Constitutions help define domestic political orders, but are known to be influenced by international mechanisms that are normative, temporal and network based. Here we introduce the concept of the ‘provision space’—the set of all legal provisions existing across the world’s constitutions, which grows over time. We make use of techniques from network science and information retrieval to quantify and compare temporal and network effects on constitutional change, which have been the focus of previous work. Furthermore, we propose that hierarchical effects—a set of mechanisms by which the adoption of certain constitutional provisions leads to or facilitates the adoption of additional provisions—are also crucial. These hierarchical mechanisms appear to play an important role in the emergence of new political rights, and may therefore provide a useful roadmap for advocates of those rights.

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The authors are grateful to N. Adler for helpful conversations and A. Clauset for the MATLAB code used to derive the minimal violation ranking.

Author information


  1. UNICEF Office of Innovation, New York, NY, USA

    • Alex Rutherford
    •  & Manuel Garcia-Herranz
  2. George Washington University, Washington DC, USA

    • Yonatan Lupu
  3. MIT Media Lab, Cambridge, MA, USA

    • Manuel Cebrian
    •  & Iyad Rahwan
  4. University of California Merced, Merced, CA, USA

    • Brad L. LeVeck


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A.R. and Y.L. analysed the data. All authors contributed to writing the manuscript.

Competing interests

Two of the authors (A.R. and M.G.-H.) were employees of UNICEF when this work was completed.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Alex Rutherford or Manuel Garcia-Herranz.

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