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News: Working Group on Non-Governmental Organizations in Central and Eastern Europe
Meeting of the Working Group on Non-Governmental Organizations in Central and Eastern Europe

WG Programme Coordinators:
Michael Brintnall, ASPA Council, US
Gyorgy Hajnal, Corvinus University of Budapest, Institute for Political Science, Centre for Social Research of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (IPS CSR HAS), Hungary

WG Assistant Coordinator:
Reka Zsuzsanna Mathe, National University of Public Service, Budapest, Hungary

Place: 26th NISPAcee Annual Conference, Iasi, Romania
Date:  May 24-26, 2018

The Working Group on Non-Governmental Organizations (in CEE) held two important sessions during the 26th NISPAcee conference in Iasi, Romania.  These sessions focused on prominent themes, consistent with our interest in the functioning of non-governmental and civil society organizations in governance in the region.  The themes addressed the effective performance and accountability of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO's) and Civil Society Organizations (CSO’s) and the role that these organizations play in the policy process. All planned presentations were held and each of them provoked an interesting discussion.

The first group of presentations and subsequent discussions explored NGO performance.  Work addressed principles of performance accountability and independence;  the practices and organizational structures that support these principles;  capacities and strategies for organizational learning by which NGOs can develop capacities to monitor their own effectiveness across multiple dimensions and then to improve performance based on this information; and models by which NGOs have sought to institutionalize collaborative practices, both with each other and with the public sector, in advancing development agendas.   Each of the papers in this group drew on empirical explorations and sought to anchor findings, both in a broad conceptual framework and practical experiences.

Work by Dina Abdelhafez examined the relevance of ethical standards, such as those articulated by BoardSource, for NGO leadership accountability; that presented by Corina-Georgiana Antonovici et al. reported on scholarships regarding learning organizations; and that from Agnes Horvath drew out locally specific contextual information and relevant national legal frameworks to understand capacities of NGOs to cooperate in such local economic and political developments. Individually and, importantly, taken together these papers advance our understating of NGO performance and of the nature of the sector as a whole.
The second group of papers explored the policy process. They examined ways in which non-governmental and civil society organizations in the policy system appear to broaden or enrich policy outcomes even when these organizations were not successful, or were actively opposed, in achieving formal legal or executive decisions.  These studies explored the role of NGOs in fields as diverse as energy policy, services for the homeless, and specific responses to illegal drug use.  NGOs had a positive effect on formal policy in some cases and not in others – indeed in some settings involving social policies, the positions advocated by the NGO's were officially rejected.   However, and perhaps most important, the studies showed the policy process cannot be assessed by looking at formal outcomes alone;  the presence of the NGOs in the policy system led to informal outcomes that enriched the overall policy arena and changed outcomes for many individuals.

For example, work by Reka Mathe showed that when the state acted to criminalize homelessness, NGOs were able to provide services that mitigated the harm to the homeless in other ways.  In energy policy, Lyubimka Andreeva showed that NGOs made it possible for smaller and alternative fuel producers to have a voice. Iga Kender-Jeziorska in a cross-national study of drug use showed how the size and character of the effective policy space can vary widely based on national culture, legal frameworks, and NGO experiences and policies. NGOs can operate in the policy arena in ways that change informal as well as formal outcomes and decision-making – effectively enlarging the array of policy outcomes relevant to citizens – even when the state has acted to shrink this space, restrict policies or deny civil society access to formal decision-making.

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