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‘I believe that many ICSOs [international civil society organizations] urgently need to overcome the stalemate in their global governance; they don’t need another governance reform, they need a governance revolution.’  Burkhard Gnarig, Berlin Civil Society Center.

The Berlin Civil Society Center believes that CSO governance models are increasingly facing major challenges. These include that they are typically:

  • dominated by national affiliates but increasingly challenged by the need for global decisions and their implementation;
  • shaped by Northern countries and cultures while the emerging powers in a multipolar world are located in the South;
  • serving one specific mission focused on development or environment or human rights while the interdependence of challenges and the need for integrated solutions become more and more obvious;
  • caught up in the conflict between democratic and participatory decision making on one side and the need for quick and consistent decisions on the other;
  • characterised by a clear definition of “inside” and “outside” the organisation while the Internet and the habits of the next generation demand platforms for joint action rather than well defined boxes.

In order to address these issues, the Berlin Center is working on a participatory project aimed at developing new governance models for best practice in CSO governance*. The models are aimed at serving ‘board Members, Chairs and CEOs who aim to undertake future governance reforms more strategically and more effectively.’

Different governance models are needed, however, because not all organizations can and will follow one single model.

The project concept notes that:

  • Firstly, ICSOs working in human rights, poverty alleviation, environmental protection, humanitarian response or children’s rights have different governance needs resulting from the type of work they do. For example, an organisation focussing on wildlife conservation compared to one working for poverty eradication will have different needs and possibilities of including partners and beneficiaries in their governance.
  • Secondly, there are different possible models to synchronise and balance local, national and global requirements and resources. At present these are reflected in global set ups ranging from loose networks over confederations and federations to unitary organisations.
  • Thirdly, when trying to secure future relevance of a governance system, much depends on different expectations of how future developments will turn out and which elements of these developments are considered most relevant in governance terms.

In an open letter, the Berlin Center director, Burkhard Gnarig explains that ‘with our Global Governance Project the Berlin Civil Society Center tries to lay the groundwork on which ICSOs can develop their own Global Governance Vision. A small Working Group which the Center has brought together will develop a handful of standard governance models that may serve as guidance on ICSOs’ specific paths to developing their own vision for their future governance.’

In order to bring a wider group of aid and development practitioners into the discussion, I volunteered to open a “CSO Governance Revolution” discussion on AidSource asking:

  • What are some of the major challenges you’ve seen with ICSO/INGO governance?
  • How do current governance models that you know of constrain the effectiveness of ICSOs or impact on development outcomes?
  • What CSO governance models have you seen that do work? What do they look like?
  • What are some of the underlying values and principles needed for effective ICSO governance?
  • What are some core elements of effective and successful ICSO governance models?
  • How do new information and communication technologies (ICTs) and trends in new media/social media impact on governance models and visions and people’s expectations of governance models?
  • What literature, research or existing documentation should be included as background resources for this discussion?
  • What other questions should be raised regarding ICSO governance?
I hope we can get some lively debate going to feed into the broader discussion at the Berlin Center. Join the AidSource discussion here.

More information on the Global Governance Project Concept can be accessed here or at the project page on the Berlin Civil Society Center’s website.

(*Note: I have no formal affiliation with the Berlin Center or this initiative, I just find it interesting and volunteered to try to get some additional discussion happening around it.)

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