Emergence of integrated institutions in a large population of self-governing communities
Most aspects of our lives are governed by large, highly developed institutions that integrate several governance tasks under one authority structure. But theorists differ as to the mechanisms that drive the development of such concentrated governance systems from rudimentary beginnings. Is the emergence of integrated governance schemes a symptom of consolidation of authority by small status groups? Or does integration occur because a complex institution has more potential responses to a complex environment? Here we examine the emergence of complex governance regimes in 5,000 sovereign, resource-constrained, self-governing online communities, ranging in scale from one to thousands of users. Each community begins with no community members and no governance infrastructure. As communities grow, they are subject to selection pressures that keep better managed servers better populated. We identify predictors of community success and test the hypothesis that governance complexity can enhance community fitness. We find that what predicts success depends on size: changes in complexity predict increased success with larger population servers. Specifically, governance rules in a large successful community are more numerous and broader in scope. They also tend to rely more on rules that concentrate power in administrators, and on rules that manage bad behavior and limited server resources. Overall, this work is consistent with theories that formal integrated governance systems emerge to organize collective responses to interdependent resource management problems, especially as factors such as population size exacerbate those problems.