In: Cooperation and Conflict 47(3), 2012, pp. 368-385.
This article illustrates how organizational learning can explain the shift in United Nations’ peacekeeping exit strategies from the election-based approach of the 1990s to peacebuilding. Conceptualizing learning as an ideal-type, three-step process, of knowledge acquisition, interpretation and institutionalization, the analysis reveals the impact of new knowledge on institutional change. It demonstrates how knowledge acquisition became systematized within the United Nations’ Secretariat especially after 2000, with the active promotion of boundary-spanning activities. The analysis then shows how a shared understanding of the role of peacebuilding for exit strategies was developed by the organization’s bureaucracy and intergovernmental bodies in the interpretation step. Finally, it highlights how the establishment of the Peacebuilding Commission institutionalized the transition to peacebuilding as the new exit strategy and how new learning capacities were created. By conceiving the interaction between international organizations and their external environment as a dynamic relationship, the analysis confirms the potential of organizational learning theories for explaining institutional change in international relations.