Upcoming ISTR Roundtable: Revisiting the Legitimacy and Credibility of NGOs: Readings, Reasons and Research

The following is a guest post reflecting on one of the roundtable sessions at the upcoming ISTR Conference organized by Alan Fowler, Honorary Professor Chair in African Philanthropy, Wits Business School and Professor Emeritus, International Institute of Social Studies and Kees Biekart, Associate Professor International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) at the Erasmus University Rotterdam.

The problem of trust.  Can non-governmental organisations dedicated to development and humanitarian relief (NGOs) be trusted?  Does their legitimacy matter!  NGOs will surely answer that their credibility is essential.  Without it, fundraising becomes more difficult, supporters retreat, governments become (more) suspicious and media thrive on adding to the negativity.  A recent highly publicized flurry about the behaviour of a few NGO staff and remedial actions taken are a bit of a distraction from the systematic forces that appear to be eroding the legitimacy and credibility that these organisations have built up over many decades.  What is going on and why now?

Ending of a golden era?   A golden decade of NGO legitimacy, public standing and support from official aid agencies started to ebb away as one millennium gave way to another.  Four erosion processes appear to weave together.

Comparative advantages. Really?  One is a challenge to NGO efficacy.  Doubts about NGOs being more effective than other development actors in reaching and working with the billion poor at the base of the pyramid are growing.  Compelling evidence to the contrary is difficult to find.  Faith in NGOs’ comparative advantages in relief and development faded and gave way to many demands to demonstrate results.  Despite the significant investments in monitoring and evaluation, technical difficulties hamper convincing responses.

The accountability challenge.  Legitimacy is also challenged by issues of inadequate accountability to the complex mix of stakeholders involved in who NGOs are and what they do for who.  12 accountability committmentsParticipation principles notwithstanding, feedback mechanisms from intended beneficiaries on the relevance and quality of NGO work remained overshadowed by accountability to those providing resources. The Accountability Commitments set up by leading international NGOs with its twelve commitments shows the range of demands to be met and promises to be kept.  The seriousness of accountability for reputation and negative consequences when perceptions of inadequacy arise should not be underestimated.

Political suspicion.  A further source of erosion for NGO legitimacy is coming from many governments, particularly those whose own legitimacy is open to question.  The ‘shrinking of civic space’ – that is the freedom for citizen action – is tracked by the Civicus Monitor project.  Far more countries limit such freedoms than enable them, while the list and range of restrictive repertoires is growing.  One government strategy delegitimizing NGOs is to declare them as being unelected as well as acting as ‘foreign agents’, beholden to external funders.  Another is to call into question NGO credibility to represent the interest, if not the voice, of those in whose name they operate.  Countering these politically inspired messages to shape public opinion is made difficult by the fact that NGOs are often ‘disassociated’ from the population at large.  In other words, there is often a lack of a strong bonding with the people from which legitimizing support and action should come.

A vulnerable moral high ground.  A fourth force working against NGO legitimacy is associated with organisational morality.  For the past decade or more, a zeitgeist has taken hold that the private sector and market principles may be a better solution to poverty reduction.  The moral underpinnings of the logic of non-profit organisations working for the public good rather than private gain bring an uneven vulnerability to charges of immoral behaviour than is the case when, for example, corporate corruption is exposed.  This might also hold true for #metoo within NGOs.  Their reputations can suffer more from a bad press because business behaviour is not strongly associated with an ethic of fairness or justice.

The knock on effects of reputational set-backs for the NGO community as a whole should not be underestimated, nor should the degree of collective solidarity be over-estimated.  It seems that many NGOs choose for an individual solution to a problem that can better be viewed as collectively shared.

