Forms of Presentation and the Future of Comprehension

Inter-organizational relationships: in search of a new style

Anthony Judge

Originally published in International Associations, 1973, pp. 398-404 as an abridged and modified version of the final part of the report of Seminar on the Philosophy and Functioning of International Nongovernmental Organization (Milan, May 1972).


The following points must be borne in mind in identifying practical changes for future organizational action (see also Principles of Transnational Action):

  1. Major restructuration of existing inter-organizational relations will apparently not be feasible until catalyzed by the next major social crisis (so proposals for change should concentrate on relations between organizations and not on changes to organizations).
  2. Concentration of organizational resources is desirable but cannot be achieved by centralized coordination of organizations (unless the alienation of many potential collaborators is acceptable).
  3. Informational links should be substituted wherever possible for organizational links (since the latter tend to become clogged by personality, procedural and status problems).
  4. Participative involvement in programme formulation should replace mobilized support for programme execution.
  5. Organizational flexibility should replace organizational rigidity (to permit more rapid response to new action opportunities and to permit new organizational configurations to emerge quickly wherever required).
  6. Social realities should be considered more important than legal and administration fictions (to permit greater response to action-oriented commitment as opposed to status-oriented procedures).
  7. Meetings of NGO representatives should not be structured to favour consensus formation in plenary, since it is only very rarely that delegates come with a mandate to commit the NGO to any course of action (and most of the other reasons for voting are purely symbolic and a waste of meeting time).

On this basis, the following suggestions for future action can be made:

I.Meeting Style

Suggestion for "Multi-meetings"

This section is a a summary of: The use of "multi-meeting"; proposal for an improvement to NGO/UN

There is an increasing use of parallel or concurrent group and commission meetings during a conference of organization representatives over several days. At the present these groups are usually part of a single conference structure which is organized by an Executive Committee with pre-defined procedural and substantive commitments. These commitments do not facilitate unpremeditated informal contact between organization representatives attending the Conference. It is now generally agreed that such contacts are often the most fruitful consequence of large meetings.

As a relatively simple change of procedure which does not imply any "massive structural reorganization" of inter-organizational relations, several Conferences of organization representatives could be scheduled to take place at the same place during the same time period, instead of being held at different places at different times. In other words, without in any way linking them together procedurally, it would be quite possible to hold the sessions and group meetings of different Conferences in the same physical complex of buildings, in the same way as group meetings for one Conference are currently arranged (e.g. in neighbouring conference rooms with common reception and refreshment areas).

The only link required between the Conferences is a contact committee to arrange for the room allocations. This avoids the many political and procedural difficulties which normally emerge when any such communication is suggested. Such a "multi-meeting" seems a particularly appropriate means of facilitating contact between the:

  • Conference of Non-governmental Organizations in Consultative Status with the United Nations ECOSOC (500 organizations, potentially);
  • Conference of International Non-governmental Organizations approved for Consultative Arrangement with UNESCO (200 organizations, potentially);
  • Non-governmental Organizations Committee on UNICEF (80 organizations, potentially);
  • Conference of International Organizations for the Joint Study of Activities Planned in the Field of Agriculture in Europe (100 organizations, potentially);
  • World Assembly of NGOs Concerned with the Global Environment (300 organizations or more) and other such bodies.

There is a very considerable overlap in membership and interests between these bodies (See International Associations, 1971, 6. p. 357-359).


  1. This approach maximizes the possibility of informal contact between organization representatives without impairing any formal relationship or other procedural restrictions. Such contact is an extremely effective method of information transfer and leads to much ad hoc collaboration between small groups of organizations on specific matters of common interest. It results in a form of auto-coordination.
  2. It is possible for representatives attending the session and groups of one Conference to participate in the open sessions and groups of any of the other Conferences present. Since the same representative is often responsible for his organization's contact with several Conferences, his task may be considerably facilitated.
  3. In some cases, duplication of sessions on a common substantive matter(e.g. briefings on development, environment, peace, etc) may be avoided. Representatives may attend a joint session. This constitutes a saving in resources.
  4. Representatives of organizations in distant countries may reduce the cost of participating in the many Conferences to which their organization is affiliated. This is particularly important in the case of representatives based in developing countries.
  5. Special interest meetings, unrelated to the specific concerns of any of the formal Conferences, may also be organized within the same general time framework. This facility makes of the multi-meeting a useful and convenient occasion on which to conduct other business with representatives of other organizations. The multi-meeting is an inter-organizational forum or market place--with all that that implies in terms of communication and dynamism.
  6. Staff members from inter-governmental organizations would also find such occasions extremely convenient to establish contact with international non-governmental bodies in an unstructured setting to sound out the possibility of useful formal contact. Again this would maximize the benefit from travel expenditure.
  7. New Conferences could be established to meet within the same framework (e.g. for organizations in liaison with inter-governmental bodies for which no Conference exists). It might even be appropriate to arrange for "hearing" sessions between inter-governmental committees and NGOs during the multi-meeting.
  8. The importance and dynamism of the meeting would give much greater publicity to international non-governmental action and the possibility for previously uncommitted bodies to participate in it. It could also function as a neutral meeting ground for representatives of international bodies and representatives of national bodies with international programmes.


A number of international organizations run Conferences at which smaller organizations also meet. Perhaps the most developed example of what is suggested is the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science at which 39 other bodies hold sessions (in 1971). Some 10,000 scientists (professionals and amateurs from the general public) register and attend any of 150 group sessions in 49 concurrent subject streams. Some 700 papers are presented. Large meetings within the frame work are addressed by international political and scientific personalities.

II. Shared Facilities

Suggestion for "Transnational Centres"

On this topic see also: International Associations, 24, 1972, 3. p. 151-154, p. 155-157.

Whether in capital cities of developing or developed countries, the offices of international non-governmental organizations are usually scattered so that face-to-face contact between organization staff members is infrequent. Organizations are often poorly housed and equipped.

In some cities, notably New York, Geneva and Paris, some organizations are grouped together within the same office building. They may or may not share facilities such as a conference room, restaurant, receptionist, library, etc. This formula is however very suggestive as a model for the future.

There seems to be a strong case for encouraging the construction of such "transnational centres" and for developing the administrative techniques for sharing certain facilities and equipment in an economically viable manner.

  1. Such centres ensure that there is a concentration of internationally oriented expertise in major cities--a "critical mass" of people whose interaction generates new programme concepts and acts as a magnet for uncommitted resources.
    As in the case of multi-meetings, no formal relationship is imposed on organizations sharing office facilities. Informal contact is however maximized so that fruitful working relationships can emerge as and when appropriate.
  2. There is no reason to restrict office space to non-governmental bodies. The same centre could also usefully house such currently scattered bodies as the:
    • UN and UN Agency Information Offices, and in the developing counries, the UN Agency Representative responsible for coordinating countrylevel international activity. This would facilitate IGO-INGO interaction and would ensure optimum use of UN information, especially if an integrated library-information service could be developed with INGOs. This approach would counter the current tendency for information services to be underused and therefore ineffective.
    • National Commissions of UNESCO and other Agencies.
    • national NGOs with international activities.
    • national inter-NGO organizations. This would facilitate interaction between the national and international levels.
    • foundations interested in international activities. This would improve understanding between fund sources and proramme-implementers.
    • national institutes of international relations (and the associated libraries) to facilitate interaction between academic and operational programmes.
    • international press agencies, both as a source of information and as a means of increasing knowledge of NGOs and their programmes.
    • temporary offices for committees to galvanize activity in relation to official international years (e.g. human rights, population, mental health, etc) and days.
    • the focal point within the city for town twinning (sister-city) arrangements with towns in other countries.
    • temporary offices and facilities required to focus resources in time ofdisaster in the country, or to mobilize such resources for assistance in time of disaster in another country.
    • National and city United Nations Associations, Unesco Clubs and similar bodies.
  3. The transnational centre concept is particularly interesting because the concentration of activity would facilitate the creation of bodies not present in a particular country, (e.g. the creation of United Nations Information Offices in developing countries) where without such a supportive environment it would be difficult to maintain them.
  4. A wide variety of services could be shared under many possible formulae (Social Work Advisory Service. A Study into the Feasibility of Establishing an Administrative Centre for a Group of Voluntary Organizations. 1970; summarized in International Associations, 1972, pp. 155-157), some of which would benefit organizations not requiring full-time permanent office accommodation. These include:
    • temporary offices on an hourly or daily basis for small organizations requiring only a part-time secretariat and for visiting representatives of organizations based in other countries.
    • letter boxes for the mail of organizations without fixed permanent offices but requiring a permanent mailing address.
    • shared use of high-quality modern office equipment (duplicators, offset, photocopy, addressograph, accounting machines, franking machines, etc.) which are not economically justifiable for a single organization.
    • services which can be associated with the presence of many NGOs in the same building (telephone exchange permitting "conference calls", receptionist, porter/messenger/handyman/concierge, cafeteria/restaurant, travel agent, bank, post office, telephone answering service, telex, reception area/ reading room, library, photograph library, record fire/theft/security vaults, etc.).
    • joint services which can be run under contact for groups of interested NGOs (mailing and despatch services, accounting/book-keeping, duplicating and printing, copy typing, typing of letters dictated onto tape, office cleaning, secretariat administration, use of computer time for mailing and research, publication sales and distribution services, bulk purchases of office stationery and supplies, etc.).
    • professional services (accountant, lawyer/tax consultant, translators, interpreters, congress organizer, fund raiser, agent to obtain paid advertising for insertion in NGO periodicals, public relations officer, press and information service, librarian, abstractor, consultants on the formation, organization or programme implementation of NGOs, consultants on governmental relations, etc.).
    • shared addresses for distribution of periodicals or sales literature (e.g. conference reports to UN Agencies or publication lists to libraries) or for the galvanization of a network of agencies and fund sources in response to natural disaster.
    • collective or shared representation services, particularly to resolve the problem of adequate NGO representation at meetings of UN Agencies with which they have consultative status. (This rather resembles the type of
    • representation which a country's diplomatic service offers its many government departments, businesses, cultural organizations, etc.). Also the need for effective lobbying. Such services could also be made available on a reciprocal basis to NGOs which do not have their offices in other cities.
    • shared meeting rooms with simultaneous interpretation and audiovisual equipment.
  5. Some of the services could be run under the well-developed "cooperative" formula. It is very important to note that the more services that organizations succeed in pooling the more their overhead expenses will be reduced whilst at the same time diverting funds from the commercial sector into the cooperative itself--such that the cooperative profits to the benefit of the grouped NGOs as a whole (e.g. the case where NGOs spend funds in their own cafeteria/restaurant). There is no reason why the existence of the cooperative should not be the basis for a number of other services:
    • -- sharing of some staff over holiday periods.
    • -- group insurance and pension schemes for secretarial and other staff who might otherwise be tempted to seek employment where there is greater longterm security.
  6. There is no reason why the centre, as a cooperative, should not come to an agreement with other transnational centres in other countries to facilitate:
    • -- mobility of organization secretariats and the establishment of regional or subsidiary offices.
    • -- staff mobility and professional advancement without loss of financial benefits.
    • -- operational contacts (e.g. telex links) to facilitate coordination of activities initiated at different centres (e.g. New York and Geneva) or between international centres and their national equivalents.
  7. The transnational centre seems to be a particularly useful device for facilitating interaction and programme coordination between bodies in developing countries concerned with focussing international aid for that country.
  8. The transnational centre is a visible symbol to the general public of the reality of international action. As such, permanent exhibitions, film shows and internationally oriented periodical libraries open to the public could usefully stimulate public interest in both the developing and the developed countries. The guided tour of the United Nations in New York and Geneva may have very subtle impacts on the thinking of people. Some equivalent in other countries could well prove highly significant--particularly as a means of interesting individuals in international action in which they can participate directly.


