Call for Papers “Inter-Organizational Relations: Theory and Practice”

We are proposing a panel for the next meeting of the German Association for Political Science’s (DVPW) International Relations Section 4-6 October 2017 in Bremen. If the subject and panel description (below) spark your interest, please submit an abstract of approximately 200 words by 20 March 2017 to:

Ulrich Franke (InIIS), Martin Koch (Bielefeld University) and Janosch Kullenberg (BIGSSS) at Kullenberg@bigsss.uni-bremen.de


“Inter-Organizational Relations: Theory and Practice”

In global governance, both the proliferation of international organizations and the broadening of their mandates increasingly lead to organizational overlaps and the emergence of new organizational fields, also referred to as regime complexes. Due to its traditional focus on states, the discipline of International Relations had long neglected the importance of such inter-organizational relations. It was only when international organizations were recognized as autonomous units towards the end of the 1990s that IR’s attention subsequently also turned to the relations between them. Given this delay, IR scholars have tended to ‘import’ theoretical frameworks from disciplines more advanced on that matter, mainly sociology, economics, and psychology. Today, IR scholars apply a multitude of theoretical frameworks alongside each other, sometimes in harmony and sometimes in contradiction (particularly economic vs. sociological or rationalist vs. constructivist perspectives). The explanations provided by these frameworks, be it resource dependency, culture, path dependence or bureaucratic logic, shed light on specific aspects of inter-organizational relations and are helpful in elucidating individual instances of organizational interaction. However, they tend to subsume the empirical reality under pre-established categories and thus frequently fail to do justice to the more complex and dynamic reality of Inter-organizational relations.

Therefore, we are seeking papers papers that demonstrate strong empirical understanding, while building on previous frameworks and making sophisticated theoretical contributions. Some of the questions that could be addressed are:

  • What is the most insightful theoretical approach for explaining inter-organizational relations to date? Can such a claim even be made or should theoretical approaches rather be categorized according to their main research question, for instance: how do organizations relate to each other (network theory), why do organizations act in certain ways (institutionalisms), or what are the consequences of their interplay (regime theory)?
  • How can the multitude of theoretical explanations be reconciled in a more pragmatic and/or holistic theoretical model? In particular, what ideas exist to reconcile rationalist and constructivist as well as economic and sociological divides? Should scholars be encouraged to build more on each other’s work, instead of continuously developing their own ways of making sense of the subject or will consolidation happen ‘inevitably’?
  • The different theoretical explanations of organizational actions are insightful, but how do they work in practice? How can we imagine the organization/individual making those decisions that follow one or all of the above-mentioned theoretical logics?
  • More generally, how could the gap between theory and practice in the field of inter-organizational relations be reduced? Does addressing the theory-practice gap require an agreement among scholars on the most viable theoretical approach?
  • What is currently restricting research on inter-organizational relations, and how is it possible to overcome these obstacles?

We do not want to limit discussions to a particular area of global governance because we assume that the dynamics across empirical contexts may be similar. Therefore, we want to prioritize the phenomenon/topic of inter-organizational relations over its specific empirical manifestations. Given the focus of our own work, however, we particularly welcome studies on international interventions (humanitarian action, development aid, peacekeeping). We, of course, remain open to papers that challenge our premise about generalizability and consequently highlight the idiosyncrasies of the inter-organizational field of intervention. If a shared interest on the topic of interventions exists, more specific questions may emerge, such as:

  • In what ways are the inter-organizational dynamics in the field of intervention fundamentally different than in other fields?
  • What then is the impact of inter-organizational relations on multidimensional interventions, such as on the Millennium Development Goals, Peacekeeping or the Protection of Civilians?
  • How does the coordination discourse relate to organizational practices in post-conflict interventions? Does this discourse remain on the level of rhetoric, or is the UN engaging in ‘overlap management’? If policy reforms, such as the cluster system and UN Integration, can be seen as active overlap management, how do we assess them?
  • Why are practitioner/policy studies on inter-organizational relations in intervention contexts often of limited analytical value? Can this be explained merely by the influence of a strong coordination rhetoric, lack of theory, or the technocratic tendencies of these studies?
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Short Article on CLA’s

