliance building requires hard choices about resource allocation. To deal with political responsibilities is difficult for many NGOs, precisely because these choices are avoided or made in a haphazard way, often giving in to the expectations of others (donors, for example) or the urgency of a problem, rather than as a result of a clear decision making process.

In addition, there is a risk of becoming entangled in conflicting alliances. The more relationships an NGO is involved in, the more it will be possible that one alliance will at a certain moment articulate a position which contradicts another alliance in which the same NGO is involved. Therefore, to look at the composition of NGO alliances in order to establish the level of accountability misses the point, because the composition of an NGO network in terms of the variety of backgrounds and specializations of the organizations involved does not say anything imperative, neither about the political dynamics between these organizations nor about the impact of their advocacy work.25 As we argued in the previous section, one level of action in a particular political arena may be very effective in itself, though it is probably counterproductive at another level. Likewise, looking at different sources of legitimacy invoked by individual NGOs to support their advocacy role, such as specific expertise or a strong bond with a particular constituency, does not provide much insight into the dynamics between these organizations or the impact of their advocacy.26

A third reason to be very careful with the promotion of NGOs operating outside their own political arena for the sake of larger global advocacy objectives is that it will enhance the danger to further the unequal power balance between Northern and Southern NGOs, as most of the decision making which is perceived as "global" takes place in the North. This leads to an overemphasis on the development of ever-wider networks and giving excessive weight to investing in "a stronger capacity to enable institutions in the South to play more of a role in international advocacy, either directly or indirectly?"27 What this implies is that Southern NGOs will be sucked into international arenas, while in real life many of them are not even capable of doing advocacy in their own political arena. This may be caused by a lack of institutional capacities or experiences or because they are working under a form of oppressive or authoritarian regime. Focusing excessively on Northern arenas of decision making also leads to a tendency among NGOs in the North to overestimate the importance of what they are doing at their end of the global arena. However, the way in which we try to understand NGO advocacy in this paper leads to equating the importance of advocacy in the South and in the North in what ultimately is a global playing field.

Does this mean that everybody can just go anywhere to engage in advocacy? As a matter of exercising ones rights, yes. Seen from a perspective of political responsibilities and doing what someone is best in, most likely not. As we said before, it is extremely difficult to engage effectively and responsibly in NGO advocacy away from home, let alone if you completely loose touch with the place where you come from because you are so busy working the global arena. The iron law of transnational democracy is that a firm relationship with one's own political arena is a condition for working in one or more other political arenas.

Our vision is related to those who have tried to frame NGO advocacy in the language of universal human rights in which development policies should be formulated, including the actions of NGOs themselves.28 The hallmark of an NGO which fully embraces the concept of political responsibility is its capacity to sustain coherence and consistency between the goals it professes and the manner in which it pursues them. In NGO advocacy decisions about what to do - or not to do - with a certain piece of information are often made in a splitsecond. In that sense, accountability in NGO advocacy is foremost an operational problem.

The democratic quality of NGO advocacy depends to an important extent on how NGOs manage their mutual relationships. Being rooted in one political arena, NGOs are setting out to seek each others cooperation and partnership to overcome the democracy deficit which is being created by globalizing processes of decision making. Somewhere in between a competitive campaign and a hybrid campaign, NGO advocacy may very well help to open up space to strategically articulate a plurality of development aspirations, at peoples' own conditions and risks, using their own time-frames, speaking their own language and applying their own design of political expression or association.



1 This is paraphrasing Morgan's persuasive definition of politics: "politics arises whenever people are different and aspire to different things". See, G. Morgan, Images ofs Organization, 1986.

2 To give one example: "As matters now stand, the unmet challenges of economic and social rights is greater than ever. Ground has been lost in recent years. The only hope now is that globalization from below, with the many initiatives of transnational democracy and the emergence of global civil society, will rearticulate human solidarity in a manner that gives political weight to a renewed movement to achieve social and economic rights." In: Richard Falk, On Human Governance, Towards a New Global Politics; 1995, page 252.

3 This vision is further elaborated in: Winfried Ruigrok and Rob van Tulder, The Logic of International Restructuring. 1995.

4 We further explored this argument in an earlier paper. Lisa Jordan and Peter van Tuijl, Democratizing Global Power Relations. Steps towards a political foundation for a global NGO campaign to reshape the Bretton Woods Institutions. The Hague, Novib/ISS, 1993. See also Christophe Bellmann and Richard Gerster, Accountability in the World Trade Organization: December 1996.

