In many situations, societies, organizations and groups are better off if its members cooperate in order to produce valued outcomes. But since cooperation often comes at the expense of personal gain, institutional arrangements are needed to bring cooperation about and to keep it going. These governance structures often consist of a combination of formal (laws, rules, formal authority structures) and informal (norms, conventions, informal network structures) elements, they can vary in complexity, they can emerge spontaneously, or be purposefully designed, and they can change through time. Governance structures vary with regard to how effective they are in creating value for those involved. Consequently, getting a better grip on how to describe and model the emergence and change of different governance structures is an important ingredient in my research strategy.
A second building block of my analytical strategy relates to value creation. What is considered a “valued” goal, outcome, or product of course depends on the level and unit of analysis and the specific historical and social context. Managers of business firms may attach high value to performance increases and the resulting benefits for shareholders. Humanitarian NGOs may value effective aid provision during a disaster or high retention rates among their expat staff. Employees may attach high value to a good work-life balance in their job. Individuals and societies generally value health, well-being, access to a good education for their children, and may despise strong inequalities.