Journal of Institutional Economics

Research Article

Crafting analytical tools to study institutional change


a1 Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University, USA

a2 Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity, Arizona State University, USA

a3 Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, USA


Most powerful analytical tools used in the social sciences are well suited for studying static situations. Static and mechanistic analysis, however, is not adequate to understand the changing world in which we live. In order to adequately address the most pressing social and environmental challenges looming ahead, we need to develop analytical tools for analyzing dynamic situations – particularly institutional change. In this paper, we develop an analytical tool to study institutional change, more specifically, the evolution of rules and norms. We believe that in order for such an analytical tool to be useful to develop a general theory of institutional change, it needs to enable the analyst to concisely record the processes of change in multiple specific settings so that lessons from such settings can eventually be integrated into a more general predictive theory of change.

(Online publication August 16 2010)


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An earlier version of this paper was presented at the workshop on ‘Do Institutions Evolve?’, Robert Schumann Center, European University Institute, Florence, Italy, 8–9 May 2009, and discussed at the Environmental Norms, Institutions, and Policies Workshop, Stanford University, 8 April 2010. We appreciate the helpful comments by Todor Arpad, Melissa Brown, James Fearon, Geoffrey Hodgson, and the other participants at these workshops. The support of the National Science Foundation and Indiana University are gratefully acknowledged. We also appreciate the editing support of Patty Lezotte and David Price. Some sections of this paper draw on, and substantially revise, sections from an earlier paper by Elinor Ostrom, ‘Developing a Method for Analyzing Institutional Change’, in Sandra Batie and Nicholas Mercuro (eds.), Alternative Institutional Structures: Evolution and Impact (New York: Routledge, 2008), pp. 48–76.