Who matters for memory: Sources of institutional memory in international organization crisis management

Abstract

Scholarship on organizational learning has explored how international organizations (IOs) reform but has paid little attention to the origins of institutional memory. For IOs engaged in crisis management operations, acquiring knowledge about strategic errors is necessary for adopting reforms that could save lives. This study seeks to identify the sources that affect whether or not IO elites will contribute knowledge to an IO’s institutional memory in crisis management. The study employs a survey experiment in the field on 120 NATO elites who decide on and plan operations. Findings indicate that when the United States introduces knowledge of a strategic error, NATO elites are significantly less likely to share it. This deterrent effect on knowledge-sharing illustrates an unexpected way in which the US influences international crisis management. The study also finds that an IO’s secretariat can somewhat increase elites’ likelihood of contributing to the IO’s institutional memory.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Subsequent research on institutional memory in IOs appears in the author’s forthcoming book, Lessons in Failure: Institutional Memory in International Organization Crisis Management (Oxford University Press).

  2. 2.

    Author interview with NATO military elite, Mons, Belgium, April 6, 2015.

  3. 3.

    See also Smith, Europe’s common security and defense policy: Capacity-building, Experiential Learning and Institutional Change, forthcoming.

  4. 4.

    I registered this study in December 2014 with the Institutional Review Board (IRB) – my university’s human subject ethics committee. The IRB registration constitutes pre-registration of the experiment.

  5. 5.

    See also Smith, Europe’s common security and defense policy: Capacity-building, Experiential Learning and Institutional Change, forthcoming.

  6. 6.

    Author interview with IS elite, Brussels, Belgium, February 9, 2015.

  7. 7.

    See Online Resource for further discussion of the term ‘strategic error’.

  8. 8.

    I initially included a fourth hypothesis concerning the international media as a source. Upon further reflection, I concluded that there was only limited theoretical support (and consequently no empirical support) for this hypothesis to include it here. I discuss this dropped hypothesis and present results from it in the Online Resource.

  9. 9.

    The percentage of those staff holding indefinite contracts is gradually decreasing as they retire and incoming staff are instead granted three-year contracts.

  10. 10.

    I thank an Anonymous reviewer for this point.

  11. 11.

    I used power analysis to identify a sample size (n = 30 per group) necessary to detect a substantively meaningful difference between the treatment and control groups at a 0.10 significance level, using a one-tailed test of difference in means, and holding the power of the test constant at 0.51. I considered a difference to be substantively meaningful if there was a difference between the control and treatment group of at least 0.34. (This number corresponds to a difference along a 0–1 scale – converted from the original 5-point scale.) As a limitation, I acknowledge that since the sample size is small, I may not be able to detect effects below 0.34.

  12. 12.

    Of the 120 elites, 18 were unable to meet in person due to scheduling conflicts and instead participated by emailing their survey responses.

  13. 13.

    Of the 120 subjects in this study, 30 subjects received an IS treatment, 30 received a US treatment, 30 received an international media treatment and 30 received a placebo.

  14. 14.

    Author interview with an IMS elite, June 16, 2015.

  15. 15.

    Author interview with an Assistant Secretary General to NATO, March 13, 2015.

  16. 16.

    Author Interview with a Permanent Representative to NATO, March 11, 2015.

  17. 17.

    I thank an Anonymous Reviewer for this suggestion.

  18. 18.

    See Online Resource for comparisons with individual regression models.

  19. 19.

    Author interview with an IS elite, Brussels, Belgium, April 2, 2015.

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Acknowledgements

I thank the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute for hosting me as I carried out the majority of the research for this study. I also thank the following scholars for their helpful feedback: Karisa Cloward, Brett Ashley Leeds, Alan Jacobs, Brigid Laffen, Ulrich Krotz, Jeffrey Knopf, Emilie Hafner-Burton, Martha Feldman, Maria Bermudez, Davin Phoenix, Michael Tesler, Ines Levin, Alexandra Raleigh, Marina Henke, Daniel Nielson, Brad LeVeck, Etel Solingen and Leslie Johns. I am grateful to participants who provided feedback on presentations of early drafts at the EUI Global Governance Programme, International Studies Association, the American Political Science Association, the ISSS-ISAC Conference, the Department of Political Science at Northwestern University, the Center for Organizational Research at the University of California, Irvine, the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of California Conference on International Cooperation. I thank Alexandra Raleigh and Mary Anne Mendoza for their research assistance. I thank also the participants in this study, as well as the many administrative staff who helped facilitate my meetings with participants following my requests. I am grateful to the Fulbright Commission for funding this research through my Fulbright Schuman EUI Chair Fellowship.

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Appendix

Appendix

Table 5 Subject pool
Fig. 2
figure2

Recording for one’s self or successors versus discussing with colleague

Table 6 Effect of US source cue on recording the error for self or successors

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Hardt, H. Who matters for memory: Sources of institutional memory in international organization crisis management. Rev Int Organ 13, 457–482 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11558-017-9281-4

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Keywords

  • Institutional memory
  • NATO
  • Crisis management
  • International security
  • Organizational learning
  • United States
  • International organization