The best example of an international centre is the Centre International Varembé opposite the Palais des Nations in Geneva in which some 20 international organizations have offices. Little attempt however has been made to share facilities (e.g. meeting rooms) or equipment, and to make of it a centre of informal contact independent of the United Nations complex.

Even more suggestive of future trends is the network of world trade centres now being set up (built: New York, Tokyo, New Orleans, Seoul, Wellington, Brussels; being built: London, Madrid; planned: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, New Delhi .Paris, Singapore, Antwerp). Yet according to The Economist (12 February 1972) few people in business or government anywhere even know what a world trade centre is, far less have any views on whether it is a good thing.

The idea, according to The Economist, is very simple. Time and money can be saved by concentrating trade facilities in one place. The centres provide space for offices, exhibitions, conference rooms, ancillary facilities (post office, telex rooms, secretarial services, etc.). Some have hotel and entertainment facilities attached. Ultimately the intention is to link all the world trade centres with direct telephone lines and television hook-ups so that conferences can be held in several centres simultaneously. A world data bank of trade and contact information with instant information will be available via satellite at any one of them. Such plans are made through the World Trade Centres Association.

It could be considered urgent that the concentration and interconnection of such facilities for the benefit of the multinational profit bodies should be counterbalanced by the creation of a parallel network to facilitate international programme action on the part of voluntary and intergovernmental bodies.


III.Information and Communication

The Problems and some Suggestions

By definition international organizations are faced with the need to communicate over very long distances. The efficiency of this communication is vital to the effectiveness of the organization and its programmes. But the "distances" involved are not only physical. There are several barriers to communication which can be summarized as follows:

  • geographical distance, namely the problem of communication between offices of the same organization in different continents and regions. (Postal delays by sea mail may amount to several months.)
    Significant increase in effectiveness could be accomplished by the introduction of subsidized services. For example, the cost of a direct telephone link between transnational centres in New York, Geneva, Bangkok and Nairobi could be subsidized. (The wide area telephone service (WATS) rating system in the United States is an interesting model.) Telex links could also be introduced. The cost of these links would anyway be effectively reduced if organizations used the same telex service at a transnational centre.

