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Behind the Scenes: Mapping the Role of Treaty Secretariats in International Environmental Policy-Making


Forschungszentrum für Umweltpolitik


 Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)

01.09.2014 — 30.09.2017
Dr. Barbara Saerbeck

The project “Behind the Scenes: Mapping the Role of Treaty Secretariats in International Environmental Policy-Making” of the DFG-Research Unit “International Public Administration” explores how and to what extent international public administrations (IPAs) interact with political and non-political actors of various levels during and in-between major international conferences.

The project "Behind the Scenes" seeks to identify to what extent and under which conditions convention secretariats can act as partially autonomous actors. By exploring the mechanisms that enhance an administrative actor’s ability to communicate and interact with policy-makers, the project contributes to a better understanding of the working of IPAs at the intersection of public administration and world politics.

Theoretically, the project draws on hypotheses and concepts developed in accounts of IPA activity rooted in principal-agent theory, sociological institutionalism, and organizational theory. Our study will put assumed causal mechanisms to an empirical test and thus contribute to further theory building. From a methodological point of view, the project seeks to develop a new approach to measure the interaction between different actors at the international level. Using SNA as our main methodological approach, we go beyond previous research in this area. Data for social network analysis will be gathered with respect to two multilateral treaties by implementing egocentric SNA. In order to achieve the highest possible accuracy, we will develop a multi-tiered approach, drawing not only on measures of Social Network Analysis (SNA) but also on hierarchical cluster analysis of the matrix of Euclidean and correlational distance measures, fuzzy set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fsQCA), regression analysis and analysis of Twitter data. We expect our findings to allow for a more detailed and comprehensive mapping of the complex actor networks in selected areas of global environmental policy-making.


  • Jörgens, H., Kolleck, N., & Saerbeck, B. (2016). Exploring the hidden influence of international treaty secretariats: Using social network analysis to analyse the Twitter debate on the ‘Lima Work Programme on Gender’. Journal of European Public Policy, 23 (7), p. 979 - 998.
  • Jörgens, Helge, Nina Kolleck, Barbara Saerbeck and Mareike Well (2016): Orchestrating (Bio-) Diversity: The secretariat of the Convention of Biological Diversity as an attention-seeking bureaucracy. In: Michael W. Bauer, Christoph Knill and Steffen Eckhard (eds.), International bureaucracy: Challenges and Lessons for Public Administration Research. Basingstoke: Palgrave, p. 65-86.


Since autumn 2015, the project is affiliated with the Earth System Governance Project. The Earth System Governance Project is the largest social science research network in the area of governance and global environmental change. Its international research program takes up the challenge of exploring political solutions and novel, more effective governance systems to cope with the current transitions in the biogeochemical systems of our planet. The normative context of its research is sustainable development: Earth system governance is not only seen as a question of governance effectiveness, but also as a challenge for political legitimacy and social justice.

Click here for further information about the project.