Transcripts of Dr.Elinor Ostrom’s speech during the Inaugural of the IASC 2011 conference on Jan 10th, 2011 in Hyderabad.
It’s a great honour to be here. And I want to thank Shri.Nitin Desai, and President Ruth Meinzen Dick, and Shri. Jairam Ramesh and Shri. Jagdeesh Rao for organizing something that is very exciting and very important for me. And it is a joy to see many colleagues that I have known through the years, again and to learn from them and I am looking forward to questions I wont be here for the whole meeting, but I will be here for the next two days and know that I will learn a lot. I am going to be focusing largely on collective action theory, which I see as an underlying part of our work, so that there is a foundation to our research. Way back Mancur Olson and Garrett Hardin did their key work on social dilemmas. Their work led to the prediction that self-organization is impossible people get trapped. The presumption is that people wouldn’t cooperate because they would be trapped in a social dilemma. That somehow public officials are supposed to be able to solve the problems, they have the genes or something that is certainly different and they can solve. So the literature has tended to recommended the government or private as a panacea. Now, this has been more accepted because it was consistent with game theory where you have models of the Prisoners Dilemma and the presumption is that people will be trapped in that kind of a social dilemma. We then have had the media paying immense amount of attention to whenever something does collapse perhaps like the sardines off the California coast or any other biodiversity of others. And for the dominant policy recommendation, where in we have needed the governments to manage resources, or just hand them over to the private and we have had all sorts of policies adopted around the world.
Now, there have been extensive field studies conducted on various villages and resources over very long time. Many individual studies of pastoralists, inshore fishers, farmers organizing to provide irrigation and some of these like Dr.Robert Netting's work are talked about that fish commons that have been organized for centuries. But we had a very steep division. We had the sociologists, historians, engineers, political scientists, anthropologists and people would focus on fisheries and nothing other, or oil palm meadows or whatever, so the literature that was divided by three big chasms. And they led the discussion on cumulation. So we were in a problem of lots of material but no cumulation. It led to establishment of a National Research Council Committee in 1980s to assess what knowledge do we have and it was extremely rapid to identify over 1000 cases of what people had written about common pool resources. But because of the lack of cumulation in knowledge and sharing, authors all tended to identify different kinds of variables that identified for us, it was stimulus for before the IASC started to develop better theories and better frameworks to enable us to have knowledge about these many many things accumulated.
We were very fortunate that in Bloomington the workshop research centre had an IAD framework that was under development and has helped us very much as we tried to proceed. This is a multi-disciplinary framework trying to look at how humans act in diverse situations and at a general level we could think about it. It contained a nested set of building blocks so that we could look at problems at various scales and look at how exogenous variables affect it so that we can think about it in simplest possible ways of having exogenous variables like biophysical conditions, attributes of a community and the rules in use and temporarily they are not going to be changing and you assume them to be relatively stable for purposes of analysis.
They help to create something we call an action situation and we are going to dig into that in a moment, which then lead to interactions, outcomes and the possibility of the participants evaluating or external people evaluating and leading to changes so at a time you could have change as people interacted. This looks very simple, but having something simple that you can then unpack turns out to be a very powerful way to cumulate theory, which is what we have been doing. The internal parts of an action situation are the inside that box and as we develop this, we very subconsciously make sure that the internal working parts are similar to the working parts of game theory so that one of the ways of operationalizing the framework is game theory or any other one of the other theories. But since that was so dominant and so vigorous and so predicting of failure we thought it was essential that we would be working on that and we have done a lot of experiments and other work using the framework. So if we go to the internal structures, you can think of actors who are assigned to positions and their actions that they can take in light of the information they have, the level of control they have over outcomes or actions, their evaluations of net costs and benefits and those cumulatively lead to potential outcomes, which can be back. And this can become for us when we go out in to the field a literature a structure that we can use and start unpacking each of these concepts.
So when we were part of the National Research Council and we got all these 1000s of cases, we thought this would be one way to develop a coding form and see if we could get any cumulation. But we found that even though we had a framework that gave us structure, it was not just fisheries, irrigation it was a structure that could go across resources. Because social scientists were not talking with one another there was no common language. We screened over 450 or so cases just to code 47 irrigation systems and 44 in-shore fisheries. We had in addition 500 to 600 cases that had no commonalities to and we didn’t even do a screening for. But it did enable us to get some very good initial information in terms of looking at three-quarters of the farmer managed irrigation systems had high performance, in terms of big processes across Asia but only 42% of government irrigation systems had high performance. So some people have been saying that one system always succeeds and another always fails, the always very very careful about. There are different levels of performance. It doesn’t mean that one is always good and one is always bad.
