Development, Institutional

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Development, Institutional


In the social sciences, organizational theory, and politics, the term institutional development is often used as a synonym for institutional and organizational change, implying that social transformation occurs in an organizational framework. Institutional development aims at establishing and improving an institutional structural unit and its capabilities, as well as the impact and effectiveness of organizations. This effort is understood as a long-term multiple-stakeholder process in which numerous factors and power relations influence the final outcomes and their everyday relevance. Institutional changes may also be influenced by previous policy practices, and development is shaped by a wide range of stakeholders, including staff capacity and capability, as well as equipment and infrastructure. It is thus increasingly recognized that institutional development must be seen in terms of a longer trajectory. By and large, the long-term process of institutional development must be established in the form of carefully designed projects. Institutional development projects hence address issues as organizational and technological management.

Development issues in the field of education include the setting up, upgrading, and enhancement of course design and curricula and of equipment infrastructure, the establishment of new policies, and the improvement of existing regulations within professional organizations. This process is often supported or even devised by consulting partners. In the field of development aid or, in more general terms, philanthropy, the process of institutional development as practiced, for example, by nongovernmental organizations can be seen as the improvement of an organizations responsiveness to the needs of its intended beneficiaries, the finer discrimination between different needs, and a quicker response to these needs.

The danger in both fields is that institutions meant to be intermediaries, and thereby a means to an end, are treated as ends in themselves. In the domain of education, this can easily lead to an over-decentralization of education due to different stakeholder interests, and consequently to a loss of societal control over contents or standards. In the case of institutional development in philanthropy, those whose welfare is of ultimate concern may recede into the background.

In evaluating institutions and their impact on outcomes in the field of development aid, high-quality standards have been identified as an important aspect. But institutions do not stand alone. They are embedded in local settings and are influenced by history and culture. So the impact of institutions on developmental progress is framed by particularities of local settings, stakeholder perspectives, time horizons, informal rules, social norms, customs, policies, and so forth, apart from the intention and will to reach a certain development goal. To incorporate these different factors into a specific institutional development project poses a considerable challenge that demands drawing on knowledge gained in the field of cross-cultural psychology and related disciplines.

The designs of institutional development projects vary considerably. Tools and approaches for institutional development include the process approach, total quality management, knowledge management, change management, monitoring and evaluation, and formative or summative approaches. Institutional development projects often lead to the conclusion that there are no recipes for changing institutions. In some cases, projects may develop guidelines describing tools to be used in practice. A large number of such guides can be found, written, and used by those who are involved in institutional development. All of these have strengths and weaknesses, and need to be adapted in the specific context of application. They reflect different theoretical backgrounds and are usually based on the practical experiences of those who used them while they were adopted. As exemplified in numerous project descriptions and evaluations, the first step to institutional development is always a serious analysis and diagnosis of the organization in its institutional context. Different stakeholder interests must be identified, goals of change or development have to be determined, and the process of change needs to be planned, implemented, and evaluated.

Nevertheless, measuring the success or effectiveness of institutional development remains difficult. Certain pitfalls that tend to occur in the process can be explained by the low standards of institutions initiating the change processes or by the conflicting interests of stakeholders. There are also cases of institutional stickiness, where actors fail to respond to changes in the environment. Identifying factors driving institutional development is still a challenging research question. There is a need for a generalization of specific success factors in institutional development based on case studies and best-practice examples. Scientific literature on institutional development is quite dispersed, and no overall state-of-the-art volume is available.

SEE ALSO Developing Countries; Economics, Institutional; Education, USA; Institutionalism; Neoinstitutionalism; Norms; Organizations; Stakeholders; Third World


Crouch, Colin, and Henry Farrell. 2002. Breaking the Path of Institutional Development?: Alternatives to the New Determinism. Cologne, Germany: MPIFG.

U.K. Department for International Development. 2003. Conducting Institutional and Organisational Appraisal and Development: Guidelines for DFID and Sourcebook. London: Author.

Dagmar Bergs-Winkels

Klaus Boehnke

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Development, Institutional

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Development, Institutional