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Output from the Research Project on
Civil Society Networks in Global Governance

Background Information on the Surveys of
Government Delegates and
NGO Representatives at the
UN Commission on Sustainable Development
and the Global Environment Facility

Peter Willetts



The project sought to investigate the nature of the involvement of NGOs in the policy-making processes of intergovernmental institutions. The aim was to assess what lessons could be learnt from existing practices to provide a basis for making recommendations for NGO participation in the international economic institutions. The research was conducted from October 2000 to September 2002. This note provides the background information on five surveys that were conducted as part of the research.

      Fieldwork was undertaken at three sessions of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), three sessions of the Governing Council of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and various NGO activities associated with these sessions. The fieldwork consisted of observing the operation of the institutions, collecting official and unofficial documents, holding in depth interviews with key NGO leaders and conducting formal surveys with structured questionnaires. The following five surveys were completed

  • interviews of government delegates to the CSD
  • interviews of NGO representatives in New York at the CSD
  • interviews with NGO representatives in Algiers at the Southern NGO Summit
  • interviews with Members or Alternates from the GEF Governing Council
  • interviews with representatives at the GEF NGO Consultations

The surveys were conducted at the following events.

  • CSD ninth session, New York, April 2001
  • CSD acting as the Preparatory Committee for the World Summit for Sustainable Development,
    first and third sessions, New York, respectively in May 2001 and March-April 2002
  • Southern NGO Summit on Sustainable Development, Algiers, March 2002
  • GEF Council 18-19th sessions, Washington, December 2001 and May 2002

      The questionnaires covered the current status and previous experience of the respondents within the institutions and their attendance at other global environmental meetings. The main method of assessing attitudes was to offer respondents an attitude statement – such as NGOs add expertise to debate about environmental projects at the GEF – and to ask them to make a choice between

1      Agree Strongly
2      Agree
3      Neutral
4      Disagree
5      Disagree Strongly.

So far, only the results from the attitude questions are available. Tables of responses to the attitude statements are given, in full, in a downloadable Excel 5 file.

Coverage of the Surveys

Each of the five questionnaires was designed for self-completion, in case direct access to respondents could not be gained. In practice, virtually all were completed by face to face interviews.

Government Delegates to the Commission on Sustainable Development

A total of 68 delegates from 58 countries were interviewed. The sample included a mix of senior experienced diplomats and more junior staff, from a variety of roles. Seven of the respondents had served or were currently serving on the Bureau of the Commission, which means they held a crucial leadership role.

      There was no possibility of taking a random sample of the delegates, as the lists of delegates are not issued until late in the session and even then are highly unreliable. The decision was taken to take a quota sample of the UN's regional groups. (Each elected body in the UN is now specified as being composed of a set number of members from each of the five regional groups. The composition of the CSD, as shown in the table, is given in ECOSOC Decision 1993/207 of 12 February 1993.) The distinction between members and non-members of the Commission, although delineated by the seating arrangements, was not as distinct in the political processes. Delegates from both member and non-member countries were interviewed. Given the small sample size, the regional distribution was only slightly skewed, with a slight over-representation of the Western European and Others Group and under-representation of the Eastern Europeans. The sample was distributed as follows.

Comparison of the Sample with the UN and CSD Memberships

Sample %
by country
Sample %
by people
African 53 13 28 25 29 26
Asian 54 11 29 21 21 21
Latac 33 10 17 19 19 19
East Europe 22   6 12 11   7   6
WEOG 27 13 14 25 24 28
Totals 189 53 100 100 100 100

Note:  Latac = Latin American and Caribbean Group;
            WEOG = Western European and Others Group

NGOs and the Commission on Sustainable Development

Obtaining interviews with NGO representatives was more difficult than expected. Many said they were too busy when first approached. Some, but not all, agreed to be interviewed later. Fortunately, an invitation was received to attend the Southern NGO Summit on Sustainable Development in Algiers in March 2020. This event was organised by the Southern Caucus of the CSD NGO Steering Committee in New York, as a preparatory event for the World Summit for Sustainable Development.

      There were only two full working days in Algiers, but 29 interviews were obtained and another 22 were obtained a fortnight later at the CSD in New York. Six of the 29 in Algiers had previous experience of the CSD. The same questionnaire was used for the two groups of respondents, so there are totals of 51 answering general questions and 28 for questions assessing the working of the CSD system.

      Clearly the samples were not random nor even allocated within quotas. The process of waiting in an area where people are moving around and systematically sampling those who go past in a particular time period is known as an convenience sample. Given the refusals in New York and the nature of the Algiers conference, the sample was biased towards NGO representatives with limited experience of global policy-making. The respondents were a reasonable spread of the regions, with 51% from Africa, 14% from Asia, 14% from Latin America and the Caribbean and 22% from North America and Western Europe.

Members of the Governing Council of the Global Environment Facility

Because the Council only meets for two days and delegates pay close attention to its agenda, obtaining interviews was more difficult than at the UN. The aim had been to interview the universe of 64 Members and Alternates. In the event only 50 were present and 29 were interviewed in December 2001. A further five were carried out, after the session ended, with delegates based in Washington or London. It had been hoped to obtain near complete coverage by further interviews in May 2002. Unfortunately, I was only able to gain access for one day and only five more interviews were obtained. Nevertheless, the overall total of 39 interviews is a substantial proportion of the official decision-makers who actually attend.

NGO Representatives at the Global Environment Facility

More time was available to interview the NGO representatives. In May 2002, a total of 23 of the 32 present were interviewed. In addition, a further 11 had been interviewed in December 2001, but were not present in May. Again this is a good proportion of the attenders.

The Definition of a Non-Governmental Organisation

It is necessary to point out that the term "non-governmental organisation" is an essentially-contested concept. As a result, at the start of the project, an article was written on P. Willetts, What is a Non-Governmental Organization?. For the purposes of this research, an NGO was taken to be a body that is eligible for registration under the UN's statute for consultative arrangements between NGOs and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). This use of the term includes trades unions, religious bodies and other groups in civil society that are often not seen as being NGOs.


Copyright Peter Willetts, 2003.
The text of this website is subject to Copyleft - it may be freely used
provided that the author and the website address (www.staff.city.ac.uk/p.willetts/CS-NTWKS/SURVEYS.HTM) are cited.

This Background Information may also be downloaded as a Word 6 document.

Centre for International Politics, School of Social Science, City University, Northampton Square, London EC1V 0HB.
Page maintained by Peter Willetts

Page created on 17 May 2003.
Last updated on 17 May 2003.