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Global Governance Centre

UN Reform and Effectiveness

What Types of Reform Enhance an International Organisation’s Effectiveness?


This project will systematically map reform within six UN agencies over time, and will examine whether there is an observable relationship between different types of international organisation (IO) reform and the IO’s effectiveness.

The project aims to:

  • Map each instance of reform that occurred within six UN agencies since they began. Reform is analysed along six dimensions of institutional design: 1) mandate, 2) membership composition, 3) resource base, 4) operational structure, 5) process of decision-making, and 6) formal engagement with non-state actors.

  • Assess the effectiveness of each UN agency in the years immediately preceding and following each instance of reform. Effectiveness is assessed at four levels 1) procedures, entailing the IO’s level of engagement with states; 2) outputs, such as collaborative agreements produced (treaties, guidelines, etc.); 3) outcomes, referring to evidence of implementation at country levels intended to induce behavioural change; and 4) impact – problem-solving.

  • Show the relationship between the type of reform and the UN agency’s effectiveness across time.

The six UN agencies and related organisations are: World Health Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and International Labour Organisation.

Where existing research focuses on the conditions under which institutions change, this project will assess the relationship between UN agency reforms that have taken place and the organisation’s effectiveness. The United Nations today faces complex, new global challenges. Its ability to adapt and reform to address them will determine not only its own fate as an institution, but also that of the peoples it represents. This project seeks to improve our understanding of the nature and consequences of the United Nations’ varying abilities to reform in order to contribute to enhancing its effectiveness going forward.

What Types of Reform Enhance an International Organisation’s Effectiveness?

Timeline: September 2016 - February 2020


Funding organisation: