Polycentric Resource Management

Elinor Ostrom was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize in Economics. Her work established a foundational framework supported on an evidentiary basis for rejecting a lot of discourse that has risen in regards to the concept known as the tragedy of the commons. More specifically, her analysis challenged the typical (false) dichotomy surrounding the idea that commonly owned or shared resources (“commons”) can only be managed with government regulation and/or privatization. However, in one of her more principle works, Governing the Commons, The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Actions, she specifically cites a variety of instances of resource management on the basis of community management and what she denotes as “polycentric” resource management. In some aspects, polycentric resource management just seems like a logical and practical solution. After all, who would be better to manage community resources than the community itself? It would be able to react to the needs of the resource and its sustainability quickly and more democratically than through navigating potentially excessively complex bureaucracy and/or external entities or entities with several potential conflicts of interest. It ought to be a tiered, democratic system where the community can receive aid from a larger entity (be it financial, intellectual, or otherwise) if needed.


However, while her work established it is possible to impose practices for solutions without complete reliance on a state and/or private entity, there are a variety of other potential solutions which ought to still be considered valid situationally. That said, a problem in many economic systems and conversations of resource management is when a resource or common has no easily definable boundaries. This holds especially true for more abstract concepts of a common or resource, think knowledge or intellectual capital, for example. Practically speaking, there will likely never come a day of any one kind of resource management or economic system, at least, not without some kind of political upheaval. The reality is that we will likely live in a mixed economic system that shifts to one tendency or the other with different political regimes until otherwise changed and maintained as aforementioned.


We have seen various different means or proposals of the government side and private side as to resource management, whether it’s by forcibly internalizing externalities into goods and services, regulation, or privatization, there’s usually a mix of different means to resource management, each with varying efficacies.

One Comment Add yours

  1. callie.oliver says:

    Whoa, I love the combination of environmental issues and economics here. I haven’t heard of Elinor Ostrom until reading this, and I always appreciate a PDF link for topics I want to dig into in my spare time. What specific ways has the government and privatized organizations used polycentric resource management?

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