The academic study of international public administrations (IPAs) has, to date, received only minor attention. Surprisingly little is known about these bureaucracies, their internal organisational structures and decision-making processes, their administrative cultures, their autonomy vis-à-vis their political principals, and their relationships with other administrations and societal actors.

The research unit develops a Public Administration perspective on the administrative bodies of international organisations, ranging from small treaty secretariats to large bureaucracies such as the UN Secretariat and the European Commission. This perspective bears great potential for empirical and theoretical innovation: To what extent can we challenge and advance the theoretical and analytical concepts developed for the study of national administrations? Can we observe similar tensions with regard to administrative autonomy and control, or – given the specific features of IPAs – will such pressures be more or less pronounced? And to what extent do these features affect the role and influence of IPAs in the formulation and implementation of public policies beyond the nation-state? These are just a few of the questions the research unit seeks to answer.
IPAs are administrative bodies established to provide support to recurring instances of intergovernmental cooperation in a given issue-area. They consist of “a hierarchically organised group of international civil servants with a given mandate, resources, identifiable boundaries, and a set of formal rules of procedures within the context of a policy area” (Biermann et al. 2009: 37). Although they are integral parts of intergovernmental organisations, the term “IPA” refers exclusively to the administrative or bureaucratic bodies of these organisations.

Explaining patterns of administrative structures

International administrations differ widely in terms of size, tasks, and competencies, but we have only limited information on the extent to which they also differ in administrative patterns. The research unit concentrates on the emergence of and changes in these patterns in four dimensions:

  1. organisational features
  2. the nexus between politics and IPAs
  3. inter-organisational patterns
  4. the relationship between IPAs and societal actors

Doing so, the sub-projects systematically explore the formal structures and contours of a core set of IPAs in a comparative manner. Because every organisation must solve certain problems including centralisation and independence, we can expect variants of institutionalisation due to the specific tasks of IPAs, but also due to differing actor-constellations and ideas of what constitutes “good administrative practise”. As such, our analytical considerations are based on three sets of factors that are theoretically rooted in three branches of institutionalist thinking: functionality, power, and cognitive frames.Strategie I

Explaining the performance, changes in, and coordination of IPAs

The second phase of the research unit will examine how the administrative patterns of IPAs identified in the first phase affect their specific modes of action. Particular attention will be devoted to: (1) variance in policy-making and performance, especially the effectiveness and/or efficiency of goal attainment and the legitimacy of operations; (2) the degree of organisational change and adaptation; and (3) how international public administrations coordinate with other public administrations in multi-level administrative settings.

Strategie II

The variety of IPAs is extensive. They range from small treaty secretariats (such as the Ozone Secretariat with only eighteen employees) to large and complex bureaucracies (such as the European Commission, with 23,000 employees). Narrowing down the vast number of IPAs, the research unit focuses on a core set of international organisations selected representatively according to the following criteria: (1) their scope of responsibilities (single- versus multi-issue administrations), (2) their policy area (security, economic regulation, and social and environmental regulation), and (3) their geographical scope (regional versus global administrations).

Orga Selection