Revisiting Ostrom’s Design principles for community-based Natural Resource Management

In her talk at Resilience 2011, Elinor Ostrom recommended a recent paper by her colleagues that reviews 91 studies that empirically evaluated her design principles for for resilient institutions for the management of common pool resources.

Cox, M., G. Arnold, and S. Villamayor Tomás. 2010. A review of design principles for community-based natural resource management. Ecology and Society 15(4): 38. [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol15/iss4/art38/

The authors found that her principals were well supported. They provide a reformulation of the design principals, by dividing each of the components 1,2, and 4 into two parts and keeping the remaining principals as they are.  Their revised principles are below:

Principle Description
1A User boundaries: Clear boundaries between legitimate users and nonusers must be clearly defined.
1B Resource boundaries: Clear boundaries are present that define a resource system and separate it from the larger biophysical environment.
2A Congruence with local conditions: Appropriation and provision rules are congruent with local social and environmental conditions.
2B Appropriation and provision: The benefits obtained by users from a common-pool resource (CPR), as determined by appropriation rules, are proportional to the amount of inputs required in the form of labor, material, or money, as determined by provision rules.
3 Collective-choice arrangements: Most individuals affected by the operational rules can participate in modifying the operational rules.
4A Monitoring users: Monitors who are accountable to the users monitor the appropriation and provision levels of the users.
4B Monitoring the resource: Monitors who are accountable to the users monitor the condition of the resource.
5 Graduated sanctions: Appropriators who violate operational rules are likely to be assessed graduated sanctions (depending on the seriousness and the context of the offense) by other appropriators, by officials accountable to the appropriators, or by both.
6 Conflict-resolution mechanisms: Appropriators and their officials have rapid access to low-cost local arenas to resolve conflicts among appropriators or between appropriators and officials.
7 Minimal recognition of rights to organize: The rights of appropriators to devise their own institutions are not challenged by external governmental authorities.
8 Nested enterprises: Appropriation, provision, monitoring, enforcement, conflict resolution, and governance activities are organized in multiple layers of nested enterprises.

Michael Cox et al conclude:

a probabilistic, rather than deterministic, interpretation of the design principles is warranted. Likewise, we remain uncertain as to whether the principles may apply to systems at a variety of scales. Ultimately, however, the design principles are robust to empirical testing in our analysis of 91 studies. Thus, we conclude that they are a sound basis for future research conducted to further disentangle the interactive effects of relevant variables, both within and across multiple environmental and social scales.

Aside from our empirical analysis, we dealt with an important theoretical debate regarding the principles: Are they inherently part of a blueprint approach to CPR management or can they be combined with a more diagnostic approach? We think the latter is the case, and this points us in a specific direction for future research. Each of the aforementioned empirical complications could likely be addressed by approaching CPR management from a diagnostic perspective. This is a process that helps to sort out what is important in a CPR setting, when, and why. We hope to see and plan to participate in future work to develop this approach further.

Cox, M., G. Arnold, and S. Villamayor Tomás (2010). A review of design principles for community-based natural resource management Ecology and Society, 15 (4)

2 thoughts on “Revisiting Ostrom’s Design principles for community-based Natural Resource Management”

  1. Quick question: “Are they inherently part of a blueprint approach to CPR management or can they be combined with a more diagnostic approach?”

    They go on to explain this a little, but does this map to the difference between describing/understanding a system (diagnostics) and designing/implementing it (blueprint)?

  2. In Ostrom’s book governing the commons she describes her work as providing a “framework”. I view it as the broadest view possible of CPR management. One of the keys of her work is that the system has to be developed by those who participate. See rule 3 above.

    “Collective-choice arrangements: Most individuals affected by the operational rules can participate in modifying the operational rules.”

    So while a blueprint maybe too prescriptive, I would say they are the blueprint for making blue prints.

    Regarding diagnostic, I think if you have a group discuss Ostrom’s rules and think about how to apply them to that group, you would ask questions that typical come about in a root cause analysis.

    I guess my view is that her framework can be both.

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