Global Public Policy Networks: Lessons Learned and Challenges Ahead

By Benner, Thorsten; Reinicke, Wolfgang H. et al. | Brookings Review, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Global Public Policy Networks: Lessons Learned and Challenges Ahead


Benner, Thorsten, Reinicke, Wolfgang H., Witte, Jan Martin, Brookings Review


Like a microcosm, the contentious 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg demonstrated both the broader problems and the promises of global governance. The formal intergovernmental diplomacy of the huge summit produced few tangible results and many disappointments. The political declaration of the 104 heads of state in attendance essentially reconfirmed principles governments had already agreed on a decade ago at the Earth Summit in Rio. Indeed, it took considerable effort to convince a few governments not to reverse some of the accomplishments of the Earth Summit. Yet the Johannesburg negotiations also reflected an ongoing transition to a broader notion of networked governance involving not only governments and international organizations but also businesses and nongovernmental organizations.

The transition--what Jonathan Lash, president of World Resources Institute, has described as a "shift from the stiff formal waltz of traditional diplomacy to the jazzier dance" of issue-based networks and partnerships--is part of a larger phenomenon that has emerged over the past decade. To respond to a wide range of contemporary challenges--from protecting the environment, to fighting diseases such as malaria and AIDS, to implementing labor standards and combating corruption--participants from civil society, business, international organizations, and governments are joining forces in an innovative form of governance: global public policy networks.

New Global Challenges for Governance

Since the early 1990s, the driving forces of globalization--technological change and economic and political liberalization-have fundamentally transformed conditions for effective and legitimate governance.

This new global environment presents four challenges for governance. The first is geographic: decisionmakers in states confront an increasing range of issues that can be addressed only by coordinated cross-border action. The second is temporal and arises directly from rapid technological change. The near-complete integration and 24-hour operation of global financial markets, trade, the media, and many aspects of business severely constrain the time available to traditional public policymakers for weighing options and preparing informed decisions. The third challenge is the steadily growing complexity of public policy issues. Decisionmakers in states and international organizations are having to tackle more and more issues that cut across areas of bureaucratic or disciplinary expertise and whose complexity has yet to be fully understood. The final challenge involves legitimacy and accountability. The traditional closed-shop "club model" of intergovernmental diplomacy cannot fulfill the aspirations of citizens and transnationally organized advocacy groups who strive for greater participation in and accountability of transnational policymaking.

In this new environment, states and international organizations are no longer the only players in the international realm. Nongovernmental organizations and businesses, themselves responding to the pressures of globalization, have reorganized their operations on a transnational scale and are playing a progressively more important role in international relations. More than 40,000 nongovernmental organizations now operate across borders; roughly 60,000 companies have established transnational ties. States, international organizations, companies, and NGOs now find themselves on the same playing field--and are gradually recognizing their interdependence in shaping the environment in which they operate. The new cross-sectoral public policy networks are responding to that interdependence to confront issues that no single sector, public or private, could successfully tackle alone.

Building Bridges

Global public policy networks build bridges across different sectors and levels, bringing together actors from governments, international organizations, civil society, and business. …

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