Institutions are changing all the time, as they are formed and reformed through people’s repeated actions (Martin, 2004: 1255, summarising Giddens, 1984). However, deliberately reforming institutions is usually complicated and difficult, and, above all, incremental (North, 1990: 89). Moreover, some changes require institutionalising new rules and behaviours.
External shocks or internal political or economic processes can present opportunities for changing institutions. Citizens sometimes mobilise to defend existing inclusive institutions (e.g. universal access to a service) or to demand new ones (e.g. political rights). Donors can seek to support these processes.
However, North et al. (2009) argue there is no automatic progression from exclusive – or ‘limited access’ – states (where only elites have access to economic and political resources) to systems which allow ‘open access’ to political and economic rights.
Counter pressures to more inclusive institutions include:
- Use of repression and violence by regimes to maintain their authority and block institutional reform (DFID, 2010a: 16)
- Resistance to change, either by those who benefit from the status quo or due to inertia (Leftwich & Sen, 2010: 10)
- An internalisation of a sense of inferiority by those excluded, which results in poor self-confidence and self-worth, and undermines people’s ability to challenge exclusion (Kabeer, 2010: 7).
Drivers of institutional change
Demographic, spatial and economic factors that can affect opportunities for institutional change include the following:
- Large numbers of better educated, and politically and economically aspirational young men and women, the organisations representing them, and the middle classes support more inclusive institutions.
- Growing migration and urbanisation offer possibilities for social mobility and stronger voice for inclusive institutional change, but can also increase marginalisation within cities.
- Growing income inequality in many countries and the persistent challenges to food security (especially for excluded groups, people in remote areas and those whose livelihoods are vulnerable to the effects of climate change), perpetuate marginalisation and powerlessness.
Source: World Bank, 2013a: 18-22.
- DFID (2010a). Building peaceful states and societies. A DFID Practice Paper. London: Department for International Development. See document online
- Giddens (1984). The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. Berkeley: University of California Press. See document online
- Kabeer, N. (2010). Can the MDGs provide a pathway to social justice? The challenge of intersecting inequalities. New York: MDG Achievement Fund, Institute of Development Studies and UNDP. See document online
- Leftwich, A. & Sen, K. (2010). Beyond institutions: Institutions and organizations in the politics and economics of poverty reduction – Thematic synthesis of research evidence. DFID-funded Research Programme Consortium on Improving Institutions for Pro-Poor Growth (IPPG). Manchester: University of Manchester. See document online
- Martin, P.Y. (2004). Gender as social institution. Social Forces, 82(4), 1249-1273. See document online
- North, D. (1990). Institutions, institutional change, and economic performance. New York: Cambridge University Press. See document online
- North, D.C., Wallis, J. J. & Weingast, B.R. (2009). Violence and social orders. A conceptual framework for interpreting human history. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- World Bank (2013a). Inclusion matters: The foundation for shared prosperity. Washington D.C.: World Bank. See document online