Navigating Institutional Complexity: Actors and Strategies in Densely Populated Global Governance Spaces

Funded by Swiss Network for International Studies

The last decades have seen a rapid growth in the number and scope of international agreements and organizations governing different areas of world politics. Issues, such as climate change, global health, and intellectual property rights, once governed by relatively disconnected international rule sets and organizations, are today subject to overlapping agreements and organizations that form institutional complexes. As a result, the creation, design, and evolution of individual global governance institutions are fundamentally shaped by how they interact with other institutions.

This project addresses questions that are important for scholars and practitioners alike: 1) How do patterns of overlap within institutional complexes evolve over time? 2) What strategies do states and non-state actors choose to navigate institutional complexes? 3) To what extent do these strategies empower otherwise weak players in institutional complexes?

We draw on theories of regime complexity to capture different types of overlaps and interactions among global governance institutions. We combine this with insights from complexity science, organization science, and public policy. We explore the interactions of multiple forms of cooperation in institutional complexes using a multi-method research design combining quantitative analysis and case studies.

Our results identify the overlap and interactions among different types of global governance institutions across issue areas and over time. We show under which conditions state and non-state actors use particular strategies to navigate institutional complexes. We also explore the extent to which different strategies empower weak actors or are used by powerful players. This extends our understanding of global governance and provides insights for policy makers and activists who think about how to engage the myriad of contemporary global governance institutions in a way that best meets their goals.