5 For an analysis of the position of the UN system and proposals to strengthen it, see: Erskine Childers and Brian Urquhart, Renewing the UN System; Dag Hammersjkold Foundation. Upsalla 1994.

6 This is most eloquently described in the works of Manfred Max-Neef and Tariq Banuri. See, Manfred Max-Neef, Development and Human Needs: Real Life Economics; Edited by Paul Ekins and Manfred Max-Neef. London 1992; and Tariq Banuri, Development and the Politics of Knowledge: A Critical Interpretation of the Social Role of Modernization Theories in the Development of the Third World; and Modernization and its Discontents: A Cultural Perspective on the Theories of Development; (Chapter II and III) of Dominating Knowledge Edited by Marglin and Marglin. Oxford 1990, page 29-101.

7 The power attributed to NGOs in popular perceptions is sometimes astonishing: "Once relegated to the do-good fringes of traditional diplomacy, NGOs have moved front and center on the world stage (...) There is a basic re-sorting of power from nation-states to nongovernmental entities (...) The century is ending with state power in decline throughout most of the world. And without many people having clearly noticed, NGOs are rushing in where soldiers and bureaucrats no longer tread". Newsweek, August 1, 1994.

8 This is different from more common definitions of NGO advocacy, which tend to emphasize actions related to influencing policy, especially public policy. Others tend to outline advocacy relatively unspecified, simply as "communication for change" (Workshop materials of the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi). In our view, these definitions are too limited in expressing what advocacy stands for, as they assume too much unity in objectives and value systems among the organizations and people involved and they are too much geared towards impacting on formal political systems, while disregarding other functions of advocacy. NGO advocacy is the exercise of democratic rights across and around political systems by a usually evolving bunch of actors who are not necessarily bound by similar values or objectives (see the rest of this paper) while advocacy ultimately is aimed at influencing reality rather than policy. See for examples of definitions of advocacy focusing on influencing public policy: Rajesh Tandon, Influencing Public Policy, as well as several other articles in a special issue on Advocacy & Lobbying: Influencing Policy of the Asian- South Pacific ;Bureau of Adult Education (ASPBAE) Courier, No. 59. December 1994. Colombo, Sri Lanka; Jane Covey, Accountability and Effectiveness in NGO Policy Alliances; Non Governmental Organisations - Performance and Accountability. Beyond the Magic Bullet. Edited by Michael Edwards and David Hulme, page 167-181; Managing towards self-reliance. Effectiveness of organizations in Africa; Edited by Piet Human and Andre Zaaiman. Goree Institute. Dakar 1995, page 197. Oduon Ong'wen, Beyond Baseless Protests: Lobby and Advocacy as Weapons in Influencing Policy; a white paper prepared for a Kenyan Indigenous Non-Governmental Alliance (KINGA) workshop on Lobbying and Institutional Development;. Bank Monitoring Unit. Nairobi, January 1996. See also, Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, Activists Without Borders: Transnational Advocacy Networks in International Politics (forthcoming).

9 The avalanche of publications on NGOs by the World Bank is full of the distinction between operational and advocacy NGOs. The Bank has gone as far as to try to introduce separate acronyms for Operational NGOs ("ONGOs") and Advocacy NGOs ("ANGOs"). However, no-one outside the Bank uses these acronyms. See: Cooperation between the World Bank and NGOs: FY 1994 Progress Report; World Bank Operations Policy Department. Washington, D.C., February 1995.

10 This is another argument underlining that a definition of NGO advocacy cannot be limited to influencing policy only.

11 The authors of this paper are frequently facilitating advocacy workshops for NGOs. To raise the question to translate the word "advocacy" or similar words into a local language always causes long and heated debates. Often, existing language is found to be inadequate to describe different aspects of NGO advocacy. Language may also be totally absent. The Japanese language, for example, has no term for "human rights". The lack of available language to relate to universally established values and newly emerging political realities is a problem not to be underestimated by advocates of global democratization. It provides also a strong argument against the many superficial notions of "global citizenship".

12 John Clark, Democratizing Development. The Role of Voluntary Organizations; London 1991. Michael Edwards and David Hulme, Making a difference: NGOs and Development in a Changing World; London 1992.

