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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2005, Vol. 5 No. 1 .

NGOs at the Table: Strategies for Influencing Policies in Areas of Conflict
Fitzduff, Mari and Cheyanne, Church (eds)

Lanham, NH: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004,
185 pp PB $26.95 ISBN 0-7425-2849-9

In his forword to the book under review, United States Ambassador John W. McDonald remarks how the role of NGOs in conflict management and resolution processes worldwide has grown from a complete absence to one where they are a pervasive and accepted part of the furniture.

The publication of the book reflects this growing salience of NGOs in conflict management and the editors note that a motivating factor was a felt need in the field for material that would both reflect on NGO influence and provide pointers for NGOs to increase their effectiveness in influencing policy processes. The core of the book (and its most interesting feature) is a series of case studies of NGO participation in achieving policy change in conflict situations. These vary from changing the public administration response to crisis in Northern Ireland to reconfiguring Kurdish/Turkish relations in Turkey. There are also chapters on Burundi, Georgia/South Ossetia, South Africa and on increasing the influence of women in the United Nations.

All these cases reflect action initiated by NGOs that impacted on either conflict management or resolution. In their introduction the editors note that the growth in the numbers and influence of NGOs in this field has left many feeling uncomfortable and ill-equipped, has generated problems over role and legitimacy and has engendered resistance among other policy actors. The book is primarily aimed at addressing the first of these issues and as well as the case studies, contains chapters on the nature of the policy process and a round-up chapter by the editors on the do?s and don?ts.

The book is thus a welcome and perhaps belated acknowledgement of a significant change in the policy process in evidence since the early 1990s. The editors argue the changing policy environment has left NGOs with little choice but to engage, notwithstanding any reservations they may have. Implicit in their argument is the view that NGO influence is generally for the good and that better practice should be encouraged.

But the utility of the book for the practitioners to whom it is primarily aimed is reduced by the lack of reference to what has become a large and vibrant literature on the astonishing growth of NGO action across the world in diverse fields, of which conflict management and resolution is but one. One effect of this is that there is hardly any area of governance where NGO influence has not increased enormously. The editors might have strengthened their arguments considerably by placing the developing role of NGOs in conflict management and resolution in this wider context. It would have enabled them to draw on research in other fields to show how states and international governmental organizations shape the environment in ways that influence both which NGOs play in a particular policy field, but also what they are able to do, and to show that not all NGO activity is beneficial or uncontroversial.

While the publication of this book must be welcome as opening up an important aspect of conflict management and resolution work to scrutiny, it nevertheless, in failing to make useful connections with research in other cognate fields, remains something of a missed opportunity.

Dr Nicholas Acheson, Research Fellow, Centre for Voluntary Action Studies and INCORE Associate, University of Ulster.

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