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UN Training III – Strategy

Dear Friends,

The following guidelines are meant to support our new UN representatives to be maximally effective at UN conferences.

Hereby also an invitation to more experienced colleagues to add their experiences on http://titanpad.com/growingthecommons so that we can further develop this resource.

Although these guidelines are geared to the Commons Cluster, it can also be used to further the goals of individual organizations.

UN Training Growing the Commons Top Down and Bottom UP

Part III: Strategy





UN conferences can seem so overwhelming and confusing that we forget why we have come. And so we spend most of our time haphazardly attending the smorgasbord of side events and other experiences that happen on our path. We forget that we are there only by the grace of the organizations we represent for the purpose of furthering their goals.

This dynamic might be one of the chief reasons that civil society has not collaborated more effectively to influence global policy and practice.

A UN Conference is a unique opportunity to bring the message from the organizations we represent to the attention of movers and shakers worldwide via:

  1. UN Member States (practically all the governments of the world) who determine global policy based among other things on what they learn at UN conferences;
  2. The UN Secretariat that writes background papers to prepare participants for an upcoming conference and frequently formulates the draft agreements that Government will use as the basis from which to negotiate future global, national and local policies; and
  3. Our fellow Civil Society Organizations who are crucial to seeing such policies are implemented both by Governments and by their fellow citizens.

Four Ways To Be Effective at A UN Conference?

I.     Bear your goals in mind at all times;

II.    Work as a team;

III.   Use all channels available to advocate clearly and compellingly to Governments, the UN Secretariat and fellow CSOs; to build effective alliances; and Walk your talk.


I. Bear your Goals in mind at all times.

Commons Cluster and Commons Action goals in the order of their importance through Rio +20:

  1. A shift to a commons-based economy at all levels centred on the well being of all people and nature.
  2. Decision making by all stakeholders from local through global levels.
  3. Poverty alleviation using commons-based approaches.
  4. Commons-based Financing to help restore nature, make amends to people who have suffered from destruction of their natural resources and a basic income for all people.

More recently we have begun also focusing on:

  1. The need for Governments to fulfill their agreements in the area of sustainable development before developing new ones.
  2. Implementing Water as a global commons.

Resources can be found on the http://www.commonsactionfortheunitednations.org/our-work/strategy-development/background-documents/

Background papers include:

  • Measures Post Rio to Shift to a Commons-Based Global Economy
  • Measures Post Rio to Eradicate Poverty
  • Measures Post Rio to Finance the Shift to a Commons-Based Economy
  • Measures Post Rio Commoners are Taking to Create a Sharing Economy
  • Measures Post Rio to Counter the Threats Inherent in a Debt-Based Economy
  • Measures Post Rio Commoners Are Taking to Empower the Private and Public Sectors.

II Work as a Team

UN Conferences on sustainable development have traditionally provided the following opportunities:

1. To have small ad hoc group meetings.

Commons Cluster Team Meetings can usefully meet at least once a day: 8 am is a good time because the Vienna Café is empty, plenty of seats, no lines for coffee etc. and no other meetings are going on.

Themes to discuss:

Coverage for each of the following activities:

i.      Cover each of the Governmental sessions;

ii.     Meet with each Government that turns out to be relevant to the commons (supporters or resisters)

iii.    Develop statements (one or more each day) possibly for each of the Major Groups if these are operating. If they are, relevant Commons Cluster members can participate in developing statements with Children and Youth; Women, NGOs and we can sit in on in meetings of Indigenous Peoples.

To develop each statement it becomes much easier if we have two people if not three working in tandem  (although I have often had to do this alone.) It is important to know ahead of time when each of the MGs will meet to work on their statements.

The input given to the above three activities is vitally important since if successful it can have worldwide impact over time.

iv.   Giving a Side Event can be a very powerful way of communicating our messages in depth.

v.     We can also meet with individual organizations at side events. This is a lot of fun, much less hard work and does not provide anywhere near the type of exposure the other three activities do. This should be considered only when the other tasks are covered and rotated so that the intensity of work is equally shared.

Daily Commons Cluster team meetings should cover:

vi.   Who will cover each of the three above main activities throughout the day;

vii.  New developments and potential alliances, how to build on these by involving additional team members;

viii. How to make sure that the whole team is in touch via Twitter and can jump in to assist other team members as needed.

ix.   Use of the Instant Response Network when negotiations among Governments are faltering to get our worldwide network to write emails to either all Governments; or to specific Governments to either support their points or to encourage resisting Governments to be more forthcoming.

