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Published in: The Review of International Organizations 1/2020

21-08-2018

Concentration despite competition: The organizational ecology of technical assistance providers

Author: Jean-Frédéric Morin

Published in: The Review of International Organizations | Issue 1/2020

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Abstract

When international organizations expand and proliferate, why do they fail to spread more evenly in their policy sphere? To answer this question, this article builds on organizational ecology theory, which was recently introduced into the study of international organizations. However, rather than studying each population separately, as previous studies have done, this article investigates how distinct populations with overlapping niches shape each other’s evolution. It argues that when inter-population competition occurs, the first population to occupy its niche at a high density limits the long-term development of other populations. This is the case even if emerging populations may temporarily enjoy a higher growth rate. The argument is illustrated by a study of the relations between four populations of technical assistance providers in the field of intellectual property. By doing so, the article brings for the first time inter-population relations in the study of international organizations and provides an explanation for the persistent concentration of international organizations in specific areas of the governance space.

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Appendix
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Footnotes
1
Providing governance goods is a governance function (Frey 2008). Governance goods include physical goods and intangible services. They can be public, private, common or club goods.
 
2
The purpose of this article is not to discard traditional explanations, but to focus attention on processes that have been overlooked. As Abbott, Green and Keohane have argued, traditional theories “are incomplete because they fail to pay systematic attention to the organizational environment” (2016: 250
 
3
One of the rare exceptions is the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Visually Impaired Persons. Nevertheless, its adoption required considerable effort despite its modest scope.
 
4
If two organizations have separate technical assistance programs, I consider themas distinct and autonomous organizations for the purpose of this article, even if they are part of a shared institutional structure and have overlapping membership. For example, I consider the development agency and the patent office of the same government as two distinct organizations if they offer distinct technical assistance programs to developing countries.
 
5
These terms may seem perorative and over-simplistic. They are used here for solely heuristic reasons. Individuals and organizations have more complex and nuanced viewpoints.
 
6
Data from our 57 interviews suggest that our list of 168 providers is quite comprehensive.
 
7
The ideological agenda of 27 providers is unclear. Rather than forcing them into a category (minimalist or maximalist), they were considered as indeterminate and were excluded from some quantitative comparative analyses.
 
8
This situation is analogous to a thick market effect, in which a low frequency of transactions creates volatility and inconsistency.
 
9
Competition is a function of organizational density and resource abundance (Hannan and Carroll 1992: 39).
 
10
The reorientation for key funders is apparently exogenous to IP politics. Interviewees mention shifts in government and the 2008 financial crisis as two key explanations.
 
11
Drahos explains that patent offices compete for the provision of technical assistance because they help build organizational trust, which can lead to the provision of other patent-related services (Drahos 2010: 134–137).
 
12
The case discussed in this article features four populations, including an established population of public maximalist organisations and an emerging population of public minimalist organizations. Consequently, the intrinsic features of public organizations can be partially controlled.
 
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Metadata
Title
Concentration despite competition: The organizational ecology of technical assistance providers
Author
Jean-Frédéric Morin
Publication date
21-08-2018
Publisher
Springer US
Published in
The Review of International Organizations / Issue 1/2020
Print ISSN: 1559-7431
Electronic ISSN: 1559-744X
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11558-018-9322-7

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