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Multi Stakeholder Processes - Institutional change

MSP Resource Portal - Building your Capacity to Facilitate Multi-Stakeholder Processes and Social Learning
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Institutional development or change

What do we mean by institutions?

A concise definition from "Uphoff" is: Institutions are stable, valued, recurring patterns of behaviour. A more practical definition from "Goodin, 1997" is: Institutions are in practice ossified (“verstarde”) past practices and the power imbalances and bargaining asymmetries embodied in them. Institutions were created by past behaviour and choices.

What is institutional development or change?

Institutional change or development is to be considered as a process that is incremental, in that small improvements are made to existing policies, without challenging the existing development paradigms. These changes are influenced by previous policy practice and shaped by a wide range of stakeholders. It is hence increasingly recognised that institutional change (and social transformation) has to be seen in terms of larger and longer term transition processes.

Building and developing institutions is thus crucial in social development efforts where issues of organisation of dispersed interests, improvement of bargaining positions of the socially and economically excluded, mutual commitment and inclusiveness are pursued. Institutional development is not a linear process, which can be carefully designed with the use of a toolbox, but a long-term multi-stakeholder process in which pull and push factors, power relations and bargaining power influence the final outcomes and its relevance for poverty alleviation or improved natural resource management.

Wageningen International is developing a strong interest in a social learning approach, which links individual, organisational and institutional learning and change to each other. Social learning refers to learning as a shared result of different stakeholders engaged in a particular sector or region, arriving at common views and understanding, which provide the basis for change processes. Social learning can be seen as a mechanism supporting participatory democracy and societal change, or as a conscious and deliberate society wide process of adapting institutions and forms of social interaction in order to more effectively innovate and adapt in response to social and environmental change.

Watch an introduction to institutional development presented in the MSP course


You can also download the 2 minute movie here (rightclick mouse, save as)(3Mb)


More information can be found in the following overview of titles, references and websites:
  • Norman Uphoff 1986: Local Institutional Development: An analytical sourcebook with cases. Kumarian Press ISBN 0-931816-45-9.
  • French, Bell, Zawacki 1983: (revised edition) Organization Development. Theory, Practice, Research. Business publications, Inc. Plano, Texas.
  • Oglethorpe, (Ed.) 2002 Adaptive management: from theory to practice. UICN/SUI Technical Papers Vol. 3
  • World Bank 2002 Building institutions for Markets.World Development Report 2002, published for the World Bank, Oxford University Press.
  • RD Connor & SR Dovers Working paper 2002/1 Institutional Change and Learning for Sustainable Development. Centre for resource and Environmental Studies. Australia http://cres.anu.edu.au
  • TF Carroll 1992 Intermediary NGO’s. The supporting link in Grassroots Development. Kumarian Press.
  • A Fowler Striking a balance: a guide to enhance the effectiveness of non-governmental organisations in international development. 1997 Earthscan Publications london.
  • Social learning in Community Forestry. 2001 CIFOR & East West Center.
  • RE Goodin 1996 The Theory of Institutional Design. Cambridge Un. Press.
  • E Gualini 2001 Planning and the intelligence of Institutions. Ashgate.
  • C Lusthaus, MH Adrien, G Anderson & F Carden 1999 Enhancing Organizational Performance. Int. Development research Centre, Canada
  • Gubbels P, C. Koss 2000 From the roots up. Strengthening Organisational Capacity through Guided Self-Assessment. World Neighbors field guide 2. www.wn.org
  • J.Swieringa, AFM Wierdsma 1990 Op weg naar een lerende organisatie. Wolters Noordhoff Management
  • DC North 1990 Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance. Cambridge Un. Press Overview books.
  • DFID Institutional analysis