DSTAIR separates the essential elements of government and society into nine "spheres". The premise is that each sphere can be described in terms of a finite set of especially important institutional arrangements (rules of formation; rules and practices of operation; and exogenous conditions), and that when the "quality" of several of these arrangements suffers, the legitimacy of the sphere as a whole is adversely affected. The spheres are defined as follows:

Constitution: The basic laws and principles of the state, which determine the powers and duties of the government and its various branches and guarantee rights to people in it. In addition to the rules within the Constitution itself, this sphere addresses the institutions that create, maintain and modify it.

Legislature: A branch of government whose persons have the authority to create laws for the state. Ideally, the Legislature is elected by some consensual method, appropriately reflects the citizenry that it represents and produces quality legislation that is subject to some level of review by the Courts and the Executive according to the guidelines of the Constitution.

Executive: A branch of government, led by the head of state, which is charged with carrying out and enforcing the laws of the state, as well as various other powers which may include diplomatic representation, commanding the armed forces, signing treaties and appointing and managing members of the public administration.

Public Administration: For the purposes of DSTAIR, this sphere entails all non-political public employees who are charged with delivering public services and administering public programs. This includes police, fire, rescue, unemployment insurance administration, retirement insurance administration, national hospital systems, permit issuers, tax collectors, and so on.

Courts: The rules and practices responsible for delivering justice according to the Constitution and legislation of the state. Addresses the legitimacy and impartiality of judges, juries, public defenders, district attorney and overall fairness and efficiency of the application of justice according to the law.

Political Parties: A group of persons organised to promote and support certain principles and candidates for public office. This sphere addresses the financing of political campaigns, the influence of parties over the political system, and the commitment of the parties themselves to fair competition against their rivals.

Civil Society: Various non-governmental organisations and associations operating within a country that manifest the interests of its citizens. This sphere measures the effectiveness of the citizenry in mobilizing and communicating its demands to the government between (or in the absence of) elections.

Economy: The rules and practices relating to the system of production and distribution of goods and services in the country.

Media: Media refers to those outlets (newspapers, news magazines, radio and/or television), both publicly and privately owned, on which the citizenry depends for accurate, comprehensive and reliable information about their government and society.