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Patterns of Governance

« The rise of Trans-national Coalitions of NGO’s”, Global Society, Vol. 19, No. 3, July 2005

Autor : Helen Yanacopulos

Por Amy Herrick

enero 2006

The concept of « Governance » is no longer a static evaluative framework but rather a purposive activity “where organizations attempt to influence other political actors by ways in which they frame and steer issues.”


Helen Yanacopulos

Dr Helen Yanacopulos is a senior lecturer in international politics and development in the Development Policy and Practice Department at The Open University. She has been a consultant for the UN Development Programme, The Commonwealth Foundation, The Commonwealth Secretariat, Amnesty International, Oxfam Canada and Oxfam GB, the International Labour Organisation and the Charities Aid Foundation. Her research examines international NGOs, social movements and civil society networks, public engagement and media in development, as well as post-conflict development. She was also the series editor for the Zed Books series ‘Development Matters’.

Theoretical background

Since the 1980’s there has been an increase in academic literature on new types of governance from Rosenau’s first attempt to explain the new order of “disorder” in international politics.<1> His usage of the term “cascading interdependence” described the “rapidly changing patterns of interaction…which [are] characterized by interdependence and fragmentation of a rapidly changing world” (Dougherty and Pfaltzgraf 112-113)<2> . This new era of politics (“Post International”) contains a paradox in which there is both an inclination towards chaos and coalition building. Rosenau foreshadowed an increase in the power of sub-national groups and, since his early writings; in effect, these groups have taken center stage both in the purely political realm (i.e. terrorists as well as humanitarian NGOs) and the politico-economic realm (i.e development NGOs and international lobbies). For Rosenau, the interactions between international, national and sub-national actors create a new type of global ordering or “governance” which is created without government.

Jan Kooiman elaborates on this concept through his analysis of interactions in governance. His concept of “second order governance” is particularly important because it includes what he calls a “balancing act between ‘governing needs’<3> and ‘governing capacities’”<4> In this second order governance there is an interpenetration of actors: the forces of States, markets and civil society do more than just exchange, in Kooiman’s words, their “identities are at stake”. These actors are either forces of change or forces of the status quo that confront each other on individual issues and are changed by these confrontations at the same time. In focusing on States and civil society he relies on Biekart’s definition of the balance of the State and civil society: “neither of the two can monopolize public life without provoking a reaction from the opposite realm to retain political space” .<5> This is because they are offering what Rosenau would call competing scripts and what Kooiman calls the “construction” of the needs of governance. The interactions that create second order governance are the competing discourses of States and Civil Society in formulating and articulating the needs and thus the capacities to provide for a people or constituency.

Rosenau and Kooiman’s respective works form the basis from which Helen Yanacopulos writes her article on governance and transnational networks. The basis for the formation of transnational networks of NGOs is to promote a shared discourse and advocacy position to solve global problems. What happens in the encounter between the States’ discourse and civil society? Is there a “transformation in the nature of the global economic governance as a result of the Multilateral Economic Institution- Global Social Movement encounter” (Scholte et al. 3)<6> ? If so, how does this “complex multilateralism” work?

Yanacopulos argues that there should be empirical research on the process of this governance. Rather than concentrating on a definition of governance as an “explanatory framework” which “aims to explain the changing strategic relationship between state and non-state actors in world politics” (247), she uses a definition of governance as “purposive” in order to understand this process of governance, specifically in NGO networks. She defines this governance as an activity “where organizations attempt to influence other political actors by ways in which they frame and steer issues” (247). While she argues that much has been written about governance as an explanatory framework little has been written on the influence of these actors. By concentrating on the definition of purposive government, she embarks on an empirical study of the workings of governance: i.e. why and how NGOs engage in this activity. The study tries to forge a stronger conceptual and empirical link between governance and mechanisms of influence (framing, steering, norm setting) in order to move beyond governance as an explanatory framework.