  • right of access, namely that whilst a subsidized information service (whether telephone or documentation centre) may exist, access may be restricted to a very limited group of users (e.g. the Information Referral Service of the United Nations Environment Programme which is solely for the use by government representatives even though much of the information comes from non-governmental sources). A more sensitive right of access policy needs to be formulated.

  • location of key contacts. The momentum of NGO activity should not be lost at any stage because it is impossible to obtain the contact address of a person or organization (known or unknown) responsible for a given topic or programme. This should apply not only with regard to single contacts but also to multiple contacts (e.g. locating people or bodies which might wish to participate in a given project; setting up a mailing list for the distribution of a fact sheet during the life-cycle of some crisis). A series of international referral centres may be an intermediate step.

  • inter-organizational barriers. Each international organization should feel entirely confident that it will automatically be alerted concerning any of the following events around the world on a given topic:
    • -- plans for or invitations to meetings
    • -- proposals for or action on a programme
    • -- proposals for the creation of an organization
    • -- reports or documents
    • -- resolutions formulated
    • -- names and addresses (where non-confidential) of persons or organizations active on a given topic
    • -- contracts or funds availability for programmes.

In addition each NGO should feel confident that if a new problem is detected in some other subject area which in any way affects its own field of concern, then this relationship will be automatically signalled so that the NGO can begin to receive information on events concerning the new topic as they affect its field of competence.

Furthermore, given the increasing complexity and jargonization of issues and relationships between issues and the need for continuous re-learning, each NGO should feel confident that if issues or relationships are signalled by the system which, though supposedly relevant (due to someone's new insight), cannot be comprehended, then the system can be used in such a way as to make the relevance clear, using audiovisual instructional techniques.

Each NGO should be able to make use of such a sophisticated information system in the full knowledge that the cost to the NGO of entering any event into the system will be shared equitably between the NGO (wishing to inform certain categories of persons or organizations) and organizations wishing to be informed on the topic in question. And in addition, when neither the budget of the NGO nor that of the bodies desiring to receive the information (i.e. low resource bodies or those of "borderline relevance", from the sender's viewpoint) will ensure that the information is transferred, resources from agencies interested in subsidizing communications on the topic in question should automatically be drawn upon to maximize the number of bodies contacted.

It is possible to design computer based information systems to assist in this process of information exchange. They do not have to be high-cost, hightechnology systems and can make use of existing installations. Note for example, a review of the U.N. Capacity Study (Anthony Judge, International Organizations and the Generation of the Will to Change; information systems required. Brussels, Union of International Associations, 1970; Acquisition and organization of international documentation (Panel report to a 1972 UN1TAR Symposium). Geneva, UNITAR, 1972. For the potential of such systems, even if exclusive, see: United Nations Association of the USA. Space communications; increasing UN responsiveness to the problems of mankind. New York, UN/USA, 1972.

Current systems planned by or suggested for inter-governmental bodies make no provision for access by non-governmental bodies . However data on the latter will be registered so that they can be propagandized and used. This strategy is self-defeating in the long run.

There are a number of dangers associated with any increase in the effectiveness of information systems, notably:

  • the very existence of any such system tends to create an elite of users with a multitude of organizations and persons excluded because of cost or other factors (creating a further gap between developed and developing regions).
  • unless great care is taken to ensure that it is as loose, open and democratic as possible, the system may well be controlled and misued (often unknowingly) by power-hungry groups.

IV.New Styles of Organization

The Problem of Coordination

The fragmentation, suspicion, duplication, unnecessary competition for limited resources and conscious or unconscious opposition to change and new patterns of activity which is increasingly characteristic of inter-organizational relations, suggests the need for a new type of social entity.

Federations of organizations or even groupings of individuals--as the current solution to this malaise--are considered a potential threat to the autonomy and freedom of action of the proposed members, unless the grouping has a highly specific function (in which case its coordinative power is limited). Members do not want to have things said in their name except on very specific issues with their approval.

Is it not time for a re-examination of the assumption that "organizations" as now known--and they do not differ fundamentally from the first associations and limited liability companies that were created centuries ago--are the only possible form of organizing social activity. This is an incredible absence of development in a society characterized by change in all domains.

Suggestion for the use of "Potential Associations"

Perhaps the impasse in inter-organizational relations and the legal recognition of such entities could be bypassed by creating a new type of social entity.

