The consequences of institutional complexity: How institutional overlap affects the creation and design of intergovernmental organizations

In collaboration with: Bernhard Reinsberg

In many issue areas of world politics, international cooperation is governed by a dense network of separate but overlapping international institutions. Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) are at the core of such regime complexes. Yet, we know little about how this environment of regime complexity shapes the creation and design of IGOs. We offer an analytical framework that theorizes the effects of overlapping institutions within a regime complex on the creation and design of new IGOs. We argue that, in general, states seek to avoid the proliferation of overlapping organizations that provide similar functions to similar sets of member states in an issue area. When it comes to the design of new IGOs, states adjust organizational structure in order to be better manage the uncertainties generated by institutional complexity. States also reduce uncertainty related to the design of new IGOs by taking cues from the design of overlapping organizations which results in a convergence of designs across IGOs within a regime complex. To test the implications of our argument, we introduce an innovative measure of institutional overlap in global governance and new data on the institutional design and governance tasks of the 534 IGOs contained in the Correlates of War IGO data. Our findings support our theoretical argument and point to important areas for future research on institutional complexity in global governance.