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The Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis


Y673 Seminar

Y673 Syllabus: Fall 2013

ARCHIVE: Past Y673 Syllabi

Y673 Seminar and Mini-Conference

The fall semester session of Y673 introduces graduate students, visiting scholars, and other participants to the basic principles and selected applications of the “Bloomington School” of institutional analysis as developed by Vincent and Elinor (Lin) Ostrom and their many colleagues associated with the Ostrom Workshop.

A primary focus of this seminar is the Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework, which was originally developed through extensive discussions among previous participants in this seminar, colloquium presentations, and in other Workshop projects. Although grounded in basic principles of individual choice within various types of institutional arrangements, the IAD framework was designed to facilitate communication among scholars trained in different disciplines. We will also cover a recent elaboration (the SES framework) designed for application to complex social-ecological systems. These frameworks have inspired research projects on diverse topics in political science, economics, and public policy, and several examples of these applications will be covered in this seminar. Many topics covered here in one week could well be the topic for a full semester’s work. Once the course is completed, the student will have been introduced to a diversity of questions and approaches, but will not yet have gained full mastery and will need substantial additional study to gain that mastery.

Originally developed and taught for many years by Lin Ostrom, this semester’s version of the fall Workshop seminar will be led by Mike McGinnis, a Senior Research Fellow and former director of the Ostrom Workshop. Y673 is listed as a Political Science seminar, but enrollment is open to students from all departments and schools. (Please contact Amanda Campbell [] for permission to enroll for credit.) Another seminar may be offered in the spring, but that seminar will be focused on specialized topics; the Fall Y673 is the only opportunity to get a broad overview of the Ostrom Workshop approach to institutional analysis.

This seminar meets weekly, on Tuesdays from 10 AM to Noon, in the Tocqueville Room at Park 1 (513 N. Park). Visiting Scholars are encouraged to participate regularly in these sessions, and to complete assigned readings before each class. Assigned readings will be uploaded to Oncourse, except for a few books available at the IU Bookstore for purchase (and also available on reserve in the Workshop Library). The specific schedule of readings varies each year, but the general structure remains pretty much the same—for previous syllabi, see For this semester’s version, particular emphasis will be placed on helping students and other participants to examine the extent to which either the IAD or SES frameworks might be useful for application to their own research interests.

Students taking the course for credit are asked to participate actively in all seminar sessions, and to complete two types of assignments. First, each student is expected to write a short (2–3 page) memo to the instructor and other members of the class every other week reflecting on what they are currently reading, how they are progressing on their seminar paper, and related topics. The faithfulness and quality of the memos will be reflected in this part of the grade. Second, a final paper is required. Each student will be expected to select either a type of problem (such as that of providing a particular type of public good or common-pool resource) or a type of decision-making arrangement (such as that of a legislature, a market structure, a cooperative organization, or a common-property regime). The student will then undertake a micro-analysis of how combinations of rules, the structure of the goods and technology involved, and culture interact to affect the incentives facing individuals and resulting patterns of interactions adopted by individuals in one or a set of closely related situations. The student may focus more on an operational, a collective-choice or a constitutional-choice level, but the linkage among these levels should be addressed. This is an excellent opportunity to do a research design for a dissertation that applies institutional analysis to a particular problem. Or students may wish to do the first draft of a paper that eventually will be submitted for publication. All papers will be presented at the Mini-Conference on December 16, 2013.


Training scholars lies at the core of the Ostrom Workshop’s educational mission. The culmination of each Y673 seminar is a mini-conference. Students and visiting scholars write papers to be presented before their colleagues, by another colleague. This unusual practice is a locally grown institution of the Ostrom Workshop, and we have found that this procedure ensures that the author receives quality comments and suggestions from several faculty members, fellow seminar participants, and other participants.

Paper presenters are assigned by the instructor based on paper topic and faculty willing and available to devote the time needed to carefully read a paper and participate in a mini-conference session. Papers are organized into panels including three or four papers. In each panel, each paper presenter has ten minutes to provide a sympathetic overview of the paper, and then five minutes to make constructive changes for improvement in the author’s argument, analysis, or style. The paper author then has five minutes to respond to specific questions or to highlight themes that did not come through as clearly to the presenter. Another ten minutes is allotted for general questions from other session participants after each paper presentation, as well as 10–15 additional minutes at the conclusion of each panel. Panel chairs are assigned the task of keeping that session flowing smoothly and on time.

Most paper authors find that listening to someone else carefully summarizing their own line of argument to be a unique and rewarding experience, one that frequently helps the author make improvements in the next revision of that paper. And it gets them into the habit of careful reading and close listening to comments, essential skills for their future professional development.

The mini-conference is an intense but interesting event. Experience shows that this process can work well only if presenters are given sufficient lead time to read their assigned paper and prepare their presentation, so deadlines for completion of papers will be strictly enforced. It is strongly preferred that all session participants stay for the full session and potentially other sessions that may be of interest.


 Spring 2014
 Spring 2013  Fall 2013
 Spring 2012  Fall 2012
 Spring 2011  Fall 2011
 Spring 2010  Fall 2010

Selected papers from previous mini-conferences are available here.