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

How can we understand global governance?

Project Summary

Global Governance Spaces are areas of policy making, research and practice characterized by rapid growth in the number and scope of international agreements and organizations. Examples of such spaces are climate change, global health, and intellectual property rights. The actions and interactions of states and other actor in such areas are fundamentally shaped by this institutional complexity.

The project addresses questions that are important for scholars and practitioners alike:

  • How do patterns of overlap within institutional complexes evolve over time?
  • What strategies do states and non-state actors choose to navigate institutional complexes?
  • To what extent do these strategies empower otherwise weak players in institutional complexes?

We draw on several disciplines – international relations (regime theory), 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 text analysis, machine learning, statistical analysis, and case studies.

The aim is to describe and analyse the global governance landscape, in particular areas for the benefit of 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.

Academic Output

Executive Summary

The concept of “regime complexity” offers a valuable perspective for examining the interconnectedness of global governance institutions. This burgeoning field has un- covered networks of intersecting institutions across various policy realms, including trade, intellectual property rights, crisis management, and environmental policy. However, existing studies within regime complexity primarily emphasize state-centric and formal international organizational structures. This focus overlooks the critical roles played by non-state entities and informal, transnational arrangements. Such an oversight contrasts sharply with the general discourse in global governance, which underscores the significance of these emergent actors and structures in comprehending international relations. To bridge this analytical divide, the paper proposes a theoretical framework that integrates these diverse actors and organizational forms into the analysis of dynamics within regime complexes. This framework equips researchers with tools to systematically identify and understand the interactions among varied entities within these complexes. Additionally, it proposes theoretical predictions regarding the circumstances that influence actors’ strategic choices within these networks. As demonstrated, the applicability of the proposed framework through preliminary case studies in two regime complexes (internet governance and global health governance). The paper seeks to enhance the theoretical depth of regime complex analysis and better synchronize it with the wider discourse in global governance, thereby fostering greater theoretical integration between these two critical areas of study.

Working Paper

Recent decades have witnessed a surge in the proliferation and expansion of international agreements and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) influencing various facets of global politics (Koremenos, 2016; Pevehouse et al., 2021). Areas such as trade, climate change, global health, arms trade, intellectual property rights or development finance, previously regulated by distinct international frameworks and bodies, are now enmeshed in overlapping agreements, creating intricate institutional complexes (Raustiala and Victor, 2004). Consequently, the formation, structure, and impacts of individual global governance institutions are increasingly contingent upon their interactions and coexistence with other entities (Alter and Raustiala, 2018; Eilstrup-Sangiovanni and Westerwinter, 2022; Eilstrup-Sangiovanni 2023; Henning 2023; Henning & Pratt 2023; Walter 2023).

Research Team

Oliver Westerwinter
University of St. Gallen

Dirk Lehmkuhl
University of St. Gallen

Stephanie Hofmann
Principal Member
Graduate Institute Geneva

Lasse Gerrits
Associated Member
University of Rotterdam

Benjamin Faude
Associated Member
London School of Economics

Rahima Guliyeva
Associated Member
Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM)

Kenneth W. Abbott
Associated Member
Arizona State University

David Coen
Associated Member
University College London

Mette Eilstrup-Sangiovanni
Associated Member
University of Cambridge

Orfeo Fioretos
Associated Member
Temple University

Jessica Green
Associated Member
University of Toronto

Randall Henning
Associated Member
American University

Nico Krisch
Associated Member
Graduate Institute Geneva

Gary Marks
Associated Member
University of North Carolina

Jon Pevehouse
Associated Member
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Tyler Pratt
Associated Member
Yale University

Angel Saz-Carranza
Associated Member
ESADE Business and Law School





Policy domains


Host Institution