DFG research grant: Open or closed international organizations?

Project description
Under what conditions do international organizations change their policies when these are contested by the assumed beneficiaries of those policies? One widespread assumption is that international organizations are bureaucratic containers. External influences are filtered by a hierarchical culture and a rigid organizational structure. Civil society protest often leads to rhetorical and procedural changes in international organizations but seldom to substantial policy change – international organizations are “closed organizations”. To what extent does this assumption still hold true? Current research describes international organizations as “open organizations”. Organizational cultures and structures are increasingly fluid and formal organizational boundaries play less of a role, due, in large parts, to New Public Management reforms. We observe transnational professional networks which fight over control over certain issue areas and they shape the behavior of international organizations. In this framework, civil society protest does not fail because of rigid IO cultures and pathologies. Instead, contesting groups can use access to professional networks, which are assumed to be more open to innovation, to affect IO policies.

The project combines these two contrasting variations of constructivist IO studies in one research design: an open organizational culture and structure should promote policy change in IOs; a closed organizational culture and structure should hinder change. The project also tests alternative factors: the effects of powerful states and of different protest strategies. We compare reactions of ILO, UNICEF, UNODC and WHO to contestation by assumed beneficiaries in different issue areas: drug use and trafficking, child labor, human trafficking, and female genital mutilation. The project combines a hypothesis-testing case comparison with process tracing. It will use expert interview, qualitative content analysis as well as network analysis.

Contact: Lisbeth Zimmermann

Project duration
from 01.09.2019 to 30.08.2022

Project management
Lisbeth Carpenter

Project processing
Lisbeth Zimmermann, Nele Kortendiek, Lily Young

German Research Council

Time to decide

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