Analogy-based collective decision-making and incremental change in international organizations

Thomas Dörfler, Thomas Gehring

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


We examine how analogy-based collective decision-making of member states contributes to the endogenous emergence of informal rules and the incremental change of international organizations (IOs). Decision-making by analogy is an important characteristic of day-to-day decision-making in IOs. Relating current decisions to previous ones through analogies drives incremental change and simultaneously reinforces organizational resilience. Whereas the foreign policy analysis literature shows that analogies can be used as cognitive shortcuts in fuzzy and complex foreign policy situations, we focus on their use to overcome social ambiguity (indeterminacy) of coordination situations in IOs. Drawing on psychological conceptions, we develop two micro-level mechanisms that elucidate the effects of analogy-based collective decision-making in member-driven IOs. Analogy-based collective decisions emphasizing similarity between a current situation and previous ones follow an established problem schema and produce expansive and increasingly well-established informal rules. Collective decisions that are analogy-based but emphasize a crucial difference follow different problem schemas and trigger the emergence of additional informal rules that apply to new classes of cases. The result is an increasingly fine-grained web of distinct organizational solutions for a growing number of problems. Accordingly, an IO can increasingly facilitate collective decision-making and gains resilience. Empirically, we probe these propositions with a documentary analysis of decision-making in the Yugoslavia sanctions committee, established by the United Nations Security Council to deal with a stream of requests for exempting certain goods or services from the comprehensive economic embargo imposed on Yugoslavia in response to the War in the Balkans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)753-778
Number of pages26
JournalEuropean Journal of International Relations
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Historical institutionalism
  • Security Council
  • analogical reasoning
  • decision-making
  • international organizations
  • sanctions


Dive into the research topics of 'Analogy-based collective decision-making and incremental change in international organizations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this