Indian commander

In October Forced Migration Review – “the most widely read publication on forced migration; available in English, French, Spanish and Arabic, and free of charge in print and online” – published it’s latest issue on community-based protection. I contributed a short article on UN Peacekeeping’s Community Liaison Assistants (CLAs) that you can find online here and the printed PDF here (the latter is visually more appealing). CLAs are a great instrument and deserve more attention and support. I have worked on  CLAs since 2013 and wrote MONUSCO’s CLA Best Practice Review, which is available here. Get in touch, if you want to get more into the subject.

In addition,  the Policy and Best Practice Section in DPKO’s & DFS’ joint Policy, Evaluation and Training Division (DPET) should soon release a review on the global implementation of CLAs. It is not yet clear whether that will be made publically available.

Wold Humanitarian Summit: What results

Last week (May 23-24) the World Humanitarian Summit was organized. The first of its kind and a product of long preparation, the event brought together some 9000 participants from 173 of the UN’s 193 member states, as well as civil society organizations and NGOs. Some of the Successes were:
– The even itself: everybody (or their representatives) coming together and giving public attention to the pressing issues
– 1500 individual commitments and lots of exciting initiatives
– An education fund for children in emergencies with 90$ million already pledged
– A “Grand Bargain” for humanitarian financing, with donors and aid organizations pledging that 25% percent of aid will be given directly to local NGOs (giving them a bigger share of the cake); complexity of report will be cut and more aid will be given in the form of cash transfers, meaning that affected population will get money instead of aid organizations deciding what to buy for them.
On the other hand there were also a number of shortcomings:
– Despite the recognition of the need for political leadership, no real commitments were made and the world’s most powerful leaders were frustratingly absent
– The over 1500 individual commitments are mostly fragmented, a lot of small initiatives have been launched; individual actors committing to individual action thus no consistent commitments.
– Finally, there is no action plan of how to move all the debated issues forward.
For more information and analysis, see the following blogs that I found quite insightful: IRIN, ODI, GPPI and some expert voices.

 

 

A glimpse on the predatory state

 

Perception Taxe Kopie

The Congolese state, from its colonial origins through the Mobuto dictatorship to Kabila’s regime, has widely been described as „exploitative“ and „predatory“ (e.g. here). In practice, this means that power is used arbitrarily and abusively to squeeze resources out of common people. As an expat working for an international organization you miss most of that. Your special status and the bubble you live in safely shield you from being confronted with such inconvenience. You don’t pay any of the creative “taxes” and quickly pass, for example, the checkpoints which are used to extract money form the population. Seeing these things through the lens of the legal-rational (Weberian) state, you come to think of them as normal regulatory and security measures.

During recent fieldwork in the Congolese countryside, however, I was able to catch a glimpse of reality. Without the “carte de service” that identified me as belonging to a powerful international organization, all kinds of semi-officials and authorities laid claim on my freedoms and ultimately my money. Roadblocks became real obstructions and in every location, I had to register with the administration, the immigration service (DGM), the security forces (FARDC & PNC) and the intelligence service (ANR). Such situations represent ample opportunities for establishing “infractions” and subsequent demands. The difference to normal Congolese people is that I remain privileged and never really feel vulnerable. I am aware of my special status, which protects me from abuses, and increasingly use it in negotiations. As a consequence, these situations are more annoyances – costing me time, energy and money – than they are threats. However, by the behavior of those “agents”, you get an idea of what it would be like to have no power at all and be completely at the mercy of such agents. This is probably an exaggeration as ordinary citizens have agency and negotiations always take place, but it leaves me wondering, if experiencing such a sporadic glimpse of reality is necessary to understand governance and coping strategies. Timothy Raeymaekers writes in this regard that “one should always remain aware of the often intricate ways in which daily attempts to avoid risks, increase predictability, and make a living profoundly inform political rule systems” (2015, P.151). It follows that such an understanding might be needed to successfully work on any kind of reform in this country. If that’s true, could such experiences be made part of a cheap and effective introductory course for new arrivals?

