October 2019

How Do Leaders Collectively Change Institutions?

Sohela Nazneen


How do leaders collectively influence institutions? This question lies at the heart of understanding how actors influence positive change. Social scientists have attempted to answer it from different perspectives. Broadly, these either emphasise the role of actors (both the individual leader and collective bodies) and how they act and what strategies they use, or focus more on how structures and institutions (i.e. rules of the game) define contextual boundaries and create specific opportunities and incentives for actors to behave in specific ways. These two perspectives reveal important aspects of how and why actors engage in collective processes of change. However, while mobilising, securing and sustaining positive change is not a linear process, these perspectives do not fully capture the changing nature of leadership, the dynamic nature of the relationships between different key actors and how different group-level and larger contextual factors interact at different stages of the reform process.

Unpacking how leaders and coalitions engage in collective processes of change requires a deeper and nuanced understanding of what factors and conditions influence the decisions taken and strategies used by leaders and coalitions at different stages along the lifecycle of reform. Collective processes of change have three interlinked stages:

  1. collective formation—when leaders focus on forming collectives and maintaining group cohesion;

  2. legitimation—when leaders and coalitions are concerned with framing and justifying their demands and strengthening their position to make claims; and

  3. securing institutional change—when the focus is on using different strategies to negotiate an outcome for the constituencies they claim to represent.


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Sohela Nazneen

Research Follow based at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS).

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How Do Leaders Collectively Change Institutions?

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