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Do institutions for collective action evolve?

Partners' Institution
Södertörn University
Ostrom, E., 2014. Do institutions for collective action evolve? J Bioecon 16, 3–30.
Thematic Area
Development studies
In this paper I will provide an overview of our findings from studying irrigation systems in the field so that readers who are not familiar with our prior research gain at least an initial sense of these findings. I will provide a second short overview —this time of the institutional analysis and development (IAD) framework offering a general method for doing institutional analysis. I will then introduce the possibility of looking at the change of rules as an evolutionary process. The method for studying the evolution of rules will be based on the IAD framework and on our long-term study of rules related to irrigation systems. In the conclusion, I return to the question as to why it is important to authorize resource users’ relative autonomy in the development of their own rules and to learn from the resulting institutional diversity.
Relevance for Complex Systems Knowledge
This article summarizes Elinor Ostroms findings and methodologies related to rules for common irrigation system. The methodology is designedd to investigate whether the system of rules evolve, from being losely formulated practice to become more rigorous, written down rules with clearly defined sanctions on individuals or groups that do not follow. This is an important contribution to the literature on leverage points and other system approaches to social issues.

Based on a vast amount of studies on community irrigationsystem, Ostrom is categorizing rules in functional types:

Boundary rules
B1 Land ownership or leasing of land within a specified location
B2 Shares ownership or leasing of shares, transferable independent of land, to proportion of water flow
B3 Membership belonging to a group required to receive water
Position rules
P1 Rotation water users rotate into Monitor Position
P2 External Monitor hired guard from outside water user community
P3 Local Monitor hired guard from inside water user community
Choice (Allocation) rules
C1 Fixed percentage the flow of water is divided into fixed proportions according to the land owned or some other formula
C2 Fixed time slot each individual (or subcanal) assigned fixed time during which water may be withdrawn
C3 Fixed order farmers take turns to get water in the order in which they are located on a canal (or some other clear assignment)
Information rules
I1 Rule infraction publicity announcement made in some public manner or rule breaking
I2 Measurement size of diversion weir publicly measured
I3 Reporting written minutes and financial reports available to all
Aggregation rules
A1 Neighbor agreement both farmers must be present and agree at time slot change
A2 Community votes time to change from one allocation rule to another
A3 Monitor decision if farmers disagree, monitor has the final word
Payoff rules
Y1 Penalty farmers obliged to contribute money, labor, or some other resource for breaking a rule
Y2 Water tax farmers pay an annual financial tax
Y3 Labor obligation farmers contribute labor (according to an agreed formula) for regular maintenance and emergency repair
Scope rules
S1 Geographic domain extent of land to which water may be applied
S2 Water use limits on use of water obtained from a system
S3 Crops limits on crops that may be grown using water from a system

For the modelling, these categories and subtypes can be given values that are gradual, from 0 meaning that there is no, S related to a rule saying that members "should", R for required, P for permitted and F for forbidden. these values are then combined into different typical sets of rules. The sets of rules can then be related to different situations in which the irrigation systems are constructed. As situations change the sets of rule have to evolve. There is not only one direction for this evolutions ( not always from 0 to R, P or F). Memory loss may also have a reversed effect, but there may be changes in the bio-physical world, in the social setting, economic conditions or higher level rules related to politics.

Hence the article looks at socio-ecological systems from the perspective of rules.
Point of Strength
The model presented is based on a huge empirical foundation and experiences. Although the examples are taken from irrigation systems, Ostrom could have applied it to other systems linked to the use of common natural resources. There model has opportunities to be adapted to other settings. The article as such may be a bit complicted as a standalone, but for students at more advanced level it could be useful both for learning about the wide range of situations in which common resource use take lace, but also as innspiration for students' own modelling attempts.