Rational Design: Looking Back to Move Forward


In this article we summarize the empirical results of the Rational Design project. In general the results strongly support the Rational Design conjectures, especially those on flexibility and centralization; some findings are inconclusive (in particular, those addressing scope) or point toward a need for theoretical reformulation (in particular, the membership dimension). We also address the broader implications of the volume’s findings, concentrating on several topics directly related to institutional design and its systematic study. First, we consider the trade-offs in creating highly formalized models to guide the analysis. Second, our discussion of the variable control is a step toward incorporating “power” more fully and explicitly in our analysis. We also consider how domestic politics can be incorporated more systematically into international institutional analysis. Finally, we initiate a discussion about how and why institutions change, particularly how they respond to changing preferences and external shocks. We conclude with a discussion of the forward-looking character of rational design.