The roundtable will take place Wednesday 11th July, 09:00 – 10:30 in Room 12A 33 and will feature an interactive discussion with Prof. Thea Hilhorst, of ISS, Dr. Irene Guijt of Oxfam UK, Anabel Cruz of Civicus (Uruguay) and Dr. Patricia Mendoça from the Universidade de São Paulo (Brazil).  Kees Biekart of the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) will facilitate. Click here to see the full ISTR Conference Schedule.

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Tickets to the Anne Frank House

Many visitors to Amsterdam will try to visit the famous Anne Frank House, the hideout where Anne Frank, a Jewish girl, and seven others lived during World War Two to escape from the Nazis.  After more than two years in hiding they were discovered and deported to concentration camps.  Anne’s diary of her time during hiding become world famous.

Tickets sell out quickly so you should consider reserving them online now.  All visitors need to purchase an online ticket with a time slot in advance. Note that the tickets are only valid for the persons they are issued to, and for the date and time you have selected. Tickets cannot be exchanged or refunded.

During the ISTR Conference, the museum will be open until 10pm

Practical information about the museum and tickets can be purchased here: http://www.annefrank.org/en/Museum/Practical-information/Online-ticket-sales/

 

Special Sessions at the ISTR Conference

Several professional development workshops and exciting special sessions are planned for the upcoming ISTR Conference in Amsterdam this year.  We want to make sure to draw your attention to these events as some of them request advance registration.

Story Collider Storytelling Workshop

Tuesday July 10, 2018 9am-12pm

50 spots available by registration only.  Sign up by completing this short registration form.

The best available science tells us that for most audiences, stories are more interesting, understandable, convincing, and memorable than evidence‐focused communications. However, scientists are unfamiliar with this literature and often resist or distrust storytelling approaches. This storytelling workshop explores how to develop and tell personal stories about science with intellectual honesty and ethical consideration. Lecture and discussion will share research on storytelling and narrative persuasion and highlight the value of personal stories in science. Participants will learn how to find, develop, and perform their own deeply human stories of science.   This workshop will be facilitated by Story Collider.

Getting Published

Wednesday July 11, 2018 5:00-6:30pm

Taco Brandsen & Ruth Simsa, Editors, Voluntas

Susan Phillips, Editor, NVSQ

Rob Macmillan, Editor, Voluntary Sector Review

Hakan Seckinelgin, Editor, Journal of Civil Society

Filip Wijkstorm, Editor, Nonprofit Policy Forum

Moderator: Jeffrey Brudney, Former Editor NVSQ

Post-doc opportunities

Tuesday July 10, 10:30-11:30am

Please complete this short form to register to attend this event.

In this session, panelists will discuss how to secure a (funded) post doc, what to expect from a post doc, and how to best use the years spent in a post doc position and plan ahead for the next stages of your career.

Teaching AND Learning:  Perspectives on Engaged Scholarship in the Third Sector

Wednesday July 11, 9:00 to 10:30 am

This instructional, demonstrative and interactive workshop will present best practices and lessons learned about teaching in a nonprofit graduate program where a comprehensive model of engaged scholarship has been refined over the last 14 years.  Faculty and current students will present how they have used cases and applied consulting projects to teach and study nonprofit management topics. Impact data and examples of finished projects will be presented.  Systems for managing student team dynamics, fairly assessing group projects, and strategies for ensuring a good experience for “client” organizations will be shared as well as a detailed applied project guidebook that was written by and for students.

Laura Deitrick, University of San Diego, USA

Hans Peter Schmitz, University of San Diego, USA

Lyn Corbett, MA, University of San Diego, USA

Ashley Nadar, University of San Diego, USA

Bethany Gilbert, University of San Diego, USA

The Non-Academic Job Market

Thursday July 12, 2:00 to 3:30pm

A range of non-academic career paths are available for researchers in the Third Sector.  Speakers in this session will discuss how they found their current position, what the position requires, and how a PhD could/should present themselves as a possible candidate for similar positions.

