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Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) Framework

Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) Framework emerged from the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University, Bloomington. Pioneered by Elinor and Vincent Ostrom, it is the product of multiple collaborations among researchers from around the world who are interested in understanding how individuals behave in collective action settings and the institutional foundations that inform such arrangements.

The IAD Framework offers researchers a way to understand the policy process by outlining a systematic approach for analyzing institutions that govern action and outcomes within collective action arrangements (Ostrom, 2007, 44). Institutions are defined within the IAD Framework as a set of prescriptions and constraints that humans use to organize all forms of repetitive and structured interactions (Ostrom, 2005, 3).  These prescriptions can include rules, norms, and shared strategies (Crawford and Ostrom 1995; Ostrom 1997). Institutions are further delineated as being formal or informal; the former characterized as rules-in-form and the latter as rules-in-use.

The IAD framework identifies key variables that researchers should use in evaluating the role of institutions in shaping social interactions and decision-making processes.  The analytical focus of the IAD is on an “action arena”, where social choices and decisions take place. Three broad categories of variables are identified as influencing the action arena:  institutions or rules that govern the action arena, the characteristics of the community or collective unit of interest, and the attributes of the physical environment within which the community acts (Ostrom 1999; Ostrom 2005). Each of these three categories has been further delineated by IAD scholars into relevant variables and conditions that can influence choices in the action arena.  For instance, the types of rules that are important in the IAD include entry and exit rules, position rules, scope rules, payoff rules, aggregation rules, authority rules, and information rules.  Key characteristics of the community can include factors such as the homogeneity of its members or shared values.  Biophysical variables might include factors such as the mobility and flow of resources within an action arena.

The IAD further defines the key features of “action situations” and “actors” that make up the action arena. The action situation has seven key components: 1) the participants in the situation, 2) the participants’ positions, 3) the outcomes of participants’ decisions, 4) the payoffs or costs and benefits associated with outcomes, 5) the linkages between actions and outcomes, 6) the participants’ control in the situation, and 7) information. The variables that are essential to evaluating actors in the action arena are 1) their information processing capabilities, 2) their preferences or values for different actions, 3) their resources, and 4) the processes they use for choosing actions.

In addition to the types of relevant variables that may help explain collective choices, the IAD has identified multiple levels of institutional analysis --  operational level, the collective-choice level, and the constitutional level – which scholars should attend to in studying these choices (Kiser and Ostrom 1982; Ostrom 1990; Ostrom 1999). The operational level of analysis is where individuals collectively make decisions about day to day activities.  The collective-choice level of analysis focuses on decisions about the choice of rules that govern operational activities.  The constitutional level of analysis is concerned with the authorized actors for collective-choice decisions and the rules governing those decisions.

Any one decision-making group or action arena may operate at more than one level of institutional action.


Tanya Heikkila
Chris Weible


Mark Davis, Student Alumni,
David Carter, PhD Student,


Drs. Chris Weible and Saba Siddiki and PhD student John Calanni are currently working with Dr. Xavier Basurto from Duke University to develop an additional syntactic component to the Institutional Grammar, the oBject, or B-Code. To find out more about this project, please go the Institutional Grammar page.

Recent IAD Publications and Conference Papers and Presentations by SPA Faculty and Students

Basurto Xavier, Kingsley, Gordon, McQueen, Kelly, Smith, Mshadoni, and Weible, Christopher M. Forthcoming. "A Systematic Approach to Institutional Analysis: Applying Crawford and Ostrom’s Grammatical Syntax." Political Research Quarterly.

Schlager, Edella and Tanya Heikkila. 2009. “Resolving Water Conflicts:  A Comparative Analysis of Interstate River Compacts.” Policy Studies Journal.  37(3): 367-392.

Siddiki, Saba, Chris Weible, Xavier Basurto, and John Calanni. “Using the IAD’s Institutional Grammar to Understand Policy Design: An Application to Colorado Aquaculture.” Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis. Indiana University, Bloomington. 3-6 June 2009.  


Jagger, Pamela. 2004. Artisans of Political Theory and Empirical Inquiry: Thirty Years of Scholarship at the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis. Bloomington, IN: Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis.

Ostrom, Elinor. 1990. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Ostrom, Elinor. 2007. “Institutional Rational Choice: An Assessment of the Institutional Analysis and Development Framework.” In Sabatier, Paul, ed. 2007. Theories of the Policy Process. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Ostrom, Elinor. 2005. Understanding Institutional Diversity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Ostrom, Elinor, Roy Gardner, and James Walker. 1994. Rules, Games, and Common-Pool Resources. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. | Physical Address: 1380 Lawrence St., Ste. 500  Denver, CO  80204 | Mailing Address: University of Colorado Denver, SPA, Campus Box 142, P.O. Box 173364, Denver, CO 80217-3364 | ph: 303.315.2228 | fax: 303.315.2229 | SPA Website Feedback

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