Improving Generalizability in Transnational Bureaucratic Influence Research : A (Modest) Proposal
2020-09-01, Ege, Jörn, Bauer, Michael W., Wagner, Nora
An impressive amount of evidence has been collected underpinning the importance of international public administrations (i.e., the secretariats of international governmental organizations) in a variety of policy areas, actor configurations, and multilevel political contexts. However, the problem of how to systematically observe and explain bureaucratic influence still lies at the core of the research puzzles that scholars presently attempt to solve. While acknowledging the achievements of recent research efforts, we argue that it is no coincidence that the results remain rather scattered and disconnected—as no consensus has been reached about how bureaucratic influence beyond nation states might be reasonably defined or reliably observed and how the individual insights gained could feed into the construction of a more general theory of bureaucratic influence in transnational governance. Based on a review of the literature, the essay describes what we see as the characteristic pitfalls of current research and presents two modest proposals on how the underlying challenges can be addressed. We first suggest defining the target of influence in terms of a particular policy and second advocate the inclusion of bureaucratic policy preferences into the influence concept. In order to help researchers to observe and compare policy influence across IPAs, we present a simple heuristic measurement scheme, which, if systematically applied, may help overcome the central ailment of recent influence studies. We demonstrate the applicability of the scheme by means of two empirical illustrations. The argument is that in the absence of a comprehensive descriptive, let alone analytical, theory of bureaucratic influence in transnational policymaking, our proposal may help to boost the accumulative potential of current research in the area.