As a first suggestion, why do we not "create" (or, really, "think in terms of") what might be called a "potential association" ("société potentielle" in French, as opposed to "société anonyme"). Such an association would, as such, not have "members" in the sense of people subscribing in common to a particular set of views or being represented in any way via any election procedure. The relationship would be loose--almost to vanishing point-- to avoid any threat to autonomy.

The bodies brought into relationship via a potential association would be held, or, strictly speaking, would hold themselves, in this relationship simply by the fact that they received information, whether on a paying basis or as some form of subsidized service, from a central point on topics of interest to them.

Such centres, each functioning as the secretariat for a potential association, could take any existing organizational form--the fact that each made available information (on a subscription basis, for example) to a list of people or organizations implies no membership relationship whatsoever.

But, and here lies the difference from the multitude of information distribution operations, the secretariat would also ensure that each "potential associate" or "subscriber" was regularly and rapidly informed of the identity and degree of "interest" or "desire to act" of other associates, with respect to each new subject or issue (falling within the domain of that particular potential association) on which he had also registered his interest (or desire to act, to commit funds, etc.).

Each associate therefore has a comprehensive picture, updated weekly for example, of what new opportunities for joint action are open to him.

On such particular issues contact between a group of associates, selfselected from the total "pool" of associates, is facilitated by the secretariat. This could take the form of a list (of the names and addresses of all associates who had registered the same degree of interest in a given topic) sent to each person on the list--or this could be extended so that a willing contact person was appointed and indicated on the list. Such a restricted "transient" group may then decide quite independently on the organizational form or joint action it has to take, if any, (i.e., whether formal or informal, profit or nonprofit, one-off meeting, organization, joint letter, delegation, etc.) for the period of duration of common interest in the subject. The potential association's central secretariat may, in some cases, then prove to be the most appropriate administrative structure to carry out the secretariat function of the specialized transient group. In other cases a separate secretariat may be created. (See: Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, London, 1970, p. 133 (transient organizations), pp. 340-3 (situational groups); Voir aussi : G.P. Speeckaert. Les associations momentanées d'organisations internationales. Associations Internationales, 1971, 4, pp. 205-217.)

In this way the existence of the central secretariat is continually facilitating and catalyzing the creation and crystallization of a multitude of transient groups--self-selected from the total pool of autonomous associates and dissolving back into the pool on completion of the activity for which they were created. Clearly at any one time a given associate may be, be becoming, or coming to be, a "member" of a number of such transient groups with different: constitutions, degrees of formality, governmental character, continuity, degrees of permanence, binding power over members, types of programme, etc. Such specialized groups may result, in the normal way, in the creation of their own information systems or administrative apparatus --and associates may in fact have no farther relationship with the potential association from which the transient group "gelled". Associates may even then constitute themselves into a more specialized potential association but at no time is the autonomy of the associate infringed upon without his direct consent on the specific issue.


The potential association constitutes a development which is a "hair's breadth" beyond current practice. This is encouraging in that it indicates that the novelty would not be so great as to jeopardize its use. Some organizational techniques which are related to it are: ad hoc committees and working parties, use of mission oriented "task forces" in complex organizations in order to get collaboration across jurisdictional boundaries (this is highly developed in the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation for example), "invisible colleges" of scholars, natural disaster or crisis contact groups, "situational groups" advocated for people passing through the same life situation at the same time, and working groups of NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC.

"Due to the increasing desire on the part of a number of NGOs to combine for consultation on specific matters under the consideration of the Economic and Social Council or its subsidiary bodies, slowly a new approach has been gaining ground. Without changing the basic concept, the Conference agreed that it or its Bureau may act as a convenor or meetings of consultative NGOs who wish to meet, consult and cooperate on specific matters. The conference or its Bureau should however not bear any responsibility for the actions of the groups thus formed. This method which is certainly capable of further and wider application is not objectionable, provided that there is always a clear distinction defining the competence, the action and the responsibility of the Conference and the Bureau on the one hand, and the competence, action, and responsibility of the cooperating groups or ad hoc commutes of NGOs on the other hand." (A review of the Aims and Objectives and the Structural Organization of the Conference of NGO's in Consultative Status with ECOSOC. llth General Conference of NGO's in Consultative Status with ECOSOC, Geneva, 1969, 11/GC/19, pp. 9-10).