13 David Korten, Third Generation NGO Strategies: A Key to People-centered Development; World Development 15 (1987), page 145-159.

14 A political arena is a decision making process defined at the crossroads of national or transnational governance, geographical space, language and political culture. A majority of political arena's are geographically bound, such as Washington. Some are moving targets, such as the Group of Seven meetings. Some are multiple layered. Tackling the European Union (EU) as a decision making process requires at least one foot in Brussels, and one foot in the country which happens to chair the EU at that moment, which changes every six months.

15 So, staff with donor responsibilities cannot also be "lobbyist" and vice-versa.

16 This may be a matter of the culture of communication, sheer language barriers or illiteracy.

17 There is an argument against formalizing relationships which is applicable to situations whereby NGOs may not want to explicitly identify themselves because of threats to their security. This is a valid argument. There is, however, often the further counter argument that safety lies in numbers.

18 There is ample literature on the Narmada case. See for example, Claude Alvares and Ramesh Billorey, Damming the Narmada. India's Greatest Planned Environmental Disaster;Third World Network/APPEN. Penang 1988; Bradford Morse et al Sardar Sarovar: Report of the Independent Review; Vancouver 1992; William F. Fisher (ed.), Toward Sustainable Development? Struggling over India's Narmada River; New York 1995.

19 There is less extensive literature on the Arun case. A chronological overview of the case can be found in subsequent issues of the 1992-1995 period of Bank Check Quarterly and the World Rivers Review, both published by the International Rivers Network (IRN) in Berkeley, California. For an interpretation of the Arun case seen from the angle of institutional reform of the World Bank, see: Jonathan Fox and L. David Brown, Assessing the Impact of NGO Advocacy Campaigns on World Bank Projects and Policies; The Struggle for Accountability: The World Bank, NGOs and Grassroots Movements; Edited by Jonathan Fox and L. David Brown, (forthcoming).

20 An elaborate description of another case which we would qualify as a concurrent campaign can be found in: Augustinus Rumansara, Indonesia: The Struggle of the People of Kedung Ombo; The Struggle for Accountability: The World Bank, NGOs, and Grassroots Movements Edited by Jonathan Fox and L. David Brown (forthcoming).

21 The description of the Scott Paper case is based upon materials available in the files of the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID), publications in Environesia, Inside Indonesia and Setiakawan, as well as a chapter in Seamus Cleary, The role of NGOs under Authoritarian Political Systems, Macmillan press, 1997. The Scott Paper Case was also alluded to in an article by Alissa J. Stern, The Case of the Environmental Impasse. How can companies and activists find common ground?: Harvard Business Review, May-June 1991.

22 This case is based upon: Joe Kane, Savages. New York, 1995.

23 Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, Activists Without Borders: Transnational Advocacy Networks in International Politics. (forthcoming)

24 David Sogge, Northern Lights;in Compassion and Calculation. The Business of Private Foreign Aid; Edited by David Sogge with Kees Biekart & John Saxby. London 1996, page 169/170.

25 Jane Covey, Accountability and Effectiveness in NGO Policy Alliances: Non-Governmental Organizations - Performance and Accountability. Beyond the Magic Bullet; Edited by Michael Edwards and David Hulme. London 1995. To look at the composition of a campaign in terms of the quality and character of the participating NGOs will tell us something about the variety of information which in principle is available in a certain network, but there is no causal relationship with what is subsequently being done with that information. Stephen N. Ndegwa gives an excellent description of two different NGOs with similar relationships with grassroots communities in Uganda and Kenya respectively, which nevertheless use their position in fundamentally different ways when it comes to deciding upon their advocacy strategy. See: Stephen N. Ndegwa, The two faces of Civil Society, NGOs and Politics in Africa; West Hartford, 1996

26 Paul Nelson, Transnational NGO Networks in Global Governance: Promoting "Participation" at the World Bank. Paper prepared for the International Studies Association Annual Meetings, San Diego, California, April 16-20, 1996. Page 13/14. This approach may help to explain the behaviour of an individual NGO within a transnational NGOs network, especially when the NGO in question is subject of potential conflicts of interests between its different sources of legitimacy, for example its membership in the North and its perceived beneficiaries in the South. But such conflicts have no compelling outcomes and understanding them is not enough to explain the overall dynamics within a particular NGO network.

