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Elinor Ostrom's list of principles for Governing the Commons

12-Jul-2012 [1552]

In 2009, Elinor Ostrom received the Nobel Prize in Economics for her work on the governance of "common pool resources" -- water, grazing lands, trees, fish, cyberspace. Her book Governing the Commons includes her principles for alternative ways of governance.

Jutta Mason of CELOS has adapted these principles listed below to local parks.

List of Principles

Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. 1990, Cambridge University Press.

P. 90, Table 3.1: Design principles illustrated by long-enduring CPR institutions, adapted slightly, to fit parks and recreation. Prof. Ostrom writes that these principles must be in place for good governance of the commons.

1. Clearly defined boundaries Individuals or households who have rights to use common resources in parks must be clearly defined, as must the boundaries of the park resource. On-site park staff who use the individual park as their primary worksite are included in the definition of park users.

2. User rules match local circumstances Rules about using a park must relate to local conditions in the individual parks, including the particular park requirements, regarding labor, material, and/or money.

3. Collective-choice arrangements Most of the people affected by the rules must be able to participate in modifying the operational rules. This includes the on-site staff at the individual parks. Their participation should be weighted according to the amount of time they work at the particular park.

4. Monitoring. Monitors, who actively audit park conditions and appropriate behaviour, must be accountable to the park users or must be the park users.

5. Graduated sanctions. Park users (including on-site staff, see #3) who violate the operational rules must be likely to be assessed graduated sanctions (depending on the seriousness and context of the offense) by other park users, by park staff accountable to these park users, or by both.

Important technical terms used by Elinor Ostrom: In the absence of effective sanctions for people who shirk working on solutions, or who free-ride on the work of others, the rest will feel like suckers and will most likely quit trying.

6. Conflict-resolution mechanisms. Park users and park staff must have rapid access to low-cost forums to resolve conflicts among park users or between park users and park staff.

7. Recognition of the right to adapt park use to local circumstances. City management must not challenge the rights of park users to develop operating rules to fit the local circumstances, nor must management challenge the right to adapt the rules as the local circumstances change.

8. Local park institutions and related government divisions are nested enterprises. Park use, maintenance, monitoring, enforcement, conflict resolution, and governance activities must be organized in multiple layers of nested enterprises. Supplementary: Belinda Cole's list of policy-making principles

9. Continuous access to detailed information The best information available about all the issues relevant to the individual parks must be disseminated widely to increase the degree of understanding and level of cooperation among the participants.

10. Straightforward – rather than strategic – behavior. Park users and park staff must not behave opportunistically in order to try to obtain benefits greater than those obtainable through straightforward behaviour. This condition implies that individuals must reveal their evaluations honestly, must contribute to collective benefits whenever formulas exist for equitably assigning resources, and must be willing to invest time and resources in finding solutions to joint problems. (Ostrom writes that this kind of helpful behavior is somewhat rare.)