One of the drivers of intellectual progress is "idea migration"--the process by which ideas move from one discipline or institution to another. Idea migration can be driven by many factors, including institutional design. This article studies the role of institutional design in idea migration by comparing two institutions, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) and the legal academy (operationalized as the scholarship produced by scholars working at ten elite American law schools).
This investigation compares idea migration from external disciplines and institutions to OIRA and the legal academy from 1980 through 2013. The results of the investigation reveal a striking pattern. In the period immediately following the establishment of OIRA in 1980, the office experienced a relatively high rate of inwards idea migration--as a set of ideas concerning cost-benefit analysis were imported from economics and public policy studies. The rate of inward idea migration then dropped precipitously. From 1982 through late 2009, no significant ideas appear in OIRA documents. From from late 2009 through late 2012, the rate of inward idea migration at OIRA substantially increased.
Idea migration in the legal academy during this period was quite different. Starting in 1981, idea migration in the legal academy began to accelerate and the rate of inward idea migration was maintained at a very high level through late 2009, when it dropped dramatically. Although the data set for this study ends in late 2012, there is evidence that the inward idea migration to the legal academy began to recover in 2013.
What accounts for the different patterns of idea migration in OIRA and the legal academy? The article considers a variety of possible explanations. One hypothesis draws on the many-minds literature and postulates that institutional design structures that facilitate many-mind interactions are positively correlated with idea migration. This hypothesis is not confirmed by the data, since changes in relevant institutional design features in OIRA and the legal academy are not correlated with the key change in migrations rates experienced in both institutions in late 2009.
Another hypothesis is that idea migration is determined by a small number of individuals, "idea appropriators," who facilitate the migration of ideas between institutions and disciplines. This hypothesis is strongly supported by the data. The confirmation of this hypothesis has important implications for the management of both government and educational institutions. These implications are explored in the final section of the article.