Panel Paper: NGO Governance and Self-Regulation: Partnership and Network Participation Drivers

Thursday, November 6, 2014 : 2:00 PM
Dona Ana (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Angela L. Bies, University of Maryland and Khaldoun AbouAssi, Texas A&M University
The issue of NGO autonomy and its resource environment has long been complicated, with scholars and practitioners interested in efforts by NGOs to respond and to shape external demands tied to resource acquisition.  These dynamics are particularly compelling in environments where the state-NGO relationship is contested or tense, and in environments where private philanthropy is of critical importance, but more nascent.  What role do NGOs play in shaping the philanthropic environment?  What role do NGOs play in moderating views of self-regulation vis-à-vis NGO legitimacy and NGO autonomy? This paper builds on existing research to approach self-regulation from an institutional perspective. According to the Neo-Institutional theory (DiMaggio and Powell 1983; Meyer and Rowan 1977), an organization aims to seek approval from its surrounding environment. Further, NGOs’ self-regulation is usually analyzed based on its relational nature (Brown and Moore 2001; Ebrahim 2003a). Therefore, organizations are vulnerable to social influences and will respond to uncertainty by conforming with and increasingly becoming similar to their institutional environment (Oliver 1997) or favoring, though isomorphism, institutional rules that are legitimated externally (DiMaggio and Powell 1983) and which promise to enhance survival prospects, stability, legitimacy, and resources.

Building on Young’s (2000) explanation of state, market, and NGO arrangements cross-nationally, Bies (2010, 2012) used neo-institutional theory to predict professional self-regulation. Accordingly, in this paper we advance propositions derived from institutional perspective to explain NGOs’ decision to lead or participate in self-regulatory mechanisms.

Drawing on a large data set (involving a national survey and in-depth case studies of NGO-funder relationships) from an institutional field of NGOs in Lebanon’s civil society sector (in particular, an institutional field engaged in policy debates as well as direct service) and mapping a network diagram of these organizations and their stakeholders, the paper uses network analysis (Knoke and Yang 2008; Scott 2000) to verify that NGOs’ decision to self-regulate is the result of its interactions within the surrounding environment. Two forms of interactions are considered: formal partnerships that NGOs forge and networking bodies that NGOs join. We expect that partnerships and membership in networking bodies increase the probability of an NGO adopting self-regulation. We also expect that an NGO that is more central in a network of interaction to lead the process. Yet we also observe the role of funders in this self-regulation dynamic, which alternately affords greater NGO freedom and adds significant collective and individual constraints to autonomy.  The paper compares results between the two forms of interaction in order to derive conclusions on the application of normative, relexive and coercive isomorphism to self-regulation.  The paper adds rigor to prevailing views on NGO self-regulation, as well as in-depth study of a changing NGO sector, that of Lebanon.  The paper also holds implications for other Arab nations, particularly for those settings in which NGO networks are held up as potential mechanisms to strengthen the NGO sector’s capacity, to build private philanthropy, to shape more favorable policy environments toward NGOs, or to legitimize the NGO space.