The advantages over these techniques are however highly significant. Firstly, the potential association is given social recognition, it becomes a social phenomenon which can be labelled, discussed and improved upon. At present the processes encompassed leading to the crystallization of such groups occur in a very haphazard, change-dependent, inefficient way (to the horror and despair of members when they finally make contact and realize the effort they have wasted). No information system has yet been designed to facilitate this type of contact--the closest approaches are the high-volume, high-cost, highly specialized, profile-based, journal-abstract systems. Secondly, as a distinct organizational technique it can be active between hitherto partially or totally isolated organizations--as such it increases the whole pace, potential and flexibility of organized activity. Thirdly, by objectifying the tenuous concept of a group of bodies or persons which could link together in different transient patterns under different appropriate conditions, the need to centre attention on existing organizations (with theirtendency to self-perpetuate and constitute obstacles to social change) is diminished in favour of recognition of the range of potential patterns into which the component entities could "gel" in response to new conditions. A meaningful and dynamic social framework for ordinary organizations is thus supplied.

Thus whilst society may, with the use of a technique of this type, form a highly ordered(low entropy) complex at any given time--satisfying short term, stability requirements-- the high probability of switching to completely different high order patterns at later points in time supplies the "randomness" (high entropy) condition essential to the facilitation of social change and development in response to new conditions. In this connection, note Professor Johan Galtung's view on the importance of high entropy for world peace :

"Thus the general formula is : Increase the world entropy, i.e. increase the disorder, the messiness, the randomness, the unpredictability--avoid the clear-cut, the simplistic blueprint, the highly predictable, the excessive order... Expressed in one formula, this seems to capture much of what today passes as peace thinking, particularly of the associative variety." (Johan Galtung. Entropy and the general theory of peace. Proceedings of the International Peace Research Association, Second Conference. Assen, Van Gorcum, 1968; also published as Chapter 5 of Theories of Peace, prepared for Unesco under a contract with IPRA.)

In other words we have a means of ensuring high social stability at each point in time with low predictability over time, or alternatively, and paradoxically, we can think of it as a potentially (i.e. unrealizable) highly ordered situation over time which "contains" a sequence of very disordered situations. An advantage of this is that people and power groups cannot take up feudalistic roles in potential structures. (In this connection see : Johan Galtung. Feudal systems, structural violence and the structural theory of revolutions. Proceedings of the IPRA Third Conference. Assen, Van Gorcum, 1971.)

Fourthly, at a time when the need for greater participation is being felt, the "société anonyme" can be seen as crystallized out of a system of potential relationship between associates known (i.e. non-anonymous) to one another. Namely the transient bodies in which a given associate does not participate are not totally alien to him (provided they arise from the same potential association--the alienating effect of an ordinary organization is thus reduced.

Note that there is no limit to the number of associates of a potential associationn--or to the degree of sub-division or over-lapping between such associations. (Limits worth a moment's reflection are perhaps constituted by the total world population or the total number of groups.)

Two other thorny problems are bypassed:

  • legal status is irrelevant since the association as such, does not "exist" in the present in any tangible form--it only exists potentially (hence "potential association") as a future possibility, and then only partially, through any of an infinite (or a least very large) combination of possible sub-patterns called into existence by particular conditions--it is these sub-patterns which may take on forms which could usefully acquire some form of legal status for their usually limited duration--there is however no need for then to "recognize" one another or be recognized by non-member associates.
  • control of the central secretariat is not the critical problem it is in the creation of a normal organization. Its operation could even be carried out under contract or be carried out by an organization totally dissociated from the transient groups which "gel" out of the potential association. Control could be in the hands of a few or all of the associates by their constituting themselves for that administrative purpose only into a limited liability group or even some form of "Committee of the Whole" (a technique used by the United Nations General Assembly). Alternatively, the minimum administrative operations could be carried out as a normal subscriber-service by periodicals--overlap between such services to common associates would merely confirm then effectiveness.

By implication, both governmental and non-governmental, and profit and nonprofit, bodies at any level could be associates of the same potential association. The feasibility of a given pattern gelling into some effective ad hoc, formal or informal, joint operation would be determined by negotiation as part of the "life" of the potential associations in terms of the political and other constraints valid for the proposed pattern over the period in question.

It could be instructive to speculate on the results of constituting the many thousands of bodies which make up the UN into a potential association. The same applies to the whole intergovernmental system, the nongovernmental system and could be equally interesting at the national and local levels.

Significance for the United Nations

It should be clear that it is precisely this type of method of ensuring a constant, very high and flexible interaction rate which would ensure generation of the maximum amount of self-coordinated new activity, commitment and involvement by associates of potential associations. It is this sort of approach which could be catalyzed by the UN to increase the amount of activity related to development, peace and other UN programme objectives. This could be done for the local and national levels, where the centres of interest lie, to strengthen grass-roots interaction, with the recognition that this will build up and overflow naturally and of its own accord onto the international level and from the developed to the developing countries. This can be achieved without the need for the UN to be responsible for the organization, control or political implications of whatever joint activity gels out-- except where Specialized Agency departmental participation, as an associate in a given activity, is appropriate. It is the increase in the absolute amount of such interaction which will ensure maximum collaboration with, and support for, the sub-set constituted by UN programmes.

