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The Politics of Informal Governance

What are the factors that lead states and transnational actors to choose between formal intergovernmental organisations, informal intergovernmental organisations and transnational governance networks to structure their interactions and govern global problems?

Project Summary

Why have states recently started to use informal institutions instead of formal organisations to govern global policy issues? Extant research on the forms of institutionalisation in global governance focuses on formal modes of cooperation, such as intergovernmental organisations and treaties. Formal rules, however, do not exhaust the institutional variety of international and transnational cooperation. They are often inadequate descriptions of the game that actors play in world politics. Recent work in political science, economics, and international law has started to examine informal governance as a mode of international cooperation. Informal governance refers to unwritten – and often vaguely specified – rules and norms that are not enshrined in formally constituted organisations and which modify or substitute legally binding rules.

This project examines the factors that lead states and transnational actors to choose between formal intergovernmental organisations, informal intergovernmental organisations and transnational governance networks to structure their interactions and govern global problems. The research team will also investigate the interactions between formal and informal institutions. The project highlights the political dimensions of informal governance and argues that distributional conflict and power asymmetries are critical for the selection and design of informal institutions. States and transnational actors use informal institutions as a means to project power and influence outcomes according to their particularistic interests. This project will fill an important gap in research on international cooperation and global governance by taking systematic account of the wider spectrum of institutional variation. Furthermore, the accurate knowledge about the factors that shape the emergence and functioning of informal forms of governing will help policy-makers to effectively provide public goods and enhance the legitimacy, equity, and efficiency of global governance institutions.

Academic Output

Working Paper

Why do states sometimes use informal instead of formal institutions to govern global prob- lems? Extant research on the forms of institutionalization in world politics focuses on formal modes of cooperation, such as intergovernmental organizations and treaties. Formal rules, however, do not exhaust the institutional variety of international cooperation. They are often inadequate, if not entirely misleading, descriptions of the game that actors play in world pol- itics. Recent work has started to examine informal governance as a mode of cooperation in global governance. In this paper, I examine the factors that lead states to choose the specific level of informality of an international institution to structure their interactions and govern global problems. I highlight the political dimensions of informal governance and argue that distributional conflict and power asymmetries are critical for the selection and design of infor- mal modes of international cooperation. States use informal institutions as a means to project power and bias outcomes toward their particularistic interests. Using a new data set on formal and informal international institutions as well as a new, continuous measure of the formality of international institutions, I test hypotheses derived from this argument as well as alternative functionalist explanations. Results indicate that power dynamics are a strong driver of the in- formality of international institutions, while functionalist factors are of less importance.

Executive Summary

Article

Transnational Climate Governance Initiatives: Designed for Effective Climate Change Mitigation?

The Paris Agreement of December 2015 set a highly ambitious target for global climate change mitigation, but it remains unclear how it will be reached, and the individual countries’ pledges do not add up to the overall target. Can transnational climate governance initiatives be expected to fill the gap? We assess 109 such initiatives based on four design criteria: existence of mitigation targets; incen- tives for mitigation; definition of a baseline; and existence of a monitoring, reporting, and verification procedure. About half of the initiatives do not meet any of these criteria, and not even 15% satisfy three or more. Many initiatives were created only for the purpose of networking. Orchestration by national governments and international organizations increases the number of criteria met. On average, the mitigation focus of new initiatives was highest during the “heyday” of the international climate policy regime between 2005 and 2010. While mitigation-oriented entrepreneurial initiatives are generally started only in response to existing regula- tion, subnational governments and NGOs show some attempts to go beyond that and compensate for insufficient regulation at the national and international level. Yet, given the low overall quality assessment, transnational climate governance initiatives cannot be expected to fill the “mitigation gap.”

Article

Trust Funds as a Lever of Influence at International Development Organizations

Trust funds – broadly defined as financial vehicles to channel development funding earmarked for specific purposes through international development organizations – have grown substantially over the past two decades. Reflecting the variety of trust fund purposes and related governance arrangements, an emergent literature emphasizes a diversity of reasons underlying this growth. This paper proposes a simple – yet encompassing – explanation applicable to all kinds of funds: donors use trust funds to wield ‘influence’ – leveraging financial resources to alter the policies of multilateral organizations. Based on interviews at the World Bank, the study shows that influence is a dominant motive behind trust funds, though the capacity and willing- ness to wield influence varies across donors. Influence is a salient motive especially for medium-sized donors and emerging donors but surprisingly less so for large donors. In addition, attempts of influence are most effective when donors promote new thematic issues that did not previously feature Bank assistance and outside established programs. Concerns among stake- holders about undue donor influence are highest with respect to the global knowledge work of the World Bank but are virtu- ally absent when involving donors in the operational activities at the country level.

Book

Barbara Koremenos. 2016. The continent of international law. Explaining agreement design. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

Book

Joost Pauwelyn, Ramses A. Wessel and Jan Wouters (Eds.). 2012. Informal international lawmaking. (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Research Team

Oliver Westerwinter
Coordinator
University of St. Gall

Dirk Lehmkuhl
Co-Coordinator
University of St. Gall

Katharina Michaelowa
Co-Coordinator
University of Zurich

Bernhard Reinsberg
Principal Member
University of Zurich

Kenneth Abbott
Associated Member
Arizona State University

Thomas Biersteker
Associated Member
Graduate Institute Geneva

Jonathan Cuenoud
Associated Member
Federal Department of Foreign Affairs – FDFA

Mark DeWitt
Associated Member
International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers Association Board

Megumi Endo
Associated Member
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

Tom Hale
Associated Member
University of Oxford

Lindsay Heger
Associated Member
One Earth Future Foundation

Miles Kahler
Associated Member
American University

Marion Karmann
Associated Member
Forest Stewardship Council

Christopher Kilby
Associated Member
Villanova University

Barbara Koremenos
Associated Member
University of Michigan

Douglas Matina
Associated Member
Foreign Affairs – Trade and Development – Government of Canada

Usefull Links

  • Project’s website: http://informalgovernance.org

Status

completed

Disciplines

Themes

Regions

Countries

All countries

Host Institution

Coordinator

Year