Interest Groups & Advocacy

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 291–332 | Cite as

NGO participation in global governance institutions: international and domestic drivers of engagement

  • Laura A. Henry
  • Lisa McIntosh SundstromEmail author
  • Carla Winston
  • Priya Bala-Miller
Original Article


Global governance institutions (GGIs) increasingly rely upon NGO involvement for expertise, promotion of rules and standards, and democratic legitimacy. Yet NGO participation in GGIs is unevenly distributed by country of origin. This paper examines patterns of NGO participation in GGIs, and how participation is shaped by incentives and pressures at global and national levels. First, we map NGO participation by country of origin across 42 GGIs based on the roles that GGIs grant to NGOs and by variations in domestic conditions of income level and political regime type. Second, to delve more deeply into domestic factors, we provide an exploratory statistical regression based on NGO participation in two major GGIs, the UN Global Compact on corporate social responsibility and the UNFCCC Conferences of Parties on climate change. We find evidence that participation patterns reflect both the varying institutional design of GGIs and NGO capacity linked to domestic conditions. We observe that NGOs with constrained capacity due to domestic factors gravitate toward GGIs that offer the most significant roles for NGOs, with the greatest opportunity to influence policy. We suggest that domestic civil society factors beyond level of economic development and regime type shape NGO participation at the global level. Analysis of this wide-ranging set of GGIs provides more general confirmation of patterns of NGO engagement in global governance previously identified in studies limited to particular issue sectors or cases.


Global governance Non-governmental organizations Advocacy organizations Participation Political opportunity structure UN Global Compact UNFCCC 



The authors wish to thank Jennifer Allan for access to her UNFCCC participant dataset for 2006–2011, and Fabio Resmini for data research assistance. We are grateful to Elizabeth Bloodgood, Lisa Dellmuth, and all participants at the international workshop on interest groups and INGOs hosted at Stockholm University, June 11–12, 2018, for their helpful feedback, and two anonymous peer reviewers for their constructive suggestions. We also thank the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for generously funding this research through an Insight Development Grant (#430-2013-000379).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Government and Legal StudiesBowdoin CollegeBrunswickUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  3. 3.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia

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