The Institutional Grammar: A Method for Coding Institutions and its Potential for Advancing Third Sector Research

Brenda K. Bushouse, Charles M. Schweik, Saba Siddiki, Doug Rice, Isaac Wolfson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Institutions—defined as strategies, norms and rules (Ostrom Understanding institutional diversity, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2005)—are omnipresent in third sector contexts. In this paper, we present the Institutional Grammar (IG) as a theoretically informed approach to support institutional analysis in third sector research. More specifically, the IG coding syntax allows the researcher to systematically wade through rich text and (transcribed) spoken language to identify and dissect institutional statements into finer syntactical segments of interest to the researcher. It is a versatile method that can generate data for small- or large-N research projects and can be integrated with mixed-method research designs. After first introducing and describing the IG, we present a case study to illustrate how a IG-based syntactic analysis can be leveraged to inform third sector research. In the case, we ask: Do the rules embedded in regulatory text addressing the involuntary dissolution of charity organizations differ between bifurcated and unitary jurisdictions in the United States? Using IG’s ABDICO 2.0 syntax, we identify eleven “Activation Condition” (AC) categories that trigger action and assess variation among the 46 jurisdictions. We ultimately conclude that the rules do not differ between bifurcated and unitary jurisdictions, but that finding is not the primary concern. The case demonstrates IG as an important methodological advance that yields granular, structured analyses of rules, norms and strategies in third sector settings that may be difficult to identify with other methods. We then emphasize four areas of third sector research that could benefit from the addition of IG-based methods: analysis of (1) rule compliance, (2) inter-organizational collaboration, (3) comparative study of institutional design, and (4) the study of institutional change. We close the paper with some reflections on where IG-based analysis is headed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)76-83
Number of pages8
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2023


  • ABDICO syntax
  • Bifurcation
  • Charity law
  • Institutional Grammar
  • Nonprofit dissolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Strategy and Management


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