International NGOs: Networking, Information Flows and Learning

Shirin Madon


International non-government organisations (INGOs) are increasingly regarded as important in their capacity to influence global policy on development issues such as poverty alleviation, sustainable development, and human rights. This has been possible through their simultaneous attachment to local places and cultures on the one hand, and their critical engagement with global institutions on the other. With recent advances in information and communication technologies, an increasingly connected INGO community is finding considerable scope for networking and information sharing at multiple levels.

However, despite the strategic advantage of INGOs in terms of their multi-level reach, their contribution to date remains limited more to small-scale success stories than to affecting development directions more broadly. In this paper, we emphasise the need for INGOs to learn from the field in their quest to influence wider policy-making and to improve local accountability. It is argued that, as their role changes from operational work to international advocacy, INGOs will have to strengthen institutional structures and learning skills to achieve a greater developmental impact.

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Educator's guide

Synopsis questions

  1. What are INGOs? How and why have they developed? [part A]
  2. What is 'learning from the field', and what value does it have for INGOs? [part B]
  3. How can INGOs improve their learning? What role do information flows and what role do ICTs have to play in enhancing INGO learning? [part C]
  4. How are ICTs changing the working practices of INGOs? [all parts]

Development questions

  1. Are there any dangers for INGOs in their increasing use of ICTs? For example, what impact may ICTs have on INGO accountability?
  2. Where can ICTs have a greater impact: in a GRO or in an INGO?
  3. Are local-global links possible without ICTs?
  4. Exogenous ICT-based information systems receive much more attention and donor funding than indigenous non-ICT-based information systems. Why is this?
  5. How could you encourage the development of informal information systems in INGOs?
  6. How could you integrate the management (planning, implementation, operation, use) of ICT-based and non-ICT-based information systems in an organisation?