Bringing International Organization In: Global Institutions as Adaptive Hybrids

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Bob, Ferdi, Kemal Sutcu, Olivier, Toon

Authors: Yves Schemeil

Publication Year: 2013


Journal: Organization Studies

Volume: 34

Issue: 2

Categories: Innovation, Adaptation, Adaptive Management


How can an international organization be made adaptable? Having been designed to fulfil a specific mandate, international organizations should disappear from the world stage once .the initial conditions that led to their establishment no longer exist: their constituents (governments or activists) will not support them when their mandate becomes obsolete or their added value is reduced. Nonetheless, they survive external shocks, resource traps, and even the growing indifference of their founding fathers. The explanation lies in their successful resistance to constituents’ control; counter-intuitive adaptation to external change; unplanned expansion through mandate enlargement; and a snowballing albeit unintentional trend to build up networks. Overall, the relative success of international organizations can be measured as a global balance between performance and resilience, exploitation and exploration, autonomy and cooperation. To reach that balanced stage they must be altogether dualistic (coupling the technical with the political); adaptive (converting slack into innovation); organic and ambidextrous (setting new challenges while pursuing current activity). Since they combine components that come from local, national, regional and transnational recipes for survival and performance, they are complex hybrids made up of public agencies, private firms, third sector associations, and expert, activist, or lobbying interest groups.

Critical Reflection

This article discusses unique characteristics of “International Organizations(IOs)” or specifically “Inter-governmental Organizations(IGOs)” and “Non-Governmental Organizations(NGOs)” which enable them to be exceptionally resilient in rapidly changing environments. IOs are typically established in crisis situations and they are theoretically expected to shut down once the goal is achieved for which and IO was created- there are few refugees left, people are no longer starving, etc. IOs success should be proven when it ceases to exist. However, in the real world, this is not the case which makes IOs unique in terms of resilience.

The exploitation phase of IOs is typically crisis situation which mainly forms the unique characteristics of IOs. When we approach from the perspective of adaptive cycle theory, we can claim that IOs have high “inherent potential that is available for change” or namely ‘wealth’. The adaptive capacity, or the resilience of IOs are high, their vulnerability to unexpected or unpredictable shocks are low which is shaped by unique inherent nature of IOs. They are specifically designed for crisis situations. Thus, ironically, the “crisis” phase of IOs is actually the lack of crisis.

As distinguished by Dyer et al. , IOs can be considered as Complex Adaptive Systems which are open for innovation, dynamism and adaptiveness.

Schemeil (2013) suggests 4 propositions which enable IOs to be exceptionally resilient or adaptive:

1) Inertia or Resistence to Control: “because IGOs and NGOs are nothing other than “agencies” they develop complex tactics of resistance to their principals’ demands” 2) Adaptation to External Change: The concept “slack” is used here different from its conventional meaning: “non-used capacity”. Herold et al. claims that “it is not only unavoidable, it is necessary condition to innovate ”. Unabsorbed slack is a major source for innovation which is one of the main characteristics of CASs. 3) Expansion: to survive in a rapidly changing environment that quickly outdates their initial mandate, IOs innovate by enacting new norms and creating new structures 4) Collaboration: The more IOs collaborate, even reluctantly, the more they create networks of interdependence that are no longer controlled either by national states or national political and associative movements.


Bob, Ferdi, Kemal Sutcu, Olivier, Toon