Debates on institutions for collective action in general

How can institutions be resilient/robust?


A resilient or robust institution is an institution that is able to cope with external and internal troubles. Rules and the execution of these rules can be adjusted to changing circumstances without the institution sacrificing/jeopardizing its main functions or the objectives that it was set up to fulfill. In order to make an institution resilient, its regulation has to be easily adjustable and the members of the institution need to be knowledgeable about change and how to adapt to it.


How exactly this should be done depends largely upon the local circumstances, but Elinor Ostrom (1990) has distilled from a number of present day institutions the main characteristics of successful organizations. Ostrom claims that 'all efforts to organize collective action, whether by an external ruler, an entrepreneur, or a set of principals who wish to gain collective benefits, must address a common set of problems.' These problems are 'coping with free-riding, solving commitment problems, arranging for the supply of new institutions, and monitoring individual compliance with sets of rules.'


Ostrom found that those groups that are able to organize and govern their behaviour successfully are marked by the following design principles: 

  1. Group boundaries are clearly defined.
  2. Rules governing the use of collective goods are well matched to local needs and conditions.
  3. Most individuals affected by these rules can participate in modifying the rules.
  4. The rights of community members to devise their own rules is respected by external authorities.
  5. A system for monitoring member's behavior exists; the community members themselves undertake this monitoring.
  6. A graduated system of sanctions is used.
  7. Community members have access to low-cost conflict resolution mechanisms.
  8. For CPRs that are parts of larger systems: appropriation, provision, monitoring, enforcement, conflict resolution, and governance activities are organized in multiple layers of nested enterprises.

A more extensive analysis of Ostrom’s “Governing the Commons”-book you will find here.



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