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8 Keys to a Successful Commons

Advice on how to govern the commons from Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom

| by Fran Korten

Photo by Jacques Daigneault under a Creative Commons License

2009 Economics Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom’s seminal book, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, was published in 1990. But her research on common property goes back to the early 1960s, when she wrote her dissertation on groundwater in California. Here she offers some advice on how to manage a commons.

1) Define clear group boundaries.

2)Match rules governing use of common goods to local needs and conditions.

3) Ensure that those affected by the rules can participate in modifying the rules.

4)Make sure the rulemaking rights of community members are respected by outside authorities.

5)Develop a system, carried out by community members, for monitoring members’ behavior.

6)Use graduated sanctions for rule violators.

7)Provide accessible, low-cost means for dispute resolution.

8) Build responsibility for governing the common resource in nested tiers from the lowest level up to the entire interconnected system.

Reprinted from YES! magazine (Spring 2010).

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Posted March 1, 2010

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