Rethinking Legitimacy and Illegitimacy

A New Approach to Assessing Support and Opposition across Disciplines

Decisionmakers often need to understand how much support or opposition an organization, operation, or policy might face. Legitimacy, according to many fields of study and practice, is something that induces voluntary support, lowers operating costs, and improves stability and sustainability. There is therefore a great deal of interest in measuring and assessing it, which is difficult, because it cannot be observed. This report introduces a new multidimensional, multilevel, bilateral assessment framework that governments, businesses, organizations, scholars, and others can use when they need to better understand the sources and dynamics of support or opposition for any entity. It includes an intellectual history of the concept of legitimacy, summarizes the literature (“people are motivated by what is right”), introduces a new conceptualization of illegitimacy, and outlines four types of legitimacy assessments, from a rapid to a comprehensive assessment.

Robert D. Lamb