2. . Keeping updated on what is happening at the Conference.

All team members will benefit from attending any Major Group meetings. (Now the CSD and Rio processes have all but come to an end, the Major Groups officially no longer exist (except for during the last remaining CSD.) But they are fighting for recognition and so it is likely that they will continue the practices that we have been following since 1989. This includes getting together in one large strategy meeting from 9-10 am every morning. During these sessions we cover three areas:

i.      What happened at the meetings the day before

ii.     What to look out for that day: meetings, side events, etc.

iii.    Announcements. Here side events are organized and we can also announce our 8 am meetings of the Commons Cluster.

3. Other useful information that is available at UN conferences

  • The UN Journal that lists all meetings being held at UN HQ, topics and relevant documents;
  • The IISD Bulletin covers what has happened in the meetings on sustainable development;
  • At some meetings Major Groups might get together, each at a specific time each day to develop their Group’s statements. Relevant Cluster members are free to join the Youth, Womens, Indigenous Peoples’, NGOs’ Major Groups to develop MG statements.

III. Use All Channels Available to Us Effectively

1.  It is important for one or more Team Members to monitor each of the Governmental Sessions to pinpoint which Governments are potentially Commons Cluster allies and which resist the commons approach.

1.   Building an effective understanding with both is vital to our success, since decisions are made by consensus.

Remember that Governments will make all decisions. We can at best influence these.

It is important that all other members of our team are kept updated during the session (we use Twitter) so that they can be waiting at the end of the session to approach both those governments who are potential allies and those who resist a commons perspective. Conference sessions end at 1:00 and 6:00 pm respectively before delegate hurry away to eat. This brief time period should be enough to make a first contact (1 minute elevator speech!) with both allies and resisters. Try and set up a longer  meeting, if possible that same day. (You can use the waiting time to study more about that Government’s perspective.

2. Giving our Input to (Major Group) statements.

This presents two challenges:

i.  To stand for what we are advocating in our dealing with others—walk your talk!–Make sure that all those attending the statement developing meeting are heard regardless of whether their points of view are in harmony with our own or not (i.e. ensure a fair, commons approach is followed). Often the less assertive representatives are brushed aside; one or more will try and rush their own points of view through (by putting others down or by saying: we have worked at this long enough, etc.). It can be quite difficult to have to stand for what we believe in while powerful voices put us down. For this reason it is a huge help to have two or more Commons Cluster team members  in each of the statement negotiation sessions to set an open, receptive atmosphere.

ii.  It is important to communicate our Commons Cluster input as an essence, so as to get our points of view across while leaving room for those of others. When people try to brush others points of view aside always remember: an awful lot can be said in a one minute statement. It is a matter of how it is formulated and how deep you are willing to go to find common ground, so do not allow yourself or our colleagues to be pushed around;

When there have been sharply opposing opinions and common ground is found, it is one of the most elating experiences. Well worth the struggle.

Statements are a way to give input to all three groups mentioned above:

  • Governments listen to these CSO statements
  • The Secretariat must summarize these if they are asked to create a draft negotiating document
  • Our fellow CSOs listen to our ideas during negotiations and you will find they will adopt them as their own. For instance at times the Green Economy Cluster has used our definition of a commons based economy as their own. Such alliances are the substance upon which a sustainable future can be built.

Examples of wording that can be adapted, whole or in part, for use in statements.

  •  It is necessary to shift from a debt-based to a commons-based economy at all levels centred on the well being of all people and nature.
  • Since the sum of actions of all people determine to which degree development is sustainable it is urgent to ensure that all stakeholders are involved in decisions from local through global levels. This will promote durable management since stakeholders and their progeny’s lives depend on sustainable management.
  • To finance the shift a firm cap can be placed on the use of depletable resources and only what exceeds the cap can be used with prior and informed consent of stakeholders for a  users fee. The resulting monies can be placed in a Trust Fund and be used to restore the resource, reimburse stakeholders and for a basic income for all people.
  • Indicators should measure the well-being of all people and nature; the proportion to which stakeholders above 16? years participate in decision making; the proportion of natural resources of a country are managed by stakeholders as opposed to the proportion to which these are enclosed through private management.

Good luck, Team!!!!