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Mythical Institutions: Searching for the Secrets of Success


Entry requirements

Second year students of the Honours College FSW program.


Modern society depends on well-functional institutions. When these institutions fall apart or disappear, society unravels. The design and maintenance of institutions is therefore a critical task of political and administrative elites.

We know very little about the drivers of successful institutionalization. We know even less about the factors and strategies that help keep these institutions in place (without becoming sclerotic and dysfunctional). We do not know much about the secrets of successful institution building and institutional maintenance.
In this class, institutions are defined as organizations that have developed into a widely valued entity. There are many theories that can explain why public organizations fail. We have theories that offer prescriptions to institutional leaders as to how they can protect their institutions from what Herbert Kaufman called the “forces of fragmentation.” What we lack is evidence-based theories that identify the success factors underlying the important task of institutional building and preservation.
In a time when public institutions everywhere have become subject of quick erosion, these insights are needed more than ever. This class is closely connected to the project of prof. Boin that aims to revive the study of public institutions, building on the work started early on in the previous century. It also seeks to modernize the study of public institutions, making use of new methodologies and interdisciplinary insights.

Course objectives

After successful completion of this course, you will:

  • Be able to analyze an organization’s level of institutionalization

  • Understand theories that explain drivers of (de-)institutionalization

  • Be able to apply theoretical insights in a case study of a “mythical” institution

  • Advise executive leaders about strategies that will enhance institutionalization and long-term performance

Mode of instruction

This class will center around doing institutional research. Students will jointly work to answer the following question:

What explains the durability of highly successful institutions? In this class, we study a set of highly successful institutions that have stood the test of time.

Each student will select a mythical organization:

  • A public (e.g. FBI) or private organisation (e.g. Apple)

  • A religious institution (e.g. the Mormon church)

  • A sports institution (e.g. Heerenveen)

  • An educational institution (e.g. Harvard Business School)

  • A local institution (e.g. Mardi Gras)

  • a historical institution (e.g. VOC)

The result will be a small book in which each student writes a chapter. Based on the research efforts, we will create a checklist for successful institutional design.

Assessment method

Students will be graded on several assignments that culminate in the final product (a book chapter).


50% The Hague, 50% Leiden


Date Time Location Room
11-2-2020 19:00-21:00 Pieter de la Court 5A23
25-2-2020 19:00-21:00 Wijnhaven 219
10-3-2020 19:00-21:00 Pieter de la Court 5A23
17-3-2020 19:00-21:00 Wijnhaven 219
14-4-2020 19:00-21:00 Pieter de la Court 5A23
28-4-2020 19:00-21:00 Wijnhaven 219


Registration via uSis, activity code 16248.

Contact information

If you have any questions, please contact Prof. dr. Arjen Boin