The 3D-framework


The 3D-framework as an innovative approach to studying the resilience of ICA's


The UNICA-project builds on a conceptual framework developed by the PI for the longitudinal study of the functioning of commons (one of the ICA-archetypes)– the 3D-framework, built to bring together all aspects affecting the resilience of self-governing institutions. The 3D-framework consists of:

- Resources managed collectively and used individually (in academic literature referred to as Common-Pool Resources),

- Institution (rules, social norms) designed to lead use and management in the right direction (lit.: Common-Pool Institution) 

- The collectivity of members with rights on the resources and decides of rules (lit.: Common-Property Regime).


This framework builds on the idea that resilience of an ICA as an organisation is the result of a continuous search for a balance between these three dimensions, whilst dealing with many exogenous changes (economic, environmental and demographic changes, political crises etc.). Members must at all times be kept content with what they receive in return for their membership, but if this leads to overharvesting the available resources, this may create a so-called “tragedy”. Rules, therefore, must be constantly adapted to changing circumstances, while resource availability and member-group size may fluctuate due to environmental, social, demographic, and economic factors. Self-organizing institutions depend on the willingness of individuals to act reciprocally, which in turn is influenced by whether they experience their involvement as “useful” and “equitable”. For example: when the supply of resources is shrinking due to, e.g., climate conditions (exogenous change) or when membership is growing (endogenous change), a change in the distribution of the collective good might be necessary to avoid overuse of the resources. A reduced share – and thus diminished utility (Par-a) – of the collective good for each individual member, may lead to (part of the) members starting to freeride (i.e., contribute less or extract more than one’s share), or even petitioning for dissolution of the collectivity. Similarly, membership growth may also affect group cohesion (lesser social control, shifting internal power balances) as it becomes harder to involve all members in decision-making processes. An increasing group of members may have a positive influence on the total amount of capital available within an ICA but may have a negative effect on the social control as large groups make it harder to recognize members of the group. In social science literature, it has been described that cooperative behaviour is promoted if the other people can observe one’s personal choice behaviour, and that this “social-control” mechanism may be responsible for the fact that people are more willing to work hard under conditions of high visibility than in more anonymous settings. Lesser member involvement might be perceived as a decrease in equity (Par-b), potentially leading to less responsible behaviour and mutual control. An adaptation of the rules would be required to avoid overharvesting, which may have an effect –in due time- on the efficiency (Par-c) of resource management. In these cases, an institutional response – i.e. a change of the rules – would be required to avoid overuse, and subsequently a decrease in efficiency (Par-c) of the resource management.


The above examples of ways in which the interplay between resources, members and institution might lead to problems within an ICA, demonstrate that achieving resilience is the result of a difficult and continuous balancing act. The study of resilience in this context thus demands that we look at the evolution of all three dimensions and at their constant interaction, as expressed in utility-equity-efficiency. Achieving resilience demands continuous balancing between resources, members and institution. An analysis of the regulation allows us to understand how scenarios whereby the ICA went out of balance could be repaired by adapting the rules to the new situation.


The institutional part of the 3D-framework focuses on the regulation of the ICA as a self-governing body, within the legal framework of the country it is based in: self-governance takes place through the drafting and enforcement of rules regulating operational, collective-choice, and constitutional aspects. Such institutional arrangements typically include monitoring and sanctioning mechanisms to mitigate the free-riding opportunities that constitute the appropriation and provisioning dilemmas facing cooperatives. Given the social dilemma nature of collective action situations, rules are required to overcome selfish behaviour and to create group-beneficial incentives. Empirical research using multiple methods has indeed shown how members of ICAs can coordinate their action around a successful institution. Despite progress made during the last three decades in understanding the basic features of robust collective governance mechanisms and their impact on resource management, our knowledge of how these institutional arrangements change over time is still very limited, which mirrors the state of the study of institutional change in general.


The burgeoning study of historical commons can however already demonstrate how longitudinal research can bring our knowledge on self-governing institutions further. Research by the PI and colleagues has demonstrated that the longevity of early modern Dutch commons was inversely related to the attention invested in creating sanctioning rules. The longest-living commons turn out to be those that have the largest share of rules of without a sanction. Rather than investing in sanctions, high levels of participation and involvement in decision-making acted as an effective deterrent for freeriding. Instead, being present at meetings when rules are created increased the chance that rule changes are understood and internalized by all, reducing temptations to freeride as an alternative option.


Read more about the 3D-model in:

  • De Moor, T., 2019. From historical institution to pars pro toto. The commons and their revival in historical perspective. In: Handbook of the commons, eds. B. Hudson, D.H. Cole, and J. Rosenbloom, Ch. 24. S.l.: Taylor and Francis.
  • De Moor, T., forthcoming (2020). Three waves of cooperation. A millennium of institutions for collective action in historical perspective (Case-study: The Netherlands). In: Oxford Handbook on International Economic Governance, eds. I. Bellacci, E. Brousseau, and J.M. Glachant. Oxford University Press.