Monday, June 17, 2013

Organizational Assessment: Social Platform

Social Platform is a "Platform" or collection of more than 40 NGOs working together on social issues of common concern. I have now worked here for several weeks, and had the opportunity to observe the massive amount of coordination and organization that goes into something of this large size and diverse breadth of interests. My work here has varied quite a bit. It has included assisting with the transition to a newer website, researching and providing information on how the Platform can better use social media, English corrections on newsletters that are sent out to members, and analyzing Commission proposals and already existing directives while summarizing their relevance for discussion during steering group meetings (discussed below). Additionally, I have attended a Parliament meeting on a topic of interest to the Platform, financial inclusion, and written an article on it that was later published and sent to all the members as a part of a weekly news update.

To provide a more clear overview on what Social Platform really is, it helps to first describe what its members do, as NGOs. NGO members are groups dedicated to raising awareness over some specific issue of political policy within the EU. They represent a wide variety of issues, from immigrant assimilation, to elderly discrimination, to disability awareness. Unlike charities, they do not seek to assist their target groups of people by gaining and distributing financial donations. Rather, they are closer to political lobbyists, seeking to influence emerging legislation, or change existing policies to benefit their people. An important distinction from lobbyists however is that NGOs generally seek to monitor and protect particular classes of (traditionally underprivileged) people, whereas lobbyists are usually seeking only to influence legislation to the benefit of the business that hired them.

Social Platform's internal organization seeks to balance efficiency and clarity with diverse voices and interests. Only seven people work within the organizational office. They work constantly to communicate between members (NGOs) and garner support for whatever issue gradually emerges. This office (where I work) holds quarterly meetings with various "working groups" who meet to discuss issues that hold particular relevance to them. At these meetings, details about proposals to the Commission, Parliament and even the Council are hammered out, and decided on. Additional, new ideas are either proposed by the organizational office to members here, or by members themselves. Once this meeting is completed there will be an even less frequent "Steering Group" meeting, which consists of all 46 NGOs within social platform. Here, a vote is held on what to keep and what to remove from proposals, and a simple majority determines what will actually make it into the requests or proposals sent to the EU.  These members all recognize the power of large numbers when seeking to influence the EU, and so hope to gain influence and insight from working together on issues of common concern.

The main categories of policy that that Social Platform deals with are financial inclusion, equality and anti-discrimination, integration of migrants, fundamental rights, corporate social responsibility, services of general interest (public services), and of course whatever else may emerge. Some members have a stronger interest in particular fields over others (almost by definition, since they seek to protect a narrower group of people), and so they will voice their opinions at working group meetings more on issues that relate to them directly in a broad proposal. Currently, many members are pushing hard just to prevent money-saving cuts to social service funding during the ongoing financial crisis.

Finally, because the EU values the input of the NGOs that Social Platform represents,  the Commission actually provides the majority of the Platform's funding. Occasionally the Commission will request Social Platform's opinion on a particular proposed directive or regulation, and take it into consideration while assessing how legislation may impact underprivileged groups. The Platform requests funding from the Commission yearly, and income is further supplemented through donations and even renting out a large meeting room in the main office to NGOs for conferences.


  1. Ryan - It seems that Social Platform covers an array of different policy areas related to social policy and the organizational structure is quite complex, with more than 40 NGOs working on these social issues. I'm wondering, with so many different NGOs, has there been a time when these NGOs have had disagreements within the "working groups" or other meetings? You also mentioned that the Commission provides a majority of the funding for Social Platform. I'm wondering that with this reliance on funding from the Commission, if it impacts what social issues Social Platform focuses on? Or I guess, phrased another way, is the Commission's influence on Social Platform substantial because of the funding? It would be interesting to see if that puts organizational constraints on Social Platform.

  2. A great post Ryan -- you've given us a very good picture of what the Social Platform is and what it does. I had many of the same questions that Emily asked (particularly the question concerning any potential conflict of interest with the EU/Commission given that the Commission funds the Social Platform). I'm also curious as to whether you have noticed any differences in the way that lobbying and NGO activism work in the EU vs. the US?

    Finally, it is great to read that you've written an article for the Platform's weekly news update. Make sure to save a copy for your internship portfolio!

  3. I think it is interesting that your organization deals with equality and anti-discrimination as this topic has been discussed in multiple meetings that I have attended in the EP (although most of the meetings I attend do not directly deal with discrimination the topic is always highlighted by someone). Do you know what programs or plans your organization has done or is planning to do to combat discrimination? I am interested in knowing because although the topic has been discussed in the EP I have not heard any plans to decrease discrimination (either of the Roma people or of women)only that something should be done about it (a typical political response).