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Ostrom’s eight design principles

What are Ostrom's eight design principles?
© Adam Smith Center, Singapore

From the dozens of self-governing arrangements that she studied, Lin extracted several general principles that allow for the success of such arrangements, principles she termed as ‘design principles’. These are the eight design principles Ostrom formulated:

  1. Physical and social boundaries are clearly defined. These clearly drawn boundaries are crucial for excluding others from a common resource.
  2. Locally tailored rules define resource access and consumption. These rules specify when and how a resource may be used. For example, it could define the acceptable levels of harvesting from a common resource.
  3. Individuals who are most affected by the rules can participate in rule-making. Lin frequently cautioned that are no universal panaceas to complex common resource problems. Resources vary across time and place, so no single management rule will be appropriate in all circumstances.
  4. Resource monitors are accountable to the resource users. According to Lin, strong local monitoring is one of the most important factors that affect the success of resource management systems in fisheries, pastures, forestry, water and so on. Even in a community that exhibits strong social cohesion, there will be a tendency for people to break the rules if there are no rewards for upholding and no penalties for breaking them.
  5. Graduated penalties are imposed on the rule breakers.
  6. Conflict management institutions are accessible. Even in relatively homogeneous and stable communities, disputes over the interpretation of rules are likely to arise. Lin found that self-governing regimes with well-developed and transparent court systems were more likely to be successful.
  7. Authorities recognise a right to self-organise. When locally established rules are not respected by external authorities – such as when a government agency allows business interests to gain access to resources with no regard for local property rights, communal self-governance arrangements become more fragile.
  8. Complex systems are organised into layers of nested governance.
© Adam Smith Center, Singapore
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