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About: Working Group on Non-Governmental Organizations in Central and Eastern Europe
 

I.Field of Research: Describe the conceptual framework of your working group activities

Our working group addresses Non-governmental (NGO) organizations, and their participation in governance in the states and regions addressed by NISPAcee. NGO’s operate to achieve, and sometimes to help define, the public good, just as do institutions of government. Our broad objective is to create a forum within NISPAcee for the intellectual and practical exploration of the role that NGO’s play – independently and in collaboration with government institutions – as a critical dimension for fully understanding governance processes in the region.

The lives of individual citizens in the public arena are shaped by more than the government along. In varying degrees from country to country, services are provided by non-governmental organizations, public policy issues and solutions are analyzed, interpreted and/or put forward by such groups, and needs and expectations are conveyed to government from citizens through civil society groups. One cannot study or understand governance without including these dimensions.

Ultimately the goal of studying public administration is to understand and improve the ways that social problems are solved, that social justice is achieved, and public life is enhanced. Invariably these objectives require multisector solutions; and this requires understanding of the various sectors involved, and how they engage together.

We recognize that this topic is a broad one. We are proposing one Working Group to address the performance of a full sector of governance – that of non-governmental organizations.We will of course place emphasis on some themes and not on others, to keep the work manageable. But we also think it is important at a general level to embrace this breadth - at the outset - to learn better where the interests of the NISPA community lie and what unexpected questions and critical areas inquiry emerge.

We make use of the term NGO, or nongovernmental organization, here for the entities we propose to study. This term is a short-hand since there is no single term that inclusively represents the characteristics, legal identity, or function of these organizations.Other terms one might use are non-profit, or civil society, or third sector organizations. Conceptually our interests lie in those organizations and networks whose mission is in the public interest and pertains to governance, social services, public policy, citizen participation, and/or humanitarian concerns; that are guided by a voluntary board or committee of directors; and that must find ways to organize and perform without having either the formal authority of government or the economic resources of business.

NGO’s take many shapes as organizations that sit between the individual and the state. One has to exert special caution when trying to transfer this concept into diverse legal, policy-political and cultural contexts, in which the very term "NGO” is frequently unused, nonexistent and/or used in very different meanings and connotations. In our usage of the term, NGO’s have varying degrees of formal or informal organization, and derive their resources from a variety of sources ranging from direct and targeted state funding through normative state funding and charity based funding to international funding. ­­­­­­

NGO’s play an important role in both the formal and the informal economy; likewise, their role in channeling/promoting public and political causes, values and wills may take informal shapes substantially different from their formal statutes and missions. Informal organizations, such as those spontaneously formed as economic cooperatives can be a stepping stone to economic inclusion and opportunity for workers outside the protections of the formal economy.

Similarly, NGO’s may be a bridge between the churches and public policy or the state because in the region many faith-based NGO’s provide social services to individuals, regardless of the beneficiaries religious, ethnic, or other backgrounds.Religious based NGO’s might be contracted by the government to deliver services to specialized communities. NGO’s are sometimes a way to integrate religious values with state policy to meet diverse public needs. It is valuable to understand and examine these processes.

NGO’s also transcend national borders. There is for example growing intellectual attention to the role of international NGO’s – organizations that function region and world-wide shaping global agendas and collective action.These includes groups such as Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross, Transparency International, or Greenpeace.There are many examples of how these groups have placed items on global agendas that would not otherwise be there – such as the Red Cross role in promoting UN action and global agreements on the definition and regulation of contracting for private militaries.This reach outside states to global influence however is an example of one theme we would not expect to emphasize.

NGO’s interact with the state and with formal public institutions in a great variety of ways. Lester Salamon has written that this relationship of the NGO/ to the state can take any of three very different forms (perhaps all at once!): opponent of the state, partner with the state, and agent of the state. All of these forms of relationship matter in understanding how the public good is achieved and advanced.

The specific kinds of interaction with the state are numerous.Some examples include ownership (nonprofit corporations established by the government,) formal and informal partnerships of many kinds, contracting, transfer and development of personnel as individuals move from NGO to public sector and back, service delivery, think tank and idea transfer and so on. We are interested in what works, and what explains what ideas are tried and what are neglected.

Finally, attitudes of the public, the political elites and the government toward NGO’s can and do hugely differ over time and across places.Legitimacy can be questioned in some settings, and embraced in others. NGO’s are viewed in some settings as worrisome entry points for external interests and threats, as well as opportunities for citizen participation and service. State and citizen attitudes toward these entities warrant attention by the public administration community, as they can define what how multi-sector opportunities and challenges emerge.

As discussed below, we understand that one Working Group cannot manage all of these questions; we are proposing a practical and manageable agenda below. But we wish to be open to the full breadth of questions and ideas that NGO’s and their role bring to the study of governance and of the promotion of the public good, and to encourage recognition of how stimulating and promising thinking about public administration as a multi-sector activity can be.

