The Market or the Public Domain? Global Governance and the Asymmetry of Power

By Daniel Drache | Go to book overview

5

The contested competence of NGOs and business in public life

Robin Hodess


Introduction

On 15 October 1999, the Nobel Prize for Peace was awarded to the medical relief organization, Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders). 1 The award of what is perhaps the world's most prestigious peace prize to a non-governmental organization (NGO) was the second time in recent years that an NGO was acknowledged for its contribution to the ultimate of public goods: peace and security. 2 While the Nobel Peace Prize has acknowledged the work of the NGO community in the past, 3 these recent awards have generated a wealth of attention to the increasing role of NGOs and NGO issues in global public affairs. Given the Nobel award and many other signs, it is possible to conclude that today's public policy now involves new actors and new agendas, both of which bring renewed interest in the concept of the public domain.

This chapter addresses actors, or agents, and their particular contribution to the public domain. It focuses above all on new economic and political actors. Just as the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize reflects the significance of non-state, private actors in public life, this chapter suggests a stronger role for these same actors in the public domain. The public domain, it argues, not only requires the capacity of human vision - whether generated by the public or private sector - in order to realize innovation and ideas in public policy, but it draws on a variety of agents, some of them relatively new and untested in their public roles.

This chapter begins by defining the public domain. It then argues that incorporating the position of actors or agents into the public domain concept is a critical step towards making it more useful to the exploration of present day public policy dilemmas. Actors force us to consider, not only, structures and interests but also norms, ideas and capacities, all of which include expertise, authority, and the ability to execute policy and practices. The major actors in the public domain, both state (public) and non-state (private) are reviewed, with the strengths and weaknesses of both assessed. The chapter focuses on selected 'new' private agents, whose actions and innovations in the public domain have arguably forced a recasting of responsibility and accountability in the public domain. Finally, the chapter suggests that elite and public

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