Concurring with Rosenau’s definition of purposive governance which relies on these same “steering mechanisms such as the framing of goals, issuing of directives, pursuing policies and changing norms” (Rosenau 250)<7> she explains that a study of the actors participating in governance (in this case, transnational NGO networks), their relationships and the quality of these relationships are essential because they frame and steer the debate. This process forms a link between “micro changes on macro dynamics.” In moving beyond Rosenau’s definition, she underlines that the norms created by this framing and steering are especially important when there are power asymmetries present such as in the relationship between International Financial Institutions, States and Non Governmental Organizations. Yanacopulos argues strongly for an analysis of this process through the lens of governance in which non-governmental actors’ transnational coalitions are at once participative and a microcosm of this purposive co-operation.

Relying on the foundation of definitions of governance by Kooiman < 8> , Rosenau and Finkelstein < 9>, she reaffirms Smout’s < 10> definition that governance is a process that relies on continual interaction. This concept of interaction is the main thesis of Yanacopulos’ work, as she attempts to explain the ‘quality of these relations’ (251). In conclusion to her literature review on governance, she outlines the mechanisms of governance as an activity including pre-decision making, the framing of problems and setting the agenda; the attempt by actors to steer issues and influence decision maker’s choices and the norm setting process (the process of creating shared beliefs).

These mechanisms of governance are considered the same mechanisms of influence in advocacy. In transnational advocacy, or movements, there are “regular interactions across national boundaries when at least one actor is a non-state agent or does not operate on behalf of a national government or an intergovernmental organization” (Risse-Kippen Qd 253)<11>. The literature that examines the process of the formation of these movements looks at the horizontal aspects of network formation and the complexities of the co-operation. Beginning in the 1970’s with works by Keohane and Nye, the level of analysis has stayed at the supra-national level. In Yanacopulos’ words, transnational literature has been used as an explanatory framework, in attempts to explain how state and non-state actors work together across national boundaries (p. 254). These attempts could be characterized by the recent literature in complex multilateralism, which seeks to explain the depth and strategic patterns of co-operation and confrontation between State and non-State actors < 12>. However, Yanacopulos states that, “governance is not restricted to the transnational, as governance seeks to explain dynamics between state and non-state actors at all levels of analysis”. Her paper seeks to understand the inner workings of NGOs as they are “strategic entities in themselves that react to internal and external pressures.” Moving beyond a broad explanatory analysis of governance, she attempts to explain these internal and external pressures by examining why and how these coalitions exist and are formed. The article, thus, serves as a bridge between transnational relations theory and governance theory.


The application and “test” of these ideas is found in her empirical study of Oxfam International, the Third World Network, the Bretton Woods Project and the NGO Working Group on the World Bank, through interviews of each organization to understand their methodology and specific interactions. In addition, interviews with members of the World Bank and other IFI’s in provided information on whether theses actors (NGOs) had any effect on their decision making process. These specific NGOs were chosen for the fact that they are non-single issue area networks and also for the fact that they work in development.

The choice of Development NGOs was based on a range of factors which include:

  • First, their inevitable straddling of power asymmetries between the North and South and the fact that the issue of development in and of itself have been brought to the forefront due to partly due to the efforts of framing and steering by NGOs.

  • Second, the identifiable participation of the many actors involved in development, from individuals to international organization, [which] make the strands connecting the grassroots [level] and the global highly visible.

  • Third, the public access to documentation and to participants is excellent.

  • Fourth, much of the work has a moral urgency and therefore high profile and speed, which gives it an impetus one might more readily associate with movements of a more ideological cast.

  • Fifth, the level of state cooperation with development NGOs and the devolution of responsibility to NGOs are considerable and growing” (255).

Additionally, the study is important because the cooperation between development NGOs involves negotiation and a surrender of autonomy to the collective (255). Yanacopulos argues that there is an added value to working together as they are in a competitive environment but working towards the same goals- which are to affect not only policy outcomes but to influence the structure of the debate.

