Policy Sciences

, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 71–93 | Cite as

Analyzing decentralized resource regimes from a polycentric perspective

  • Krister P. AnderssonEmail author
  • Elinor Ostrom


This article seeks to shed new light on the study of decentralized natural resource governance by applying institutional theories of polycentricity—the relationships among multiple authorities with overlapping jurisdictions. The emphasis on multi-level dynamics has not penetrated empirical studies of environmental policy reforms in non-industrial countries. On the contrary, many of today’s decentralization proponents seem to be infatuated with the local sphere, expecting that local actors are always able and willing to govern their natural resources effectively. Existing studies in this area often focus exclusively on characteristics and performance of local institutions. While we certainly do not deny the importance of local institutions, we argue that institutional arrangements operating at other governance scales—such as national government agencies, international organizations, NGOs at multiple scales, and private associations—also often have critical roles to play in natural resource governance regimes, including self-organized regimes.


Developing countries Decentralization Local governance Institutions Natural resources management 



An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Midwest Political Science Association meetings, Chicago, IL, April 20, 2006, and the International Society of New Institutional Economics meetings, Boulder, CO, September 23, 2006. The authors received helpful suggestions from Tomas Larsson, David Gerard, Martin Dimitrov, and Esther Mwangi and excellent editing from Patty Lezotte. Financial support from the MacArthur Foundation, the National Science Foundation (0648447), Ford Foundation and USAID’s Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Management Collaborative Research Support Program (SANREM CRSP) is gratefully acknowledged.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of Colorado at BoulderBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Workshop in Political Theory and Policy AnalysisIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

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