Commons and the eight principles

As part of her many years of research, Elinor Ostrom has developed 8 principles for the organization of successful commons. These have been further developed over time and adapted to current circumstances, but essentially remain groundbreaking as reference guidelines.

  1. Commons must have clearly defined boundaries: In particular, who is entitled to access to what, resp. to which resource units from the common pool resource (CPR). Likewise, the boundaries of the commons themselves must be defined.
  2. Rules should correspond to the specific circumstances and in balance / in congruence between use and provision. The rules should be dictated by the local contributors and local needs.
  3. Participatory decision-making is crucial. In this way, the contributors affected by the rules can participate in changing the rules. The contributors are more likely to abide by the rules if they wrote them down themselves.
  4. Commons must be monitored: the conditions and behavior of the parties must be actively checked to ensure that the rules are being followed. Commons are not based on goodwill per se, but on shared responsibility.
  5. Graduated sanctions for those who abuse common pool resources: Gradation depends on the seriousness and context of the offence. The sanctions are jointly defined and imposed by the contributers.
  6. Easily accessible conflict resolution mechanisms: When problems arise, the solution should be found informally, low-cost and easily. Anyone can submit a problem to mediation, which means that problems can be solved together instead of through costly court cases.
  7. Minimal recognition of local rights: The rules of the commons have no meaning unless recognized as legitimate by local or national authorities.
  8. Embedding in larger networks: Commons work best when they are integrated into larger networks. Some things may require wider regional/national collaboration. 

Elinor Ostrom (1933 – 2012)

The American-born Elinor Ostrom became the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009. She has focused on research of human interactions in ecosystems such as forests, water supply and irrigation systems, and fish stocks. Elinor Ostrom became known with «Governing the Commons» (1990), in which she examined how commons can be managed collectively without overexploiting them. 

Inspired and impressed, we have included many of Elinor Ostrom's approaches in our project and named it ELINOR-X in her honor.