The research examines institutional change in the context of local land-use politics. Conceptualizing land-use policy choices in terms of institutional change allows us to bring insights from institutional theory to bear on the broader topic of policy change. The main hypothesis is that local government structures, as crucial institutional mediators of political and economic forces, will influence policy dynamics in predictable ways. The focus on the structure of political institutions is a significant departure from property rights and interest group models that treat political institutions as largely transparent to the underlying economic or political forces driving land-use change. To emphasize institutions, the researchers offer a "political market" theory of institutional change that combines political economy theories of property rights with work on local government structure. The resulting framework conceptualizes institutional change as the result of a dynamic contracting process between the suppliers and demanders of change in a community. Political institutions combine with the structure of interest organization to determine outcomes. Different types of political institutions will favor different types of interests, either enhancing or reducing the ability of interests to influence land-use policy. The debate whether form of government makes a difference for local policies remains unsettled because much of the work has focused only on fiscal outputs and has emphasized additive rather then interactive effects of government structure. The investigators' political market approach focuses not only on how the structure of local institutions directly influences land-use decisions, but also on how forces and interests identified in property rights and interest group models are mediated by local institutions.
Because land use institutions are central to the system of property rights at the local level this work has important implications for land-use governance. An enhanced understanding of the dynamics of land-use decisions will assist policy makers at all levels of government in the design of land use polices. By investigating the role executive and legislative structures, we can better understand the conditions under which local institutions are responsive to broad public interests and citizen participation. This also furthers education objectives by involving graduate and undergraduate students directly in the research process, and thus provides an alternative learning perspective to the traditional lecture format class.