Rachel Wimpee, Rockefeller Archive Center, USA

Inés M. Pousadela, CIVICUS/ Institute of Communication and Development, Uruguay

Navigating Job-market and Career Strategies

Thursday July 12, 2:00 to 3:30 pm

This discussion will identify pathways to different career opportunities for those in the early stages of their career development and those considering a transition mid-career.  What types of career opportunities are available for those in the Third Sector?  What types of jobs might be a good fit for ISTR members seeking work?  What are the main factors that should be considered in choosing a career path?

Angela Bies, University of Maryland, USA

Debbie Haski-Leventhal, Macquarie University, Australia

Marlei Pozzebon, HEC Montréal & FGV-EAESP Brazil

Academic job interviews

Friday July 13, 12:30 – 2:00pm

This session will offer perspectives on the academic job interview process from those who have participated in search committees in Europe, the United States, South America, and Australia.  Participants will hear insights on what is expected during academic job interviews and what faculty are looking for from candidates.

Marc Jegers, Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Belgium

Elizabeth Dale, Seattle University, USA

Gabriel Berger, Universidad San Andres, Argentina

Ruth Phillips, University of Sydney, Australia

 

Announcing ISTR’s Closing Plenary Keynotes

Natalie Fenton and Shih-Jung Hsu are ISTR’s keynote speakers for the closing session of the conference on Friday July 13, 2018, entitled Transforming Democratic Contexts: Challenges for the Third Sector.

This session will focus on how civil society responds to disruptions to democracy and climate change.

Natalie Fenton Natalie-Fentonis Professor of Media and Communications, Goldsmiths, University of London where she is the co-director of Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre and the Centre for the Study of Global Media and Democracy. She is also the research lead for Civil Society Futures (CSF) – an independent inquiry into civil society in England in partnership with Forum for the Future, CitizensUK and openDemocracy. Natalie’s own research addresses issues relating to civil society, voluntary sector, political resistance, democracy and the media. She is active in civil society herself as Chair of the Media Reform Coalition and (until recently) as Vice-chair of the Board of Directors for the campaign group Hacked Off – both of which campaign for a free, plural and accountable media. Her latest book is Digital, Political, Radical (Polity 2016).

At the conference, Dr. Fenton will discuss the interim findings from Civil Society Futures: An Inquiry into Civil Society in England – an effort to consider how civil society can best prepare for the futures that may lie ahead.  She will discuss emergent social, political and economic strategies developed from new ways of thinking about how economic and social lives connect through attempts to put more power in the hands of more people.

 

Shih-Jung_HSUShih-Jung Hsu is currently Professor of the Department of Land Economics at the National Chengchi University (NCCU), Taiwan, and is the Director of the Center for the Third Sector.  Dr. Hsu’s research concentrates on local environmental movements, urban and rural planning, land use policy, and sustainable development in Taiwan. He was former president of the Taiwan Association of Third Sector Research (TATSR). He is also a leading activist in Taiwan, and he has established one important NGO — the Taiwan Rural Front (TRF) to help farmers and local residents against land grabbing and forced eviction from the state, and he served as founding president of the TRF. His recent book, Land Justice, has received the National Tripod Award 2017 from the Chinese Ministry of Culture.

Golden Tripod Award

Dr. Hsu received his Ph.D. degree from the College of Urban Affairs and Public Policy, University of Delaware, USA (1995). He also possesses two Masters degrees, one in Political Science from the University of Delaware (1990); the other one in Land Economics from the NCCU (1986).

At the conference, Dr. Hsu will discuss his current research efforts: (1) Land governance and Taiwan’s sustainable development, (2) land use policy and its historical context, (3) environmental and human right NGOs in Taiwan.

 

The PhD Seminar: A bit like coming home for me

The following is a guest post by Mieke Berghmans, former ISTR PhD Seminar participant.

I am one of those PhD students who had the chance to attend two ISTR PhD seminars: a first one in 2012 in Muenster and a second one, two years later, in Stockholm.  Needless to say,  I am very enthusiastic about the whole program. I have been encouraging fellow PhD students to apply too.