Then it enabled us also to clarify concepts. And one of the confusions in literature that has been there for a very long time and that’s very confused is the term Common Property Resource. It is widely used, and confuses the concept of property with that of a resource and we have been working on switching to common pool resources and common property regimes. They both have the same initials CPR but there is a difference between a property regime and a resource system. And we were able to work through a presumption that you did not have property rights unless you could operate in a regime many many people who were operating with the sense that they have rights and they were verified over time and were able to develop a scheme of access, withdrawal, management, exclusion and alienation as five key types of rights and some people or groups have only one or two of them, but that did not mean they had no rights and you could assess given the kind of system they were working on what kind of rights they had we also then, besides talking about five broad kinds of property rights, we found an incredible diversity of rules.
We had actually gone into all the case studies and looked at the details, trying to keep track of what kind of specific rules were enforced. So we went again back to the framework to help us identify order in this chaotic morass and so we asked what part of an action situation does a rule affect as a way of getting sense of what rules there are. So we go back now again to the notion of an action situation, and what I showed you earlier is the inner parts, and we then attached to each inner part a potential kind of rule that we were seeing out there. So boundary rules affecting actors, choice rules affecting what actions they can actually act on and choose, information rules affecting who knows what, when, where, how, aggregation in terms of how a rule might affect a joint decision, pay off rules affecting the net benefits and costs, and scope rules affecting what outcomes could be affected. And this is an initial way of classifying the numerous rules, so that we can begin to understand the difference and by finding the seven types we could then really get at the variety in each kind that we found.
For example, the boundary rules differed when you dealt with fisheries or irrigation systems or forests and instead of there being one kind as you start thinking about the attributes of the resources you can understand why those who were trying to manage them have different boundary rules, they tended to allocate what technology could be used, what geography, where, season, and in the literature frequently the presumption was that if they didn’t allocate quantity they didn’t have a rule. And this is particularly for fisheries, where many fishery systems have used technology as their way of making rules over who could use what, and the presumption is that there weren’t any rules and the government had to come and make them. We could see the evolution of rules that fit the local circumstances. Very important.
So we then started to look at the long-surviving institutions. I thought that may be it might be feasible to find an optimal set of rules; I was trained in economics and lead you to find optimal way of doing something. And we coded these and I had stacks of them on my desk and I struggled trying to find that set of rules. I came close to being defeated and depressed as I have in my career, because I couldn’t find that specific rule and finally hiking in the hills .. sometimes going for a hike can start circulating ideas and in my search for rules and uniformities that underlie, there were specific rules that the ones that had survived the long time. So I thought there something we could get at in terms of a broad concept, which I then ended up calling design principles.
And now it’s very exciting, there’s a brand new article just out by Cox, Arnold & Villamajor in Ecology & Society. They have reviewed 90+ studies from around the world by scholars other than those associated with the workshop looking at applicability of design principles and they found a very good empirical foundation for this. And then they clarified that when I first defined boundary rule I mixed up people and resource, and sometimes they would find that because the resources are defined and the people weren’t, it was still a problem. So by looking at that they divided this up and tried to get at attributes of people and attributes of resource for the boundary. The design principles now have couple of 1a 1b, 2a, 2b etc and that gives us a new foundation for moving forward. At least now we know that there is a lot of empirical support.
They have also done a lot of empirical studies in the lab I don’t think I'll spend a lot of time on that today butt laboratory experiments are very very important way to take the kinds of variables in an actual situation or rules around it and precisely formulate them and then create a experiment where we have 7 people in the lab at any one time where you could then take one variable and work with it at a time whereas during field research you don’t have that luxury and chemistry, biology several have moved ahead because of field research and the laboratory. So, we created an initial situation, where 7 people were making decisions of withdrawing assets from a common pool and no communication, absolutely anonymous and they over harvested. They over harvested dramatically way beyond the prediction made by Nash So, what is important is that some people think that Hardin pointed out a very important problem where he made an error was his presumption that people involved couldn’t change it. But, absolutely anonymous, no communication no history, people do over harvest a common pool resource. On the other hand, when we introduced the capacity to talk, what we considered to be cheap talk and its predicted to make no difference, they do not solve all their problems, but they are different in introducing harvesting rates and moving towards better outcomes. If they design their own sanctioning system and take their rules that they design for a sanctioning system, they can get very close to optimal. While doing the experiment, we backed up what we found in the field that users are not helpless.
We have done an immense amount of field research, I cant go into all of that we have prepared 226 systems that are designed by engineers with a lot of external money and their systems are very fancy and very well designed their systems work well initially interms of harvest. Farmer managed systems, by many engineering standards are primitive and in terms of construction, no cement, no permanent structures in the beginning but we did a statistical analysis that farmers using farmer managed systems were able to grow more crops run the system more efficiently and get more water to the tail end. One of the real problems of water systems is that head enders are very very strongly tempted to take water and again getting water all the way to the tailend is a big problem so counters the argument that people will not self organize and yes they do.