The criterion of the study was based on:

  • the primary focus of the group on issues of development

  • the primary focus on one or more of he IFIS and the NGOs who were consequently attempting to address not only program issues but also policy or structural issues

  • the organizational forms of the NGOs that were formalized coalitions

Oxfam International was chosen for its ability to form 12 different national Oxfams into one coherent voice for improving advocacy. The Third World Network was chosen for its large membership of Southern NGOs as well as its highly critical views of the WTO and the IMF. The BWP’s role is that of a “network within networks” as it was founded on a pre-existing network and is also part of larger networks of NGOs. It “circulates information to NGOs all over the world, identifies lobbying and campaigning opportunities for NGOs” (258). The final case study is with the NGOWGWB (NGO Working Group for the World Bank) which established regional assemblies of NGOs and also meets with high level officials of the World Bank, it was chosen for its unique “inside/outside” vision (258).

Conclusions- “you don’t have to be a government to be influential”

Frames, Agenda Setting and Norms

The framing of issues is an essential part of both transnational networks which create the normative claims of the agenda (“a problem is not a problem unless it is called one”) as it is in global governance. Development NGOs are on the forefront of agenda setting both on the national stage of lobbying and on the international stage in presenting facts that argue against the status quo consensus. Consequently, these positions may be picked up by IFIs or States –furthering the impact of NGO framing. The impacts of these coalitions are not only measured in policy outcome but also in the intermediary steps such of framing and steering. One example is illustrated by the HIPC imitative (Helping indebted poor countries) which became an issue within the World Bank and the IMF by the efforts of the NGO Working Group for the World Bank to lobby for scientists. These scientists were eventually hired and better links between NGOs and the Bank culminated in a new position called “Liaison officers”. The steering of the debate by NGOs was towards a scientific aspect, thereby adding a new actor and thus a new perspective that could influence the inner workings of the World Bank. This steering of the debate by transnational coalitions is described as a dynamic process ‘where various actors in society compete to influence other actors who are involved in a particular issue’. The ability to impact the actual institution by forming a coalition of NGOs to lobby the organization is an important part of the work of transnational coalitions and is the added value to such a partnership. In much the same way, steering is also an important part of governance as it is the comparative element of “governing” in a State centered structure.

The thesis of Yanacopulos’ study is that for these non-governmental actors, the main purpose of these coalitions is to frame the agenda of the international institutions, or “steer” them i.e influence them in a different direction. Both State and non-State actors compete to set this agenda and their multiple agenda’s interact in order to form “multi-actor steering”, a term used by Rosenau to describe this dynamic process (262). In the example of the NGOWGWB, their efforts to steer the institution involved creating mechanisms that, by their very existence, change the function of the institution and its duties. The reason that these coalitions form, for example between the networks of NGOs in the NGOWGWB, is due to an external variable such as an issue area or institution (in this case) that requires advocacy or lobbying.

Oxfam’s transnational network of NGOs lobby effectively, in part, by framing the debate. Their capacity to mobilize the population through wide spread media campaigns to sitting down with negotiators effectively changes the terms of negotiations. In advocacy: ie lobbying and campaigning, for international NGOs such as Oxfam this process necessarily implies multi-level (national/international lobbying) efforts.

The end result of this framing and steering could be considered norm setting as illustrated by Amnesty International in their efforts to create an environment of voluntary sanctioning by the members of a society for certain acts. The ability to create norms that are followed by governments in the international sphere reflects the comparative power of NGOs. In transnational coalitions, the ability to sanction is best formed by a coalition of actors. Additionally, norm setting is argued to be a vital part of governance, as a to “offer [it] legitimacy and political support”.

Her analysis of this process is that working together involves a degree of negotiation and a surrender of autonomy to the collective. Additionally, it requires a pro-active strategy to achieve goals and this is the value added to working together. Through transnational networks NGO’s are able to steer the debate and create norms in governance by using the media as well as their coalitions of actors.

Yanacopulos argues that for NGOs to be effective they must operate on multiple strategic levels – with Southern NGOs, lobbying efforts in Northern countries and Southern countries- to increase the chance of success (ex: Oxfam interview 265).