The ISTR PhD seminar meant a lot of different things to me. Let me share a few with you.

The ISTR PhD seminar was a great chance for me to meet other academics who are passionate about the same things that I am passionate about. At my home university, my colleagues have a shared interest in education, society and culture. They are all great people with interesting subjects of study. But unfortunately, not one of my colleagues is working on international NGOs, the topic that I love. This made me feel quite ‘lonely’ in the beginning of my research. Attending the ISTR PhD seminar and meeting folks who can talk endlessly about the difference between social movements and NGOs and other ‘sector related’ issues was really a bit like coming home for me.

What I also loved about the ISTR PhD seminar is the ‘formula’ of the small group sessions. In these sessions, students quickly – in five minutes or so – present their work to the group members. After that, the members of the group ask them questions. I hadn’t come across this way of working until I participated in the ISTR PhD seminar. Before that, I had always participated in debates where one person presents his or her work extensively and then a shorter time period is reserved for critical comments, questions and suggestions of the public. The formula used in the ISTR PhD seminar turned this upside down. It reserved more time for the discussion than for the presentation and it allowed the presenter to ask questions to the group.  I must say I found this a very fruitful approach. In this formula, students were not pushed in to a defensive mode. Rather, we could openly present the issues that had us stuck and that we were struggling with, and our fellow group members would spend 45 minutes constructively working with us to look for alternative perspectives and solutions, helping us to get ‘unstuck’ again.

Most importantly, both ISTR PhD seminars were a lot of fun. I had a great time and laughed a lot during the sessions, in the pub, and in the park. Through the seminar I met some great people who became good friends. I look forward to meeting them again in July. See you in Amsterdam!

mieke photo

Mieke Berghmans

Writing a PhD on ‘accountability in international NGOs’ at KU Leuven, Belgium

Notice to Conference Authors: Important new information about paper submissions

In an effort to streamline our processes, ISTR has changed the way papers should be submitted and distributed for the upcoming conference.  ISTR will no longer be sending emails connecting speakers and moderators directly.  Authors take note, this year, authors will be asked to upload their papers to our online AllAcademic system (https://www.istr.org/page/aapby June 10.  This will allow your moderator and conference participants to read your paper in advance of the conference.  Authors will be assigned a moderator in late April/early May and they will be given instructions for downloading your paper from AllAcademic.

The papers will be hosted on the password protected All Academic site, and will thus not be available to the general public.  We recommend that authors include the phrase “Draft – not for distribution” at the top of their paper pending further revisions you may wish to make following feedback from your conference peers.

For the first time this year, ISTR has also published paper drafting guidance.

Please note that ISTR has published guidance for paper presentations and poster design and presentation, including information on how to print your poster at a local print shop.

Post-Conference Publication and Working Paper Opportunities

Following the conference, authors are invited to revise their papers in the light of conference feedback with an eye to an appropriate submission to Voluntas, the peer‐ reviewed official journal of ISTR, or any other journals in the field.  Publication decisions are the sole discretion of such journals and ISTR does not participate in the editorial decisions on such submissions.  Authors can also submit their papers to be reviewed for selection for publication in the ISTR Conference Working Papers Series to be published after the conference on the ISTR website.

Questions? 

Please direct any additional questions to ISTR at ISTR_Secretariat@jhu.edu

ISTR Author Registration Deadline – March 16

If you plan to present a paper, panel, poster, or roundtable at the ISTR Conference in Amsterdam then you MUST register for the conference by March 16.  Only those who register by March 16 will have their presentations scheduled and their names and abstracts printed in the ISTR Conference program.  Those that register after March 16 will not be scheduled to present.

And as a reminder, in order to register for the conference you need to be a paying member of ISTR (not a non-paying affiliate).

We look forward to seeing you in Amsterdam!