We have been looking at forests around the world. We have colleagues who are here for several days ahead of the meeting of International Forestry Resources and Institutions (IFRI) This is a research programme that we have a common set of instruments across different countries. We measure various forest measures as well as getting into the communities finding out what people are organizing if they have a governance council, how do they work etc and we have been finding a number of things but I’ll highlight only the major ones that I talked about this morning.
In the sustainable forests that we have found around the world where forests are either construct or growing or increasing rather than decreasing, we have found that the users themselves tend to be active monitors of the level of harvesting or how the forest is being used and it turns out that people themselves monitoring forests is the more important variable than the formal type of governance - the big things like Government private community. The synergy between some of the outcomes Some researchers have had a very important article looking at carbon sequestration and livelihood and they are finding some synergy between livelihoods of local people and carbon and finding a larger force which enhances both carbon and livelihoods but in the large forests it is more effective when the people living in and around have rule-making autonomy and incentives to monitor.
We have Collective action theory like in the 70s isn’t quite right. So we are now working towards a behavioral theory of individual choice You can think of individuals as being bounded rational but they are having a capacity to learn through experience people sometimes start with heuristics and update over time they are learning which way are more successful over time and people learn more and potentially value the benefits that others receive as well as .. so those can be where we can start we also found that when people trust others that is very central in being cooperative and engaging in collective action trust among participants is affected by context. In a recent book Poteete, Janssen have discussed the micro situational across the broader context of social dilemmas that affects levels of trust and cooperation. You can think of humans as Learning and norm adopting individuals. The context both the micro and the broader aspects of their interaction if they have some initial levels of trust as they move to higher levels of cooperation that increases the benefits as the levels of trust begin to go down you have a kind of feedback loop that reinforces cooperation or reinforces defection and we have to start thinking too of broader situational. we have done a very good analysis from experiments in the field where people can communicate where reputations of others are known where there is high marginal return, when you work hard you get more outcomes, where people can enter or exit and have some choice if exit and have a longer time horizon and agree on sanctioning mechanism there are all factors that individually tend to enhance the likelihood of people finding cooperation but it doesn’t mean you have to have it all but if you have a mixture and combination of factors, it is much more likely that cooperation will get stronger and stronger and one of the future areas of research we need to measure all of it.
We have been working on a social ecological systems framework building on the IAE and 2007 what are the factors governance systems who’s organized what kind of infrastructure, looking at sustainability water, forests fisheries we take a look at the highest system we should be thinking about a resource system and research units in social, economic and political settings as well as the related economics and the ecosystems interacting with Governance systems and actors. So, here we create action situations from an IAE perspective and we can think about situations that people are placed in that they have all of these coming in at them that will affect the structure micro and outcomes. I do not want to talk of all of this, but looking at various levels.
A framework for analysing the context so that we have processes, there are so many variables, but we don’t have a common language. Partly what we are trying to do is develop a common language the ecological and the social each of the base systems. Each of the big systems like the resource systems there are some 8 million subparts and for each of these there are several parts, so we can get down to quite a lot of theory easily but it does developing definitions and looking at who’s tested what combination and how these things combine that affect action situations and the pattern of interaction and the outcomes - the interactions like how much are they harvesting what kind of information are they sharing what kind of conflicts, what kind of lobbying activity those interactions tend to create effective or ineffective systems, equitable systems, accountability, sustainability which we are all interested in here this is not something which is going to be useful tomorrow but there are some of our stars who are starting to subconsciously define this for forestry, pasture areas common language so that these can then be tested and developing theory related to it.
This is a common language that we can use the theory and test we can look at different questions number of actors, socio economic activities, leadership/entrepreneurship, and social capital they have both. In order to gain some insights 2001 I developed a formal mathematical model and used both to go out to the field and look at empirical results who is actually going to prohibit the first step towards collective action is beginning to stop encroachments. What we might be thinking about is that resources that we find out that are in good condition usually have long term incentives to invest and monitor and that they are embedded in polycentric systems, now that’s a language that has not been the government language. All of the people in this room have been contributing to our knowledge of systems they need to be thinking about how long can one look into the future is it worthwhile, should I trust the others. the number of policy makers that are here that will discuss over the next couple of days the ways to some of these theoretical ideas can be operationalised in the field and if we can be recommending Government protected areas. complex systems. But we shouldn’t be recommending as the way to solve everything. We do not want to have the same breakfast exactly every morning. the same diversity of institutions rejecting panaceas . Understand it and harness it thanking them for listening I don’t think we have time for questions, I think we are going to have a great meeting. I am looking forward to the panels and all the discussion that we will have. Thank you very much.
The video recording of the inaugural ceremony can be found at http://commons.fes.org.in/?page_id=278