Institutions are conceived of as constraints that humans devise to shape human behavior and interaction (i.e., strategies, rules, norms). They can exist de jure, as in public policies, or de facto, as in social norms that are spoken or tacitly understood. Institutional analysis examines how various kinds of institutions, including those written and those tacitly understood, are created or designed, and how they affect human choices and societal outcomes. Evaluating the design of institutions entails assessing their content to understand how it is structured, as well as the information it conveys about who can do what, when, and how. Evaluating the impacts of institutions involves assessing the implications of institutional design on behavior in practice, and the implications of such on the attainment of institutional goals.
The Institutional Grammar is a theoretically informed approach for organizing the content of governing institutions along generalizable features, in relation to which behavioral outcomes can be assessed. The Institutional Grammar was proposed by Sue Crawford and Elinor Ostrom in 1995. The development of the Grammar was motivated by Crawford and Ostrom’s observation that institutions are comprised of individual behavioral directives and, further, that these directives typically convey common types of information; such as, an action; an actor associated with this action; whether this action is required, allowed, or forbidden; the temporal, spatial, and procedural parameters of the action, and; rewards or sanctions for performing or failing to perform the action as prescribed. The Institutional Grammar proposed a linguistic syntax, where each of these types of information is designated by a unique syntactic element. Organizing the content of institutional directives in accordance with the syntax, or along syntactic elements, enables the institutional analyst to systematically collect and analyze the specific ways that institutions are intended to compel behavior, which can then be used as a basis for evaluating behavior in practice. When aggregated, syntactically parsed institutional data provide a comprehensive depiction of the scope of institutions.