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Seeing institutions in different ways

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To help you to understand the complexity of institutional development, this free course, Seeing institutions in different ways, will present institutions in three key ways: as rules and norms, as meanings and values and as big players. The rules govern social life and the norms establish how people should behave, while institutional development is about changing the rules. Meanings help people make sense of their lives and values indicate what is good or bad, while institutional development brings in new values. The big players are individuals and organisations with the power to shape social life, while institutional development struggles over what social life should be like.

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • understand different ways of thinking about institutions and institutional development
  • appreciate that institutions in processes of development create pictures of institutional landscapes
  • understand some of the factors that can promote or hinder institutional development
  • locate yourself in the institutions significant for life and work.

By: The Open University

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Seeing institutions in different ways


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The central focus of development studies is how social and economic change can be achieved successfully. Critical to this success is institutional development, as it is through developments in institutions that development in the policies that drive change can be achieved. However, institutions are rich and complex phenomena, and institutional development is a rich and complex process. It is therefore possible and necessary to look at institutions from different angles and see them in different ways. This free course encourages you to do exactly that, in order to establish a base from which to think about institutional development.

This course presents you with three widely accepted ways of seeing institutions:

  1. Institutions as rules and norms: We will look at the differences between institutions and organisations, and how they relate to each other. The course also suggests that, if institutions are seen as rules governing social life, then it seems appropriate to view institutional development as a matter of changing the rules.
  2. Institutions as meanings and values: This course suggests that resistance to change can be seen as arising when and because that change has no meaning for people who are expected to accept it, or it offends their deeply-held values. Resistance thus generated can be particularly powerful and effective because so much is at stake.
  3. Institutions as big players: This course draws attention to the centrality of power and power relationships in institutional development, and shows how institutional development involves power struggles.

This OpenLearn course is an adapted extract from the Open University course TU872 Institutional development: Conflicts, values and meanings [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

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