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 Nordic Party Members: Linkages in Troubled Times, Edited by Marie Demker, Knut Heidar, and Karina Kosiara-Pedersen

An Organisational-Cybernetic Approach to the Design of International Institutions

Michal Parízek
Charles University
Michal Parízek
Charles University

The research on the design of international institutions should be guided by two fundamental observations. First, given the power-driven nature of international politics, ultimately the sole way in which institutions can enhance cooperation is through improved transmission of information among the states. Second, given the complexity of the international governance schemes and the problems they address, our understanding of how alterations in design impact on cooperative outcomes is inherently limited. A positive approach to design that takes these observations seriously can be built on the basis of organizational cybernetics, a subfield of cybernetics studying information transmission channels within regulatory systems. Taking this approach, I put forward two conceptual and theoretical arguments.
First, building on the cybernetic theory I develop the concept of institutional capacity capturing the maximum amount of information an institution - as a communication channel - can transmit. The capacity is determined by the institution’s design and by the underlying distribution of power among the key actors. Second, I present and elaborate on the so-called viable system model, a powerful deductive tool from organizational cybernetics that describes all the key information channels that any governance system needs to possess if it is to be viable. Stability and sufficient capacity of these key information channels is the appropriate target international institution’s design should aim at.
When put together, these two arguments generate a comprehensive and theoretically elaborate scheme for assessment of how changes in international institutions’ design impact on their functioning. The scheme offers a range of implications for what design features are crucial for long-term success and viability of international institutions, but it also formulates very clear limits on how much we can expect from design in terms of `modeling’ outcomes in international politics.
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