Reimagining Participation in International Institutions

42 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2011 Last revised: 15 Aug 2014

See all articles by Kenneth W. Abbott

Kenneth W. Abbott

Arizona State University

David Gartner

Arizona State University - Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

Date Written: September 25, 2011


The optimal design of international institutions to confront 21st century global challenges is an increasingly urgent question in areas ranging from climate change to health and security. A central issue is whether international institutions will maintain the state-centric models of governance they have inherited or expand opportunities for participation by civil society and other stakeholders. Global environmental institutions, which pioneered broadened participation, are increasingly returning to state-centric models of governance, but a new generation of global health institutions is reimagining participation, incorporating civil society representatives as direct participants in decision-making.

This article explains the growing divergence between environmental and health institutions as a product of: (1) stakeholder demand for participation, (2) institutional characteristics that influence the supply of participation, and (3) path dependence. Our findings indicate that participatory institutions rarely emerge without strong civil society demand, and are more likely to emerge outside of 20th century institutions such as the United Nations and World Bank. Normatively, evidence from the new global health institutions suggests that direct civil society participation enhances institutional legitimacy, deliberation and effectiveness. Wider adoption of the new participatory model could strengthen the global response to climate change and other pressing challenges.

Keywords: international institutions, participation, global governance, health, environment, civil society

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Abbott, Kenneth Wayne and Gartner, David, Reimagining Participation in International Institutions (September 25, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Kenneth Wayne Abbott

Arizona State University ( email )

Box 877906
Tempe, AZ 85287-7906
United States
480-965-5917 (Phone)

David Gartner (Contact Author)

Arizona State University - Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law ( email )

1100 S. McAllister Ave.
PO Box 877906
Tempe, AZ 85287
United States

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