Governing the commons: future directions for the Ostrom Project


Now, when longitudinal data are available or soon will be, it is important to carefully consider research strategies for the second phase of the Ostrom Project. I recommend a problem oriented approach aimed at answering questions and solving puzzles that have emerged in the last 25–30 years and a focus on the political dimensions of the commons. Reading Lin’s paper in this issue, I found her proposal valuable but too narrow. I suggest that the longitudinal phase of the Project should deal explicitly with institutions and mechanisms for solving conflicts among local participants over how to divide the costs and benefits of using common resources. I offer, as an illustration, a number of research questions that emphasize institutions in the policy and constitutional spheres rather than in the operational one.

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  1. 1.

    Various members of the Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University in Bloomington, as well as scholars throughout the world cooperated with Lin in her projects. To simplify, I do not explicitly recognize these teams below when I refer to Lin’s work or what I call the Ostrom Project.

  2. 2.

    Previous studies include both in-depth and historical analyses that provide information about various processes, but they are not longitudinal surveys.

  3. 3.

    Ostrom (2013) defines institutions as norms and rules-in-use. Rules-in-use originate explicitly in a rule-making arena and are linked to some form of enforcement. Norms evolve spontaneously. In the paper in this issue, Lin is primarily concerned with the behavior of rule makers, who operate in contexts shaped by norms that they cannot directly change.

  4. 4.

    The usual criteria for efficiency in the Ostrom Project are productivity, maintenance of common assets, and sustainable use of natural resources.


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Correspondence to Thráinn Eggertsson.

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Eggertsson, T. Governing the commons: future directions for the Ostrom Project. J Bioecon 16, 45–51 (2014).

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  • Institutions
  • Institutional change
  • Commons
  • Natural resources

JEL Classification

  • Q2
  • Q3
  • Q15
  • P48
  • P51