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Teaching the Commons

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Zetland, David
Conference: Workshop on the Ostrom Workshop 6
Location: Indiana University, Bloomington
Conf. Date: June 19-21, 2019
Date: 2019
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/10437
Sector: General & Multiple Resources
Subject(s): common pool resources
resource management
Abstract: "In this paper, I describe 'Common Pool Management' (CPM), a course I designed to help students understand the difficulties in managing a real commons, how I taught and evolved CPM, and how CPM impacted my teaching and research. CPM has three important elements. First, students are randomized into groups that are 'too big to succeed.' Second, students choose and tackle a 'commons dilemma' within the duration of the course (Ostrom et al. 1994). Third, student grades depend on collective success and peer assessments. After teaching CPM seven times, I have these observations on the three elements above. First, students in 'too-large' groups need time to organize themselves productively, but they realize the importance of frequent, face to face communications and discipline to prevent free-riding. Second, students struggle to establish institutions to transforms common-pool dilemmas into common-pool situations. Most groups fail for lack of a simple, enforceable regime for, say, parking in the bike rack or collecting washed clothes from the laundry room. In a few cases, a group's 'pilot' intervention altered informal norms or inspired policy changes. Third, students learned a great deal about conflict and cooperation within their group, how to manage free-riders and reward cooperators, and the importance of endogenous rule-making and monitoring. As a teacher, I learned how to better manage students and incentives across all my courses, how to better communicate with my students, and how to reform course structures in response to student suggestions, struggles and surprises. As a researcher, I am pleased to present this paper as an inspiration to anyone who wants to think about putting theory into practice and improving public and academic understanding of the complexities of the commons."

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