Heidi Hardt (Political Science)
Friday, November 6, 12:30-1:45pm in SBSG 1321.
Remembering Failure: An Experimental Study of Institutional Memory in
NATO Crisis Management
Maria Bermudez (UNDP and Visitor to Political Science) and
Jone Pearce (Merage School of Management) will serve as discussants.
International organization elites contribute years of knowledge and experience to the field of crisis management. Institutional memory represents the first step in organizational learning, but scholars from across disciplines have treated institutional memory as a given without problematizing it. This paper identifies conditions under which elites contribute to an international organization’s institutional memory in the realm of strategic errors. Whereas organizations tout successes, they provide little information on failures. The paper presents an experiment in the field on 120 NATO elites. In contrast to past experiments on students or convenience samples, this approach captures elite behavior in the real and complex environment of the international organization itself. Findings first indicate that elites are more likely to share knowledge of an error with successors when secretariat staff frame the error. This reflects their critical role in the collection of knowledge and supports recent evidence of the influence of international organization bureaucrats on state behavior. Second, the paper challenges assumptions about the influence of the US in international organizations. In cases where the US frames an error as such, elites are significantly less willing to contribute to the organization’s institutional memory. Supported by supplementary interview data, these findings indicate that elites continue to assign less credibility toward US intelligence in the aftermath of the US-led intervention in Iraq. This study strengthens our understanding of how those deciding and planning operations assess and pass on knowledge of failure.