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The Politics of Forms: Path Dependence in Regulatory Frameworks

Mon, July 12, 2:00 to 3:00pm, Virtual 2021, 3


The official government forms that NGOs must complete and file in order to register or report their activities and revenues around the world serve as an interesting artifact in order to examine changes in regulatory frameworks over time. Provisions in national regulations that determine which types of organizational forms NGOs can take, as well as what sorts of behavior with what funding sources are available, are all implemented by agencies which first require NGOs to apply for legal status or report their behavior regularly. The content of these forms thus says interesting things about a national legal environment and its impacts on the population of NGOs that operate there. We argue that national regulations are institutional logics (Heydemann and Hammack 2009; McMullins 2019; Friedland and Alford 1991; Thorton et al 2012; Thornton and Ocasio 2007), stemming from the nature of state-society relations in a country (Ferrera 1996; Esping-Andersen 1990; Arts and Gelissen 2002; Salamon and Anheier 1997, 1998; Skelcher and Smith 2015; Archambault et al 2013; Clark et al 2010) as well as national administrative traditions (Painter and Peters 2010; Bevir et al 2003; Loughlin and Peters 1997), which help construct NGO populations in each country via rules regarding registration and reporting (Moulton and Eckerd 2013). We expect to observe changes in regulation overtime, which will be reflected in the forms, but also observe strange hangovers that can exist within government forms due to administrative inertia. For example, only in 2019 has Canada removed the choice of “temperance association” from their limited list of available activities that NGOs can report they undertake. We examine change over time in the nonprofit registration and tax forms that NGOs are forced to file in Ghana, India, Mexico, Ukraine, and Egypt using plagiarism checking software Duplichecker in order to see the amount and pace of change in the legal forms. We also examine more recent forms across countries to observe increasing similarity, which might represent isomorphism as a result of growing global NGO populations and expected policy diffusion of NGO regulation (a la the closing civil society space argument) (Rutzen 2015; DeMattee 2019; Heiss and Kelley 2017; Sidel 2008; Howell 2006).