Exploring Global Governance Networks

How is global governance organized? For many complicated issues, governance is being pursued at multiple sites, by different actors, at different levels and, in many cases, across space in a messy transnational fashion. What, then, are fruitful ways of understanding these processes (for example, the patterns we see in certain sorts of governance operating in some places and not in others)?

There are lots of ways of thinking about this question (and this is a blog post, not an article, so don’t expect an elaborate literature review). One interesting way is to think about the networks through which ideas about how to govern a particular issue are developed and transmitted.

The basic premise here is that while there may be large-scale political forces shaping governance (i.e. geopolitical fights between major states, broad ideologies that condition how actors think, transnational businesses with huge power), in many cases, governance is being pursued by networks of experts or activists whose relationship to these big political forces is not necessarily obvious. At the very least, we can learn things by putting our assumptions about the big picture aside to see what we might learn by looking at these networks.

Steven Bernstein, Michele Betsill, Matthew Hoffmann and I have been investigating this question regarding climate change governance—specifically the use of emissions trading as a governance tool—over the last few years. Collecting data on these networks is complicated and takes time, but we are starting to have data we can show, and it confirms the fruitfulness of thinking about these networks.

What we are interested in mainly is the interconnections among all the various processes that have generated emissions trading systems. (These systems include the Kyoto Protocol as well as ones in the UK and the European Union; the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the north-eastern U.S.; the Western Climate Initiative in various U.S. states and Canadian provinces (due to start trading in 2013); and a number of less well-known sites.) How are the final trading systems connected to the early agenda-setting processes, in which a relatively small group of experts promoted emissions trading in climate change governance? Who is involved in making these various different places into an overall network, and what does this network look like?

Below is one of our main pictures of the transnational emissions trading networks, based on our data so far. For a fuller discussion, see our paper presented at Princeton last year (which is currently being revised for submission to a journal).

This image shows the series of sites (the clusters of names) and how they are connected. Each line between two people shows that they both participated at least in one policy venue together. Those with big blue squares have what is called a high ‘between-ness score’—that is, if you took them out of the network, the connections between venues would collapse. They are thus highly important in connecting up the network, and we can ask questions about their power in relation to flows of information or ideas, for example.

[Click on image to enlarge]

Four things (at least) are interesting about this network.

First: the network is rather sparse; very few people are involved in connecting up the network as a whole.

Second, the U.S. venues (the two at the top of the picture) are relatively separate from the rest of the world, while the EU and UK (the two clusters on the left) are much more closely connected to the Kyoto Protocol (the blob in the middle) than the U.S. actors are.

Third: Although this is harder to see here, the actors making up the network are almost all non-state actors rather than state actors. It is a transnational network rather than a trans-governmental one. This is easier to see if you draw the network through the organizations people work for, rather than through individual names.

Fourth: almost all of these actors connecting up the various venues are either from the UK or from the U.S. This can be interpreted to mean either that the U.S.-UK dominates policy development overall, and/or that the UK is the principal bridge between the U.S. and the rest of the world. This is not necessarily a surprise, but useful to see so graphically.

There are lots of things that such a network analysis doesn’t show—but it does, in our view, confirm the value of thinking about how different sites and processes of governance on an issue are joined up. How might such processes be organized on different issue areas—for instance, on an issue like ‘good governance’ in the World Bank, in human rights campaigns, or in post-conflict reconstruction? There may be similar patterns, or there may be radically different ones. Either way, we would learn something novel about patterns of global governance.

Related Articles


The CIPS Blog is written only by subject-matter experts. For a list of our authors, please click here.