 
 

II.Background Information about the Working Group

Describe the previous (if there are any) present and foreseen activities of your working group and its - past and intended - accomplishments.

This proposed working group is a new one, and no activities have yet occurred. However as the above description of the field of research highlights, many of the relevant themes for this work are pertinent to those in other working groups within NISPAcee, and it will not seem out of place.Many scholars will find relevance in our new working group for projects they are already working on in others.

As described in the next section of this proposal, we hope in particular to attract scholars and practitioners with an interest in the NGO sector from outside NISPAcee who have research projects underway. We are confident that engaging scholars and practitioners with these interests in NISPAcee will produce contributions of value to all of the NISPAcee working groups.We intend in this way both to advance work, via the new Working Group, on the NGO sector’s role in governance in CEE and surrounding countries; and to draw from and contribute to enhancing work on multisector perspectives on public administration and governance within all of the Working Groups. Our ideas for an agenda and for research are described below.

 

III.Goals and Objectives

Identify the goals and objectives. Define the problem which is addressed by the working group activities. Describe the stage of a research in the area of your project proposal in the region, and describe the importance of your working group activities and the needs what the activities can meet. Identify benefits for the practice and scholarship of public administration and public policy in the CEE region and for NISPAcee that will be realized as a result of this project.

Our general interests are broad – to understand the role of NGO’s in governance in the CEE region, to analyze performance and consequences of this sector, and to explore multisector strategies for meeting the public interest. As discussed at the outset, this is a very large agenda.This will be the first NGO related Working Group in NISPAcee in some time, perhaps ever, and a novel resource in the region as a whole. It is difficult at this stage to predict which aspects and lines of inquiry will trigger predominant interest. The main success criterion, at the outset where we are now, is attracting a vigorous cohort of participants and high quality research. In subsequent phases (i.e. from Year 2) we expect to do some focusing on particular topics and projects, while remaining open to all relevant ideas that can advance understanding of this topic.

There are many relevant specific questions about describing the work of NGO’s in the region: whether they are volunteer based or employ professionals; whether they are tied to other organizations such as labor unions,political parties, industries, or churches; whether hierarchical with a large state-level leadership or federated with cooperation among independent local groups; whether the main role is related to direct provision of services, to advocating or analyzing public issues, values or causes, or to creating a sense of, and arena for, common, civic spirit, thinking and action; and whether they operate on a local, regional, national or supra-/international level. .

The characteristics of non-profit status are an important interest – whether formal or informal organizations and, for formal organizations, what non-profit status means within the context of state regulations.Financing and sustainability is important – are the groups supported by individual donations, by foundations, by a rich donor, by foreign resources. The national framework for enabling and regulating NGO’s is of critical importance – what difference do these laws and regulations make – if they exist at all - and how might they be reformed.

Additionally, there is much to understand about the size and sustainability of the NGO sector, as well as about what it accomplishes and how it functions. What resources and capabilities actually exist within this sector from country to country? How many people are volunteers? There are important needs for censuses of the sector and for improved techniques for monitoring and for measurement of its achievements.

An important theme in this area of study is NGO commitments to social justice and human rights. NGO’s often are capable of raising issues of rights, equity, and social justice – such as questions of fairness in multi-ethnic societies – because they can address controversial issues and prompt critical analysis of formal attitudes and policy.

While we wish to be open to a wide variety of ideas in our group, as a practical matter, we intend to limit the agenda in several ways. First of all, at the outset we have identified four main questions on which we will invite the first rounds of papers. These are:

-What is the role of NGO’s in governance at the national and local level in CEE countries, and how is this shaped by public attitudes, government policy, legislation, and financial support? How do actual (latent) roles compare with stated ones, and with ones usually found internationally?

-What are examples of existing multisector models of governance in the region, in which NGOs and government are seeking to work together?

-What are techniques for measurement and assessment of NGO, and multisector initiatives, performance, in general and in specific policy arenas?

-What is the current state of teaching and curriculum development about NGO’s and multisector governance in schools of public administration, policy and management in the region, and what contributions can there be to improving curriculum and teaching?

Our intention is to concentrate our focus on organizations operating at the national and local level, within the context of governance systems there. While there will be instances in which this emphasis cannot be separated from those NGO’s operating at the global level, we do not intend to make the issues of global NGO’s a priority.

With the specific questions we wish to highlight in the first years of the Working Group our objective is both to establish a continuing membership base for the Working Group, to create products that will be of value and interest to professionals leading and managing NGO’s and planning multisector initiatives, and to engage with the academic and professional adjunct committee teaching about these issues.As discussed above, we think that these linkages into the NGO academic and professional community, plus linkages across NISPAcee working groups in the public administration community, can contribute to improved understanding of the role of NGOs and improved multisector performance in the region.

 
 

 
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