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Institutional Grammar Tool


The IAD’s Institutional Grammar Tool (IGT) was first proposed by Sue Crawford and Elinor Ostrom (1995) to help systematically identify and code rules-in-form presented in various types of policy documents.  The Institutional Grammar offers researchers an effective method for conducting a micro-level analysis of institutions. This valuable tool allows policy process scholars to ascertain the genetic code of policies that guide activities within various political arenas.

The IGT provides a prescribed coding structure to identify and dissect institutional statements, such as those found in almost any policy, from legislative directives to organizational by-laws. Application of the IGT generates systematically collected data that may be used to identify (i) the main actors in a system and what they may, must, or must not do; (ii) the spectrum of actions required by a policy and the associated conditions describing how, when and where the actions take place; (iii) The objects that receive the action by the actors in the system.  The IGT is primarily tool for collecting data and can be used by multiple theories during analysis. 

The IGT is meant to be applied to almost any policy-related document, such as state or federal legislation.   The IGT describes how to divide phrases from the documents into institutional statements and then dissecting these statements in accordance with a prescribed coding structure.  The Grammar includes five components:

  • Attribute (A) -- describes to whom a particular institutional statement is directed
  • Object (O) – describes the inanimate or animate part of a statement that is the receiver of the action described in the aIm and executed by the agent in the Attribute
  • Deontic (D) --  indicates whether the action in the statement being referred to is obliged, permitted, or forbidden
  • aIm (I) -- describes the particular actions or outcomes to which the Deontic is assigned,
  • Condition (C) -- describes when, where, how, and to what extent an AIm is obliged, permitted, or forbidden
  • Or else -- includes the punitive actions/sanctions associated with not obeying an established institution (Crawford and Ostrom, 1995, 584).

In the Grammar, each institutional statement must contain, at minimum, an Attribute, an AIm, and a Condition. The Deontic and Or else component may be present but are not necessary to qualify a phrase as an institutional statement. Those statements which contain each of the aforementioned components are characterized as rules (ADICO), while statements containing the first four components (ADIC) are characterized as norms, and statements only containing an Attribute, AIm, and Condition (AIC) are considered to be shared strategies.

Recent applications of the Institutional Grammar show both its promise as an analytical tool but also unresolved challenges (Basurto et al. 2009; Andersson, 2007). Basurto et al. (2009), for example, conclude that some of the challenges associated with the technique include: ambiguity regarding how to code statements where the Deontic is implicit rather than explicit, uncertainty in identifying the Attribute in the institutional statement, and difficulty in distinguishing between the aIm and the Conditions. Research is currently underway that seeks to address some of these limitations.

Current Projects

Dr. Chris Weible and PhD students Saba Siddiki and John Calanni, are currently working with Dr. Xavier Basurto from Duke University, to develop an additional syntactic component to the Grammar, the oBject. The research team suggests that the oBject is useful in minimizing coding ambiguity in certain cases, may increase inter-coder reliability, and expands the scope of possibilities for researchers when conducting nested and configuration analyses relating to the Institutional Grammar. The use of this additional component minimizes confusion in statements where (i) there is no animate Attribute explicitly stated, but there is an explicit inanimate subject to which the aIm applies, and (ii) when there are two animate actors within a sentence and ambiguity exists as to which is the appropriate Attribute.

Recent Institutional Grammar Publications and Conference Papers and Presentations by SPA Faculty and Students

Basurto Xavier, Kingsley, Gordon, McQueen, Kelly, Smith, Mshadoni, and Weible, Christopher M. Forthcoming 2009. "A Systematic Approach to Institutional Analysis: Applying Crawford and Ostrom’s Grammatical Syntax." Political Research Quarterly. (link to paper)

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.  


Andersson, Krister. 2007. “Motivation to Engage in Social Learning about Sustainability: An Institutional Analysis.” Paper prepared for the Symposium on Social Learning about Sustainability at the Annual Meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on February 14, 2008, in Boston, MA.

Basurto Xavier, Kingsley, Gordon, McQueen, Kelly, Smith, Mshadoni, and Weible, Christopher M. Forthcoming . 2009. "A Systematic Approach to Institutional Analysis: Applying Crawford and Ostrom’s Grammatical Syntax." Political Research Quarterly.

Crawford, Sue E.S. and Elinor Ostrom. 1995. “A Grammar of Institutions.” American Political Science Review. 89 (3): 582-600. | 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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