The Future of Global Governance

Geneva, Switzerland | February 9-10, 2018

Has there been a significant change in the architecture of global governance? To the degree that there has been broad and identifiable change, what are the chief causes? And what are the effects of these changes? Do they make it more difficult or easier to solve global governance problems?

Building on the Transforming Global Governance meeting in Barcelona, this follow-on conference in Geneva took the project a giant step further, including both IR scholars and members of the global policy community, opening with a round table discussion open to that community.

The first meeting helped to clarify the importance of identifying the measure of change (what exactly has changed) across various issue areas; global governance, in short, needs to be disaggregated.  Further, the discussion allowed us to develop an analytics of global governance that can be used for the purpose of comparison across issue areas and change over time. 

Some are nostalgic for the days when (powerful Western) states ruled the world and had the capacity and courage to meet the major global challenges with solutions on a similar scale; big global challenges may not be fixable or even manageable via piecemeal, incremental, and disorganized efforts.  Alternatively, some welcome these changes on the grounds that these economic, technological, and political changes have unleashed new, more effective, flexible, and democratic forms of governance.

We begin with the observation that global governance came of age in the decades after the Second World War. Thus, it is not surprising that global governance has long reflected the major assumptions and beliefs of the postwar era. States were at the center; bureaucracies, experts, and hierarchies were essential; and size and scale were assets. The landmark international institutions of that period--the United Nations, the World Bank, the IMF—all reflected the reigning midcentury inclinations toward centralization, formalization, planning, and hierarchy.

Global governance has nonetheless evolved in new directions. Whereas once states were the only relevant players, many varieties of new actors, including NGOs, corporations, foundations, and even celebrities, play a role in contemporary governance processes. Instead of imagining that the only way to solve a problem was by creating an all-encompassing, bureaucratic, and state-led solution, there is greater interest in piecemeal, modest, improvised, and provisional action—often led by private actors or by unusual public-private partnerships. In lieu of a legally-binding treaty, political commitments, sometimes even unwritten, anchor many of these second-wave efforts. And rather than large, articulated bureaucracies, these new forms of governance often feature nimble, network-like organizational structure—and less grand ambitions. 

We thus set out to understand these changes and what they mean for the provision of global governance by asking three related questions: what has changed, why has it changed, and what does this change mean.

Principal Inquiries

  • Has there been a change in density in different areas of governance?
  • Do we find greater energy directed at the process of rule creation than in the process of rule enforcement?
  • Or, alternatively, is one of the most important changes in an area of global governance the move toward a centralized enforcement mechanism?
  • Sociological and organizational theorists identify three primary organizing principles for producing collective action – hierarchies, networks, and markets. Which kind of principle dominates which issue and which function?
  • How have the various changes altered outcomes for the subjects of governance?
  • Who is the audience expected to confer legitimacy?  Is this legitimacy related to the process of governance, or to the outcome?
  • How is the evolution of global governance related to the power, effectiveness, and legitimacy of institutions?
  • How do they reflect power structures while either reinforcing or displacing them?
  • In practice, how effective at governance are these institutions?
  • How do these arrangements gain legitimacy and in whose eyes does this legitimacy matter?
  • What changes have occurred, why have they occurred, and to what end? 

Academic Leaders

Michael Barnett - George Washington University

Jon Pevehouse - University of Wisconsin-Madison

Kal Raustiala - UCLA 


Liliana Andanova - Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva

Deborah Avant - University of Denver

Ayelet Berman - Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva

Vincent Bernard - International Review of the Red Cross

Orfeo Fioretos - College of Liberal Arts

Jessica Green - NYU Arts & Science

Miles Kahler - American University 

Suerie Moon - Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva

Joost Pauwelyn - Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva

Anne Quintin - International Review of the Red Cross

Duncan Snidal - University of Oxford


Thomas Biersteker - Graduate Institute Geneva

Moira Faul - United Nations Research Institute for Social Development

Anna Leander - Graduate Institute Geneva 


Theresa Carpenter - Graduate Institute Geneva

Stefano Guzzini - Danish Institute for International Studies

Keith Krause - Graduate Institute Geneva