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The Challenge of Crafting Rules to Change Open Access Resources into Managed Resources

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Ostrom, Elinor
Conference: International Economic Association roundtable on the Sustainability of Economic Growth
Location: Beijing, China
Conf. Date: July 13-14, 2007
Date: 2007
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/185
Sector: Social Organization
Subject(s): rules
open access
resource management
Abstract: "Designing rules to govern common-pool resources is presented in many environmental treatises as resting on two core assumptions that: (1) resource users are norm-free maximizers of immediate gains who will not cooperate to overcome the commons dilemmas they face, and (2) government officials, on the other hand, have the information and motivation to design efficient and effective rules to sustain the use of common-pool resources over the long run. In this paper I review evidence related to these assumptions that leads one to doubt their validity when applied to smaller to medium-sized common-pool resources where users have opportunities to communicate with one another and learn how to engage in reciprocal behavior. Findings from carefully controlled laboratory experiments are summarized that challenge the first assumption and leads one to have to assume that humans are fallible and boundedly rational. Depending on the context of the situation, individuals may add normative payoffs (positive and negative) to their preference function. "The complexity of using rules as tools to change the structure of commons dilemmas is then discussed, drawing on extensive research on rules in field settings. Viewing all policies as experiments with a probability of failure, I will explore the size and structure of the rule space that individuals have used in previous efforts to govern commons. The final section discusses the likely performance of a series of completely independent resource governance systems or a fully integrated one -- ending with a discussion of the importance of polycentric governance systems."

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