For specific proposals for the use of computers to facilitate high inter- and intraorganizational interaction, see Anthony Judge, . Information systems and inter-organizational space. In: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science Association, Special Issue on Social Intelligence (for Development), Winter 1970-71. See also: International Organizations and the Generation of the Will to Change; information systems required. Brussels, Union of International Associations, 1970 (INF/5).

V.Changes in Intergovernmental Secretariats

The Problem

At the present time there is insufficient consensus for any major interorganizational structural change to be implemented to facilitate non-governmental action. This applies particularly to the relations between bodies within the United Nations system, whether:

  • within different divisions of a particular Secretariat (e.g. Office of Public Information or NGO Liaison Section).
  • between bodies reporting to the UN General Assembly (e.g. ECOSOC and UNDP).
  • between bodies reporting to different plenary bodies, despite ECOSOC's mandate to review such relationships (e.g. FAO and UNESCO).


The probability of implementing any of the following suggestions within an inter-governmental secretariat is therefore inversely proportional to the number of bodies from which approval must be sought. It is useful to list some of them, even if they cannot be implemented, as a possible guide to thinking for the none-too-distant future when international complacency will be severely challenged by economic and social realities:

  1. Facilitation of NGO Action
    • perform a switchboard function for incoming programme proposals from NGOs.
    • assist NGOs in matching their projects to responsibilities of agency divisions (particularly for cross-sectoral and multidisciplinary projects).
  2. Programme Information
    • arrange for inclusion of NGOs on all (of the many) appropriate agency mailing lists for document distribution and periodically review the distribution profile for each NGO. Suggest document "formulae" and "packages" to be purchased by NGOs.
    • receive and file a periodic report from NGOs on their activities particularly as they relate to UN programmes.
    • operate information system to facilitate inter-NGO and NGO-UN section contact on specific programme interests in common (see: previous sections).
    • provide briefing papers for staff and delegates (especially for newly elected government delegates on committees), new delegates on NGOs, and for new NGO representatives to the UN on UN procedures.
    • ensure involvement of NGOs both as data in information systems and as users of that data (particularly in systems formulated by the Inter-Organization Board for Information Systems and Related Activities).
  3. Facilitation of Inter-NGO Contact
  • formulate models of transnational centres to house the offices of a wide variety of UN and NGO bodies having programmes in a particular (developing) country (see: earlier section) with the object of building up a "critical mass" of competance in each country.
  • Public Relations Activities on Behalf of NGOs
    • undertake public-relations function about NGO possible role in relation to the UN (not only to international NGOs, but also to governments, agency secretariats, informed publics (e.g. via Unesco Courier) and national NGOs).
    • publication of one single NGO newsletter for UN family.
    • ensure NGOs figure in public-relations concerning UN (e.g. UN and agency tours; UN bookshops, etc.).
    • arrange for meetings in developing countries to introduce and explain the role of NGOs and examine their possible function and style in given circumstances.
    • help to build recognition of voluntary and NGO groups as constituting a "Third World" in organizational terms when related to the governmental and business organization worlds--a Third World which needs to be developed for balanced social change.
  • Studies
    • further, whenever possible and appropriate, the moves to create an international legal status for NGOs as examined by UNESCO and Council of Europe (see bibliography in 14th edition of Yearbook of International Organizations).
    • arrange for specialist meetings and studies to clarify questions such as:
    • definitions of range of NGOs
    • nature of "NGO" in non-Western cultures
    • new types of organization possible
    • the existence of NGOs as an indicator of social development.
    • ensure the collection of statistics on social groups at the local and national level in countries to improve understanding of the function of these groups in relation to social and cultural development.
  • Liaison with National Governments to Facilitate NGO Action
    • assist NGOs with specific problems with national governments
    • encourage the formulation of model laws relating to the establishment and functioning of NGO offices and programmes in a particular country; give consideration to the legal status of NGO staff in a given country (c.f. special status of journalists on assignment).
    • encourage formulation of models of ways NGOs can relate to national governments within different social systems (including national level consultative status).
  • Liaison with other Inter-governmental Bodies to Facilitate NGO Action
    • liaise with consultative status offices in all bodies of the United Nations system.
    • undertake an Ombudsman function for suggestions and complaints.
    • provide a "counsel for the defence" in any governmental review of a given NGO's status.
    • defend NGO subventions when these are threatened in budget revisions; propose and negotiate new subventions where these seem appropriate.
    • act as funding agency for special NGO projects which cannot be handled by other parts of the UN system.
    • perform a watchdog function to ensure that NGOs are drawn into programme and information system planning in time, whenever possible, and that NGOs are "called upon" in resolutions whenever appropriate.
    • negotiate provision for NGO facilities in each agency on a basis similar to those of press correspondents.
    • liaise with regional UN bodies concerning their contacts with NGOs.
    • standardize NGO consultative status categories and review procedure between agencies. Introduce the concept of third and fourth level categories of a "contact but non-consultative" variety in order to bring more bodies into relationship with the UN.

