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Institutional Failure and Reform: A Problem in Economic and Political Analysis of Water Resource Development

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Ostrom, Vincent
Conference: Conference on Political Science and the Study of Public Policy
Location: Cape Newagen, MN
Conf. Date: August 28-30
Date: 1967
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/1909
Sector: Water Resource & Irrigation
Subject(s): Workshop
water resources
institutional analysis--IAD framework
common pool resources
political reform
Abstract: (From pp. 1, 2, & 8): "The purpose of this conference is to consider the question of what special contribution, if any, can political scientists make to the analysis and formulation of public policy? At an earlier time, essentially the same question might have been posed by inquiring about What special contribution can political scientists make to political reform? More recently, the reform motif has become something of an anathema to the more scientifically rigorous political scientists. Yet, we keep returning to the problems of reform like moths drawn to a candle flame. Perhaps we will be able to make a special contribution as political scientists to the analysis and formulation of public policy only when we develop the capability for analyzing the issue of reform with some measure of professional competence. "My invitation to participate in this meeting was to direct attention to the tangible and practical problems of public policy associated with water resource development and not to discourse about political reform as such. Yet, contemporary studies of water resource development persistently turn to allegations of institutional failure among resource development and management agencies and conclude by either explicitly or implicitly proposing a program of reform. Most of these studies have been made by economists, those done by political scientists have a similar, albeit, variant approach to institutional failure and reform. The studies by economists are both more systematic and more consistent in their critique, and I shall use their work as the principal point of departure. "There are quite tangible and practical reasons, unrelated to the wiles of politicians, for problems of water resource development to become deeply involved in the political process. The water problem is, in fact, a multitude of problems, but most of these are problems of fluidity. Whenever water behaves as a liquid, it has the characteristics of 1) a common pool, flow resource involving; 2) a complex bundle of potential goods and bads which sustain; 3) a high level of interaction or interdependency among the various joint and alternative uses. The interrelationships among all three of these characteristics of a water resource situation simply compounds the difficulties in settling upon stable, long-term institutional arrangements for the economics development of water resources."

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