Orchestrating experimentation in non-state environmental commitments

Kenneth Abbott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


A striking development in climate governance is the emergence of systems for non-state actors to make voluntary commitments alongside state undertakings. Because these commitments involve diverse actors carrying out diverse activities in diverse settings, they provide unprecedented opportunities for experimentation and learning. Yet voluntary commitment systems (VCS) rarely promote experimentation and provide few systematic learning mechanisms. Based on work with Duncan Snidal, an argument is made for a more strongly experimental approach. First, VCS should encourage designed, controlled policy experiments consistent with scientific standards. Second, even where formal experiments are infeasible, VCS should treat commitments as informal experiments, orchestrating them to promote innovation, comparability, analysis and systematic learning. Collaborative initiatives and other governance organizations can act as orchestrators, encouraging and supporting formal and informal experimentation through persuasion, technical and material assistance, recognition, third-party assistance and other incentives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)738-763
Number of pages26
JournalEnvironmental Politics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 4 2017


  • Climate governance
  • experimentalist governance
  • experimentation
  • global environmental governance
  • non-state actors
  • orchestration
  • voluntary commitments

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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