 

Article in German Development Magazine

Im November hat das entwicklungspolitische Magazin Welt-Sichten eine Ausgabe zu UN Friedensmissionen veröffentlicht. Die ganze Ausgabe kann hier runtergeladen werden, mein Artikel zu der Situation im Kongo ist hier einsehbar. Lustigerweise ist unter den ausgesuchten Bildern mein indischer Arzt vertreten. Viel Spaß bei der Lektüre, Feedback und Kommentare sind wie immer Willkommen.

UN Security Council Open Debate on the Protection of Civilians

Open debate

Last week I watched the 18th “Open Debate on Protection of Civilians” in armed conflict at the UN Security council. This event takes place once a year and represents an important forum for member states, i.e. the world’s governments, to discuss the issue and position themselves. As this month’s president of the Security Council, Uruguay chaired the debate, and UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson, the ICRC’s Vice President Christine Beerli and Oxfam Senior Humanitarian Policy Advisor Eveline Rooijmans provided briefings. Subsequently, many member states’ representatives, including Iran, Montenegro and the Holy See, gave their respective statements. As usual, these statements expressed great concern for civilian victims of today’s armed conflicts, but there also seemed to be a sense that “civilians in conflict are in greater risk now than at any time in the UN’s history” (New Zealand), which is reflected by the record high of 60 million displaced people. Statements also referred to this year’s worrying trends. Virtually every speaker condemned the attacks on hospitals in Afghanistan and Yemen, the use of starvation as a weapon of war in Madaya and 14 other areas in Syria, the increasing attacks against journalists and the use of explosive weapons in densely populated areas.

Speakers were also in agreement concerning the solutions to civilian’s plight in armed conflict, again, referring to the above mentioned documents. Accordingly, they stressed the need for political solutions, specifically for dedicating more attention to preventing and meditating violent conflict. Burundi was often mentioned as a case in point, as the Security Council mission left for the country the next day – quite late but hopefully able to avoid worse. Speakers agreed that compliance to International Humanitarian Law needs to be ensured through applying and reinforcing the existing accountability tools of (international) criminal justice. Statements also referred to a number of operational issues for UN peacekeeping, such as the need for realistic and clear mandates, more engagement with local communities and regional organizations, well-equipped and quickly deployable peacekeepers, and a commitment to zero tolerance for sexual abuse and exploitation by UN staff. Speakers expressed hope that the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul (May 23/24) would lead to fruitful discussions.

As someone who is interested in practice-theory, I am also trying to make sense of the event on the basis of what actually happened. First, as Jan Eliasson remarked, the high number of speakers suggests that the topic is important for many of the world’s governments. Actually, there were so many registered speakers that the chair urged orators to keep their statements brief and provide longer versions online. Second, this was not a “debate” in the classical sense. Rather statements were given about the same topic but without referring to each other. The Uruguayan delegation had provided a briefing note beforehand, which obviously guided the statements alongside three other documents: the Secretary General’s report on the protection of civilians, the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) report and the SG’s report on the implementation of its recommendations. Consequently, statements mirrored each other. What was more interesting and differentiated the statements from each other was when speakers took the opportunity to connect PoC to their country’s history and interests. For example, Rwanda focused on the FDLR, Israel mentioned that Hezbollah was responsible for much of the violence in Syria, China stressed the neutrality and impartiality of UN peacekeeping, India talked about its experience in PoC since ONUC, Ukraine described Russian aggression and South Africa underlined the success of the FIB, etc.                Third, speakers obviously adhered to a set of shared norms, spending a good portion of their limited time to thank everyone and subsequently acknowledge previously stated facts and generally agreed-upon points of reference. Finally, the debate was a bit lengthy and repetitive. Some speakers made more relevant connections or, like Samantha Powers, depicted situations skilfully, but you were getting the gist of it after a couple statements. I must be one of the only people that followed it from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and quite frankly that wasn’t necessary. Many of the diplomats just came in for their statement and even the chair rotated several times.

