Comprehensive theoretical models appropriate for understanding goal setting, strategy development, relationships with other stakeholders, and the causes of success and failure among environmental NGOs in developing nations are notable for their absence, and most research about them is relatively atheoretical. Several theoretical approaches, including interest group theory, various theories of social movements, and theories about civil society, as well as writing about African political systems, can potentially be applied to such NGOs, although each has significant limitations. On the other hand, general theories of organizations, such as open systems and institutional theory, have been successfully utilized in studies of environmental organizations in developed nations and hold great promise for understanding environmental NGOs in the developing world. Consequently, we rely heavily on them in this research.
Interest Group Theory
Interest group theory was developed in developed countries with democratic political systems to analyze how persons or organizations that share common interests organize themselves to influence politics. It focuses on groups that work within the political system using strategies such as lobbying, mobilizing citizens to sign petitions or contact public officials, public education campaigns, efforts to influence election outcomes, and monitoring and attempting to influence the implementation of public policy. Many interest groups push for decisions and policies that will primarily benefit their supporters, but “public interest groups,” including environmental organizations, work for what they see as the interests of all citizens (Knoke, 1990; Wilson, 1990; Walker, 1991; Petracca, 1992; Burstein, 1998).
Interest group theories can provide useful insights when applied to developing countries, but they have significant limitations. Some developing nations lack the kind of political structures and culture in which interest groups are likely to form and thrive, and authoritarian and quasiauthoritarian regimes are unlikely to welcome interest group participation and may repress it. Moreover, citizens who are poorly educated, poverty stricken, or isolated can be difficult to recruit as participants in conventional interest group politics.