Theoretical conclusions

Yanacopulos argues that the main strategic initiatives in governance theory – steering, framing and norm setting- are prevalent in NGO transnational coalitions. Thus, in seeking to move beyond the discussion of the normative descriptions of “bad governance” or “good governance”, (such as used by many intergovernmental institutions < 13>) the concept of governance as studied in Helene Yanacopulos’ is thus applied to transnational network literature in order to understand the inner workings of both studies. Her analysis concludes that there is a need to examine the “motive forces, threats, opportunities and varieties of strategic considerations facing the participants of any specific instances of governance” (265) In her study of development NGOs she underlines that this is particularly important as there is an abundance of power asymmetries. Secondly, she concludes that influence matters to both framing an issue area and norm shifting around an issue. Both aspects are considered crucial to understand policy changes in national governments and public mobilization. In the case studies of intergovernmental organizations’ responses to pressure from NGOs in their attempts at normative changes, the fact that they changed their policies or followed initiatives from NGOs is proof of their relative power. In a broader sense she adds to the debate of governance and non-state actors in her study of not only NGOs power in changing policy but also their mechanisms for doing so.


The importance of this paper is that it is a recent study that shows empirical evidence of the techniques in which create what can be seen in a new form of governance in policy making both by national governments and international organizations. As older literature has hypothesized, these larger organizations with networks that reach throughout the world have a large impact on policy.

However, another investigation into the techniques of these organizations and how they form these coalitions (which in this article are already solidly formed) could add to the debate on a possible democratic deficit in the rise of new actors.

Notas de pie de página

1Rosenau, James. Governance without Government: Order and Change in World politics. Cambridge University Press, 1992.

2Dogherty, James E., and Pfltzgraff, Robert, L., Contending Theories of International Relations. New York: Longman publications, 2001.

3These governing needs include transnational problems solved by the governing capacities of both national governments and those sub-national actors prevalent in Rosenau’s literature.

4Kooiman, Jan. Governing as Governance. Sage Publications, 2003.

5Qd. in Kooiman, Jan, Governing as Governance. Sage Publications, 2003

6Scholte, et al., Contesting Global Governance. Cambridge press, 2000. p. 3

7Rosenau, James. « Governance in the Twenty-First Century. » Global Governance. 1.1 (1995).

8« All activities of social, political and administrative actors that can be seen as purposeful efforts to guide, steer, control or manage societies » . Kooiman, Jan. Modern Governance:New Government-Society Interactions. 1993. p.2.

9« Governance is concerned with purposive actors, not tacit arrangements » Finklestine, L.S., « What is global governance ?  » Global Governance. 11.1 (1995): 368.

10Smouts, M.C., « The proper use of Governance in International Relations. » International Social Science Journal. 50.155 (1998): 84.

11Risse-Kippen. Bring Transnational Relations back in. Non-State Actors, Domestic Structures and International Institutions. Cambridge University Press, 1995.

12See O’Brien, Goetz, Scholte, Contesting Global Governance. Mulitlateral Intsitutions and Global Social Movements. Cambridge University Press, 2000. Also, Coleman, William D. “Policy Networks, Non-state Actors and Internationalized Policy-Making: a Case Study of Agricultural Trade. » in Daphné, Josselin and Wallace, William, eds. Non-State Actors in World Politics. Hound Mills, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001

13These indicators have been attacked as weak and unreliable, as many indicators (such as, ironically transparency indicators) are un-transparent, the definitions of what are “civil liberties” and other concepts are not universal in all studies. Additionally, the structure of comparing one country to another has been judged as unreliable: as the basis of the rating of one country is only in relation to other countries in the study. (Taken from a report in an internal OECD meeting, Doctoral presentation Internal Seminar by Christiane Arndt and Charles Oman: « Uses and Abuses of Governance Indicators » on the 15th of November). For Kooiman, civil society is defined by its interactions as well as the “intentional and structural involvement of governing interactions” .


This text is part of a dossier on NGO integration in WTO governance.

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