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This article develops an analytical framework for studying international organization (IO) boards of directors and applies the framework to a sample of 12 international organizations. It argues that the boards of IOs are asked by their political masters to play four distinct roles: (1) political counterweight, (2) performance police, (3) democratic forum, and (4) strategic thinker. Because there are trade-offs among them, no IO board can play all four roles effectively. Policymakers must therefore choose among them, and they must make choices of institutional design accordingly. The article also shows how in practice, international organizations fall into three governance “models” based on the characteristics of their boards of directors. Each model has a different combination of strengths and weaknesses. The analysis suggests that because trade-offs are inescapable, state actors sometimes willingly surrender a measure of control in order to strengthen other aspects of institutional performance. IO autonomy is often not something that surprises or annoys governments, but rather something that was been built into the institutional design as the result of a conscious trade-off.
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- Boards of directors in international organizations: A framework for understanding the dilemmas of institutional design
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