Prescriptive Thoughts

Having provided a historical, descriptive framework for exploring the development and evolution of NGO involvement vis-a-vis environmental issues, particularly in relation to the involvement of strategies in relation to the evolving UN environmental conferences, we now turn to prescriptive frameworks for developing the sector.

Let us begin with an assertion that we are now at a critical juncture in both the development of the scope of roles of NGOs and the development of the scope of the activities of these organizations vis-a-vis environmental issues. In the mid 1990s the recognition of the roles of NGOs led to arguments by observors of this revolution of NGOs, such as Salamon and Matthews. However, as they and others examining the growth of the sector projected, the 1990s was a time devoted to understanding the further growth of the sector.

The confusion of the roles of NGOs at WSSD and the reemergence of models of business activity that has social grounding vis-a-vis the environment suggests that with WSSD, new models of NGOs as partners, not drivers of social change, may be emerging. It is in such a context that we offer our prescriptions.

First, the growth of an infrastructure for NGOs as they relate to the environment calls for several shifts in addressing the evolution and growth of the sector. We have witnessed rapid sectoral growth in multiple areas of activity. So, there are issues related to enhancing the infrastructure faced within these organizations and the networks of the organizations.

Second, there are issues related to the longer-term sustainability of such organizations as those in the nongovernmental sector. On the one hand, government and intragovernmental agencies have increasingly touted the power of NGOs. However, with an articulation of the value of the sector comes a series of questions on the degree of government support to the nongovernmental sector for the provision of services the government expects. In the 1980s, Salamon and Abramson [11] explored the roles and expectations placed on the sector. Ultimately, they argued that various expectations that government had of the sector were unmatched by actual fiscal support of the sector, particularly as devolutionary models of interaction among federal government, local government, and nonprofit organizations advanced. Such elements are vital considerations as the sector is increasingly viewed as the implementer of services for societies and one questions whether the government supports the NGO service deliverers at the rate expected for service delivery.

Third, are matters of institutionalization. If the trend continues, NGOs will continue to have significant roles to play in the development and implementation of environmental agendas. Their ability to implement such agendas will be dependent on the strength of each individual institution and networks between the various institutions. In the case of the evolution of NGO processes, the progress depicted partially through the UN system can be viewed as a process that paralleled mechanisms by which NGOs and their roles in the wider discourse were institutionalized. In reviewing the history of the past 20 years, we can see the development of UNEP and other intragovernmental institutions and raise certain questions: How might these play a role in advancing environmental agendas? What additional institutions are needed, and what agencies should assume a role in shaping them? Fukuyama [12] argues that institutional creation is one of the goals and strategies for administration today. The notion of institutional creation for environmental activity that emerged in Stockholm, as well as the other conferences, draws questions of institutional models that might emerge.

Fourth are matters related to national-level enabling factors for the development and response to environmental issues. Nongovernmental organizations can serve as partners and advocates for environmental issues. As partners, NGOs can function as the catalysts for the implementation of agendas that the state, for a number of reasons, might be hesitant to implement. In such a case, enabling strategies would entail ensuring the appropriate legal framework for the evolution of such entities, and helping to ensure an adequate financial infrastructure. As many nations in Central and Eastern Europe made transitions in the late 1980s, the emergence of a legal framework for nongovernmental institutions became a core element under the transitional processes. If not for an early focus on a legal enabling framework, many such institutions would not have come into existence and would not have been able to begin advancing environmental agendas.

It should be noted that developing NGOs' infrastructure and, ultimately, increasing their capacity to address concerns regarding the environment does not imply that government should be absolved of responsibility vis-a-vis environmental issues. This leads to an important set of discussions for continued NGO roles vis-a-vis environmental issues in order to make sure that the state is held to a degree of accountability for future actions. One concern that has emerged recently, particularly in the case of Type II partnerships, relates to how much are NGOs ultimately relieving the state of its responsibilities by engaging in problems such as those of the environment.

Fifth are areas concerning partnerships with business concerns. The Type II partnership that emerged from the Johannesburg conference provided a mechanism for such models to emerge, and provided a framework for intra-governmental support of such efforts. Business has begun to frame value propositions for involvement in environmental affairs, particularly over the past several years. Over time, such models of partnership have had potential impact on sectoral evolution and growth.

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