    VI.Legal Recognition of International Non-governmental Organizations

    It is important to draw attention to the fact that international non-governental organizations have no existence in the eyes of international law (whether they are profit or non-profit organizations). Legally such organizations are "out-laws" subject in their operations to the whims of the legislaiion of the country in which they are based or in which they attempt toundertake programmes.

    This question was first studied in detail by a Commission on the Legal Status of International Associations of the Institute of International Law in 1910. The Commission's report was presented by N. Politis at its Brussels, 50th anniversary, session in 1923 (Annuaire de I'Institut de Droit International, vol. 30, Session jubilaire de Bruxelles, 1923, pp. 97-173, 348-381, 385-393. The text of a draft convention on the legal status of international associations was approved unanimously at that session (see Annex, page 139) and revised at a 1950 session.

    Another early important step taken by The Hague Conference on Private International Law resulted in the adoption in 1956 of a Convention concerning the legal recognition of societies, associations and foreign foundations. This has only been ratified by five of the Conference's Member States. In addition it only covers the recognition, not the activity of such bodies.

    The Union of International Associations, after consultation with appropriate experts, submitted to the Director General of Unesco in May 1959 a text for a "Draft Convention aiming at facilitating the work of International Nongovernmental Organizations". This initiative only resulted in some changes to customs regulations governing the movement of NGO goods.

    Some studies have since been undertaken by FAO resulting in an investigation in 1969 by the Council of Europe with a view to the preparation of a European Convention. This initiative appears to have been abandoned.

    Recent parallel events include work within the European Community to formulate legislation for a "European (profit making) corporation". The Committee on Trade Union Rights of the International Labour Conference (1970) identified the following rights (with the exception of the first two). The ILO Governing Body instructed the Director General to "undertake further comprehensive studies and to prepare reports on law and practice" in relation to trade unions. It seems that such initiatives should encourage further moves towards an international convention covering the following points:

    • international legal status (whether "recognized" by UN Agencies or not) and special status in the countries in which it has its offices.
    • right to be informed of programmes, problems and organizations affecting its area of subject, programme or problem competence.
    • right to exercise activities in other countries.
    • right to negotiate and be represented at governmental meetings on its special field of competence.
    • right of participation in the formulation of programmes to combat social problems which are its special field of competence.
    • right of its national member bodies to participate fully in international programmes.
    • right to inviolability of offices as well as correspondence and telephone conversations.
    • right to protection of funds and assets against intervention by public authorities.
    • right of access to media of mass communications.
    • right to protection against any discrimination in matters of affiliation and activities.
    • right of access to voluntary conciliation and arbitration procedures.
    • right of members to further education and training.

    Although such a convention would have many significant positive consequences, it is not clear whether the negative consequences of an overly rigid or discriminating convention would not cause more harm than benefit. The experience of Belgium should be studied. It is still the only country to have special legislation giving favourable recognition and facilities to international scientific bodies (law of 25 October 1919) later expanded (law of 6 December 1954) to benefit philanthropic, religious, educational and other bodies (see Annex, page 136).

    A related important problem is that of the legal rights and obligations of staff of international non-governmental bodies--particularly with respect to travel documents, residential requirements, taxation, social security and pension rights. Until adequate job security can be provided to NGO staff, they will not be able to attract and select the most appropriate personnel.

    VII. Social Recognition

    Perhaps most important is to establish the social significance, at all levels of society, of groups and organizations which are neither of governmental or business origin.

    In the UN system context this could take the form of ensuring that data is collected and published, in the various statistical yearbooks, on the number and variety of social groups at the local and national levels in each country-- as is done for data on individuals (Demographic Yearbook, although in much greater detail), museums, schools, newspapers, cinemas, etc. (Unesco Statistical Yearbook), diseases (WHO and FAO Yearbooks), etc. This would help focus attention on the function of this vast network of groups as a major unexplored resource in support of social and cultural development.