Like Silvio Waisbord (see previous post), I was also at the International Studies Association Conference in New Orleans. One of the sessions I attended, “Institututionalisation and Norms in Global Governance”, spoke to CommGAP’s interest in how global standards emerge and spread. How do norms wend their way to the top of the global policy and decision agendas and get embedded in the policy regimes of various countries? It’s a massive question and no single panel or conference can comprehensively explore its multiple dimensions. This panel, however, did a good job at pointing toward some promising directions.
Among the papers presented, topics ranged from accounting rules and standards, intellectual property rights, privacy protection, and global governance of climate change, poverty reduction, and international trade. From this slew of topics emerged some interesting points, a number provided by panel discussant Susan Park of the University of Sydney.
Of course, norms ascend the global agenda through various mechanisms. The paper on accounting standards explores an interesting one. The authors argue that the network structure of accounting firms was instrumental in enabling effective lobbying at the domestic and global levels for the adoption of new accounting rules. This was said to have occurred through a combination of insider, outsider, and outside-in strategies. That is, the industry lobbied governments at the local and international levels (insider game), the industry, on its own initiative, developed alternative policies and rules (outsider game), and those alternatives were adopted in the formal policymaking process (outside-in). If the network structure of the industry indeed made a difference, then this may have serious implications for governance reform efforts. What roles do networks and coalitions play in various sectors and how can they be leveraged to influence agenda setting at the domestic and global levels?
With regard to understanding how international norms get adopted at the country level, the paper on privacy protection can be instructive. The authors argue that part of the reason why privacy protection was adopted in Japan (which had previously been adopted in the U.S. and E.U.) was the fear of being left behind in e-commerce. The powerful Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI, now METI) supported the reform process and provided the certification system that enabled domestic norm adoption at the day-to-day operational level. This experience highlights for governance reformers the importance of understanding the political and economic drivers of change, and the rules of the game that can get you there.
The session reinforced some key lessons learned from our study of reform efforts in various countries. Successful reform managers often seek to engage multiple stakeholders and build networks and coalitions among them. Active engagement helps elevate issues on the policy and decision agendas, both domestically and globally. But country ownership driven by local incentives is necessary for on-the-ground implementation (see previous post by Sina Odugbemi). Without local ownership, global norms are likely to be ignored and eventually forgotten.
Photo credit: Flickr user Mulad