How do civil society networks deal with the inenvitable conflicts and competition among their own members while also maintaining a united front within international policy-making negotiations?
I have been looking for reports and analysis of NGO organizational structures and conflict-resolution from other UN processes all day. So far I have been mostly unsuccessful.
I did just re-read a report prepared by WFM on conflicts among NGOs at the Durban racism summit. It’s good reading, if only to remind us of what challenges other conferences faced. One paragraph that struck me was on the issue of caucuses:
…the basic element of the NGO forum was the caucus. Only the caucuses voted in the plenary, submitted texts, ran the thematic commissions during the forum discussions and formed the component parts of the Declaration and Program of Action. Despite the centrality of caucuses to the Forum, there were never any clear rules, or indeed any written rules, about who could form a caucus or how a caucus could be formed. In practice any group of individuals could signify to the organizers that they wished to form a caucus based on region or victim group or theme (the Palestinian cause ended up having four caucuses: the Palestinian caucus, Arab and Middle East Caucus, Environmental Racism, and Colonialism and Foreign Occupation Caucus).
There was much confusion in the process of setting up the caucuses, several groups felt disenfranchised, and were allowed to form caucuses after the deadline (on condition that there were at least ten people in the caucus), then this decision was repealed and some had to disassemble. The situation with the thematic commissions was equally problematic. Finally there were over 40 caucuses but only 25 thematic commissions. Some caucuses had to join commissions they did not run.
Voting in the commissions was a perplexing as voting in the plenary. The rules circulated stated there would be a majority vote if there was no consensus, but they did not stated a majority of whom: the relevant caucus or anyone that happened to be in the room.
This sounds alarming similar to the procedural difficulties we are having in the WSIS process.
I found another analysis of CS working methods in different UN conferences in the Spanish Magazine “Futuros” (Futures) by Manuel Chiriboga. The article is called “La sociedad civil y las conferencias m s 5 de la ONU” (Civil Society and UN + 5 conferences).
Chiriboga notes that civil society conflicts are fairly common in all UN processes, but vary in intensity and level of open debate. He writes that the unwritten UN rule of consensus often causes NGOs to not publically air their differences with each other, but still to work at cross-purposes.
Hay fuertes argumentos en favor de lo que hemos llamado alianzas basadas en la autonom¡a constructiva como la mejor estructura de organizaci¢n y gobernabilidad para las ONG’s y OSC’s involucradas en la abogac¡a internacional. Acercar a las redes, caucuses, alianzas regionales y grupos especiales, en el proceso de interacci¢n con las instituciones intergubernamentales, requiere de soluciones que impliquen una organizaci¢n creativa, que al menos cumplan dos objetivos: convertirse en foro para compartir los programas y, a trav‚s de la discusi¢n de las diversas perspectivas, lograr puntos de acci¢n generales y consensuados; y, para abrir espacios en la mesa de negociaci¢n a las OSC’s, fortalecer la capacidad de negociaci¢n general frente a las instituciones internacionales. Este tipo de alianzas aut¢nomas creativas permite a cada grupo desarrollar sus esfuerzos de abogac¡a y traer y compartir sus innovaciones y creatividad, a la vez que le crea un espacio a la construcci¢n del consenso Las estructuras globales corren el riesgo de sobrevivir a su funcionalidad o fortalecer a dirigencias irresponsables. La ausencia de un foro global, comit‚ director o estructura similar donde se re£nan los grupos rivales, debilitar¡a la eficacia general de las ONG’s y OSC’s.
To paraphrase: To bring together networks, caucuses, regional aliances and special groups in an interactive process with intergovernmental institutions requires solutions with at least two goals: (1) to come together in a forum to share programs with each other, and after discussion of the different perspectives to identify areas of common agreement and action and (2) to open spaces in the negotiating table to CS. This type of autonomous and creative alliance permits each group to develop their own capacity to negotiate and try to share their innovations and creativity, while also creating a space for consensus. The absence of a global forum or general committee to bring together rival groups risks to weaken the efficacy of all civil society.
This would be fascinating research project: How do different civil society networks and coalitions deal with their own diversity, conflicts and competing agendas in order to effect international policy-making?