27 Michael Edwards, Does the Doormat influence the Boot? Critical Thoughts on UK NGOs and International Advocacy. Paper presented to the NGO Study Group of the Development Studies Association (DSA). Development in Practice, Volume 3 (3), 1993.

28 This section is particularly based upon: Michael McCormack and Merle Mendonca, Human Rights Capacity-Building and Advocacy Work with Non-Governmental Organizations: Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somaliland. Carribean Initiative on Equality & Non-Discrimination. Georgetown, Guyana, March 1997. The report is from a project under the auspices of the Human Rights Program of the Fund For Peace.



Claude Alvares and Ramesh Billorey, Damming the Narmada. India's Greatest Planned Environmental Disaster; Third World Network/APPEN. Penang 1988;

Christophe Bellmann and Richard Gerster, Accountability in the World Trade Organization: Journal of World Trade; Vol. 30 No.6, December 1996.

Erskine Childers and Brian Urquhart, Renewing the UN System; Dag Hammersjkold Foundation. Upsalla 1994.

John Clark, Democratizing Development. The Role of Voluntary Organizations; London 1991.

Seamus Cleary, The role of NGOs under Authoritarian Political Systems, Macmillan press, New York, London, 1997.

Michael Edwards and David Hulme (eds), Making a difference: NGOs and Development in a Changing World; London 1992.

Michael Edwards, Does the Doormat influence the Boot? Critical Thoughts on UK NGOs and International Advocacy. Paper presented to the NGO Study Group of the Development Studies Association (DSA). Development in Practice, Volume 3 (July), 1993.

Michael Edwards and David Hulme (eds), Non Governmental Organisations - Performance and Accountability. Beyond the Magic Bullet. London, 1995.

Paul Ekins and Manfred Max-Neef (eds), Development and Human Needs: Real Life Economics. London, 1992.

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Jonathan Fox and L. David Brown (eds), Assessing the Impact of NGO Advocacy Campaigns on World Bank Projects and Policies; The Struggle for Accountability: The World Bank, NGOs and Grassroots Movements (forthcoming).

Piet Human and Andre Zaaiman (eds), Managing towards self-reliance. Effectiveness of organizations in Africa. Goree Institute. Dakar 1995.

Joe Kane, Savages. New York, 1995.

Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, Activists Without Borders: Transnational Advocacy Networks in International Politics (forthcoming).

David Korten, Third Generation NGO Strategies: A Key to People-centered Development; World Development 15 (Autumn 1987), page 145-159.

Marglin and Marglin (eds), Dominating Knowledge. Oxford 1990.

Michael McCormack and Merle Mendonca, Human Rights Capacity-Building and Advocacy Work with Non-Governmental Organizations: Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somaliland. Carribean Initiative on Equality & Non-Discrimination. Georgetown, Guyana, March 1997.

G. Morgan, Images of Organization. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1986.

Bradford Morse et al Sardar Sarovar: Report of the Independent Review. Vancouver 1992;

Stephen N. Ndegwa, The two faces of Civil Society, NGOs and Politics in Africa. West Hartford, 1996

Paul Nelson, Transnational NGO Networks in Global Governance: Promoting "Participation" at the World Bank. Paper prepared for the International Studies Association Annual Meetings, San Diego, California, April 16-20, 1996.

Oduon Ong'wen, Beyond Baseless Protests: Lobby and Advocacy as Weapons in Influencing Policy; a white paper prepared for a Kenyan Indigenous Non-Governmental Alliance (KINGA) workshop on Lobbying and Institutional Development;. Bank Monitoring Unit. Nairobi, January 1996

Winfried Ruigrok and Rob van Tulder, The Logic of International Restructuring. Routledge, London and New York 1995.

David Sogge with Kees Biekart & John Saxby (eds), Compassion and Calculation. The Business of Private Foreign Aid. London, 1996.

Alissa J. Stern, The Case of the Environmental Impasse. How can companies and activists find common ground?: Harvard Business Review, May-June 1991.

Rajesh Tandon, Influencing Public Policy. Bureau of Adult Education (ASPBAE) Courier, No. 59. December 1994. Colombo, Sri Lanka.

World Bank, Cooperation between the World Bank and NGOs: FY 1994 Progress Report; World Bank Operations Policy Department. Washington, D.C., February 1995.


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