Summer Workshop in International Organization Studies
“Building the Knowledge Base for Global Governance”
July 23 – August 2, 2008
Summer Workshop Report
The 2009 ACUNS-ASIL Summer Workshop took place from July 23rd through August 2nd, 2009 in Ljubljana, Slovenia on the premises of the International Center for the Promotion of Enterprises (ICPE). We were pleased to partner with the Austrian Science and Research Office in Ljubljana under the leadership of Dr. Miroslav Polzer.
The theme of the workshop was Building a Knowledge Base for Global Governance: Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). This theme allowed us to pursue two tracks in our discussions: first, specific questions about the contribution ICTs can make to knowledge generation, management and dissemination and second, a more general stocktaking of knowledge and knowledge gaps in particular areas of global governance. Six practitioners from across the United Nations system joined seven scholars from as many countries to present and discuss their research.
Our discussions began with an inquiry into the very notion of “global governance.” For some, the term merely repackages familiar ideas in new garb. So, for example, what we used to call anti-corruption has now come to be known as “good governance.” What used to be known as international organization or multilateral relations is now known as “global governance.” For others, the term “global governance” captures something qualitatively different: new developments, including the appearance of new actors like NGOs, private corporations, and regional organizations; advances in technology; and an acceleration in the movement of goods, capital, and people. From this perspective, global governance denotes a field of study concerned with understanding the contemporary state of affairs partially characterized by “governance in the absence of government.” In some instances, these new developments necessitate new institutions; in others, it seems more appropriate to strengthen and coordinate those we have.
Several participants explored the role that new actors might play in global governance. In some cases, these actors are not new on the international scene; however the role they play is evolving. These include regional organizations in Darfur (Simon). Also included here are national governments, like China and Venezuela, whose unconditional aid can influence international organizations’ efforts to promote certain norms and principles (Schmid). Among the new actors on the scene are foreign private actors that might become engaged in post-conflict peacebuilding (Ford) and youth in places like Africa, whose engagement can shift political and economic dynamics (Verick).
Often our discussions returned to the question of accountability. In such debates, it becomes necessary to determine whose accountability are we discussing; who is accountable to whom; and who should be held accountable and how? Many of these conceptual questions reside at the intersection of international law and global governance.
In many instances, participants explored the challenges of holding national governments accountable in an era still wedded to sovereignty (Simon). New tools are available to state and non-state actors for holding governments accountable, including evolving judicial instruments (Fisher; Pallek) and information and communication technologies (Fernandez). International organizations, like the United Nations, have an important role to play in promoting good governance practices that can often be the key to accountability (Aksu; Ueki).
At the same time, international organizations themselves must be held accountable. Organizations like the UN can be held responsible for breaches of international law, with important consequences for global governance (Henning). These same organizations can inadvertently create controversial unintended consequences. For example, the territorial administration arrangement put in place in Kosovo may have actually contributed to its eventual secession, rather than encouraging self-determination within a sovereign Serbia (Vidmar). These analyses raise the question of whether IOs have special responsibilities with regard to transparency because of their unique authority and relationship with member states (Aksu).
In some cases, we may not have adequate legal and regulatory frameworks in place to hold (new) actors accountable (Ford). In other cases, our assessments of actors’ activities may be informed by assumptions that obscure a commitment to accountability and democratic governance (Jacob).
Information and Communication Technologies
Though ICTs have become a common topic, there is no consensus on what we are referring to when we use the term. Is it the Internet? Telephony? Databases? Each has its own contribution to make to global governance and its own challenges, making it appropriate to use more precision in our discussions of ICTs.
ICTs have the distinct advantage of appealing to youth (Verick; Platzer). They create unique opportunities for otherwise less powerful communities to be heard and to share best practices. ICTs have become a particularly valuable tool for civil society in the promotion of human rights (Fernandez). Furthermore, information and knowledge transfer, especially when it is intended to facilitate cooperation between and among judicial bodies, can promote goals associated with international justice (Pallek).
Of course, ICTs are not without challenge. Factors from low literacy levels to a lack of infrastructure to economic underdevelopment to authoritarian government can limit their usefulness and diminish the degree to which they can be empowering. In addition, while ICTs may hold great potential as tools, the content they transmit may not produce positive outcomes. Such observations raise questions about whether ICTs are tools of governance or whether they themselves need to be governed. By what criteria should we evaluate their contribution? What protocols should govern the use of ICTs? Are current laws sufficient? What is the role of the UN in these debates? How can the UN use ICTs to advance its mandate? Should the UN be disseminating knowledge and information about itself and/or about issues related to its work? If so, to whom and for what purpose?
Debates about ICTs open larger questions about what counts as meaningful participation in a political system. What type of participation do we want? What type of participation do ICTs facilitate? What aspects of democracy are most crucial? Accountability? Transparency? Active influence of policy? How do ICTs augment and/or limit these?
The Academic and the Practitioner
In many of our discussions, variations in the perspectives of academics versus practitioners became apparent. It is possible to overstate the differences between these two groups. Nonetheless, each has a particular view and brings a crucial skill set that is useful to the other. How to share these is not always simple, but likely repays the effort.
What can practitioners and academics most usefully offer each other? How can this be facilitated? How do concepts inform practice and vice versa?
The Knowledge Base
Not surprisingly, many questions remained unanswered at the end of our workshop, indicating the need to continue to build the knowledge base for global governance. Among the key questions we identified:
• What is good governance? What criteria define it? What knowledge are we missing to achieve it? How can we acquire and disseminate that knowledge?
• If new institutions are required, what form might they take? Will (should) they be traditional, formal, brick-and-mortar institutions, or might they be looser and less formal? What is the role of tangible regulation versus less tangible norms in global governance? If things have changed substantially, who now is governing whom? To what end? By what means? Who is winning and who is losing? What action do our responses to these questions demand?
• One of the changes that “global governance” captures is a shift in power in the international arena. Is that shift most notably from states toward civil society and private actors? Is that shift also from the state upward toward intergovernmental organizations at the global and regional level? From the state downward toward substate levels of government? What other significant power shifts are occurring? What response do they require? Are we missing any significant power shifts (Jacob)?
• What does “local ownership” require or entail in conversations about global governance? Does this require locals to design institutions or governance mechanisms? Does it imply that locals are in positions of leadership in these institutions? Does it capture a desire to ensure that governance solutions, which may not resonate with local customs, traditions, and objectives, are not imposed on communities from without? Does the notion of local ownership have a special resonance in the African context? How do we reconcile the need for “local solutions to local problems” with a desire for universality?
• Is there a tension between the concepts of legality and legitimacy? Does each concept have a unique role to play in global governance debates? Is this debate grounded in the different approaches international lawyers take versus those preferred by international relations scholars?
We thank our participants for their engagement in these debates.