Center for Governance and Sustainability

at the University of Massachusetts Boston

Development Governance

Reforming the UN Development System
Global Governance, from Organizations to Networks, or Not
The Historical Origins of International Standardization

Reforming the UN Development System

More than 80 percent of the UN system’s 179,000 civilian staff and all of the 100,000 UN peacekeepers work in the more than 165 developing countries where the UN has country offices. Moreover, at least two-thirds of the system’s headquarters staff also work on development. However, the operation of the system is spread across more than 50 different agencies, each with a separate board of member states and a separate upper administration. In the field, the chief UN officer usually only has administrative authority over the entire UN staff during periods of emergency. In 2000, Secretary General Kofi Annan began a process of administrative reform designed to reduce administrative duplication and rationalize the system, a process that was put on hold, largely due to the international controversy over the US and British role in Iraq.

In the last two years, a small group of retired high-level international civil servants, scholars of the United Nations, and executives of the management-consulting firms that Annan’s team relied upon have worked to restart the process. Craig Murphy has been engaged in this process serving as a facilitator of the high-level conference on reforming the United Nations development system held at the British Foreign Office’s rural retreat, Wilton Park in 2010.The Wilton Park conference will be followed by another event linking officials from the major donor countries with those from important new actors in the field (especially Brazil, China, and India), a second will bring together leading journalists and commentators from throughout the world, and the group will initiate a series of regional civil society forums on reform of the UN development system in different parts of the developing world, forums similar to those initiated by Center for Governance and Sustainability Co-Director Maria Ivanova, to discuss global environmental governance.

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Global Governance, from Organizations to Networks, or Not

Craig Murphy is part of the "Networks in Times of Transition" project organized by the University of Heidelberg's Center of Excellence on Asia and Europe in a Global Context that is producing a policy oriented trans-cultural history of international organizations. Murphy's piece of the initiative concerns transformations in public and private governance that affect industrial development.

In the second half of the 19th century, men and women who wanted both to promote and control the expansionist tendency of industrial capitalism planted the first seeds of what we now call “global governance,” both public and private. Advocacy organizations convinced governments to hold conferences that led to international treaties served by an ever-expanding universe of intergovernmental organizations. Similarly, professional associations of scientists and engineers invented the processes of “voluntary consensus standard setting” used to create many essential international industrial standards and, more recently, to establish standards for quality and for social and environmental integrity – standards monitored and verified by another constellation of new organizations.

Both parts of the original system of international governance were built on Western models. Today, when many of the most vital centers of industrial growth are in East and South Asia, will this “Western” focus on rigid standards and formal organizations be supplemented or replaced by an “Eastern” system of less-formal, more flexible networks? Some evidence from recent practice suggests that the outcome may be more complex. Since the late 1980s, first Japanese and then Chinese governments and firms have increasingly worked to create “international” industrial standards “in an Asian mode” and many Asian firms and governments (regional as well as national) have encouraged the formation of new, strong social and environmental standards; consider the 2010 textile sustainable development summit. At the same time, Western advocates of “rough consensus and running code” have developed a fundamentally network-centered vision of the next generation of global governance, the world “beyond bureaucracy,” in the words of Oracle standards guru, Trond Arne Undheim. What may be emerging is certainly not convergence on a single model. The shifting views of governance (“East” and “West”) may have more to do with the industrial specializations (and related sources of power) in different regions of the world.

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The Historical Origins of International Standardization

Dr. Craig Murphy and JoAnne Yates, Deputy Dean and Sloan Distinguished Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, lead a study that seeks to trace the historical origins of international standardization. They analyze the beginning of standardization from the social movement of engineers that originated this form of standard setting in the late nineteenth century. The study ends with the current difficulty of applying the processes to the rapidly changing information technology field and the ways in which the process has become a way to set global social, labor, and environmental standards in the absence of intergovernmental agreement. This endeavor builds upon Murphy and Yates' previous work regarding the history of major private regulatory practices and voluntary consensus standard setting.

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