It can be concluded that the “debate” did not seem to be about rethinking PoC or exchanging information, but should be seen more as a political process where member states expressed their commitment to the protection of civilians and broadly agreed to an agenda. While falling short of committing to tangible steps, the strong condemnation of the practice of starvation, for instance, will increase the pressure on Assad. Nevertheless, it should be taken with a grain of salt when many of the member states’ representatives ended by pointing to the forthcoming Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul (May 23/24) as “an excellent opportunity to address the issue in a more in depth and comprehensive manner”.

Confessions of a humanitarian: I’ve never met a meeting I couldn’t sleep through

As you might know, my research is on inter-agency coordination. So, today’s expressive description of coordination meetings in the guardians ‘confessions of a humanitarian’ series drew my attention. The pseudonym aid worker Dara Passano starts her amusing rant with a telling opener “I’ve never walked into a development meeting that I couldn’t fall asleep in. Sometimes I resist; often I don’t.“ She continues to describe how she has tried everything to stay awake in these meetings from drinking caffeinated beverages to inflicting self-harm, but to no avail. Clearly, the author has not stayed objective but instead indulged into the full subjectiveness of her experiences. And probably, she exaggerated and simplified the spectrum of her own perceptions to one important argument: there is something fundamentally wrong with these meetings.

Some people have gotten stuck in the details, reproaching here to have invented some of these stories. In seems unlikely that she ever really invented data, and who cares? Her point is that no one would notice if she did, so it does not matter what the detailed truth is. Besides following the series’ title of making a confession, the literary writing style is probably more effective in bringing the point across. It definitely is more entertaining than a thorough analysis and finger-pointing (that is about to follow).

Some people could be offended by her text. It mocks many hard working people that spend a lot of time and energy to communicate across institutional divides. Some of the conveners, for instance Goma’s former protection cluster coordinator, are incredibly dedicated and capable. In addition, it ridicules development work which makes working in the sector increasingly difficult. Through the feedback loop of public opinion and policy-making, tarnishing the aid world’s reputation reduces trust and might just result in tightened regulations. Sympathetically, I would argue that the author is very much aware of the urgency and the consequences of flawed coordination (beyond the level of individual meeting participants). Arguably it is this awareness that motivated the piece.

Nevertheless, I have two issues with this text:
1) She does not really say why these meetings are so boring. The closest she gets to an analysis is by stating that “some organisations mandate ‘active participation’ in order to raise their profile; staff must create complications in order to be recorded, in the all-important meeting minutes”. She adds general stuff about people that like to talk, repeat themselves etc. But, if her criticism is not just making fun, then she misses out on telling us what is wrong. Is her messages so banal as that sitting in meeting is boring? Or does she think that there is something peculiar about the aid sector? I think the half-done analysis would have much more bang if she would actually address a problem. But then again, this is my interpretation, the author does not claim such a thing as an agenda.
2) Connected to the lacking identification of an issue, the character doesn’t do jack about this non-issue. The Zen challenge of the character is to sit in these meetings, not to do anything about them. Yes, the story is honest and exaggerated at the same time; the reader quickly understands how challenging and frustrating such meetings must be, but it remains a story. So then, why does the aid worker have to be mainly cynical? Given that this series is probably read mainly by aid workers, why can there not be something more inspirational than staying awake long enough to see the others napping off? Or did I just miss the wake-up call?