The Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis
At Indiana University – Bloomington, there is a little-known research institute that has brought together hundreds of scholars from across the planet to “learn about the ways in which governance institutions can be crafted to enhance human well-being, while promoting democratic principles and sustainable resource management.” Its name may be daunting, but its mission is simple. The founders wanted to combine experience with theories. They believed that this is the critical connection between “ideas and what gets done.”
In 2009 Elinor Ostrom (now deceased) was awarded a Nobel prize for her work on “the commons.” This is a term used 1) to describe the gifts we all share environmentally and culturally and 2) to discover how these interconnected ecosystems can be managed sustainably. For example, common pool resources such as forests, fisheries, oil fields, grazing lands, and irrigation systems interconnect with social systems including education, justice, health care and more.
Although members of the Workshop do not directly solve the problems of everyday Hoosiers, they inspire us by demonstrating that the best minds in the world ARE finding solutions to the problems we all face. Despite their various backgrounds and areas of expertise, they are able to communicate effectively because they all use the language of Elinor Ostom’s SES (Social-Ecological Systems) framework. In a 2009 article in Science, she wrote:
Without a common framework to organize findings, isolated knowledge does not cumulate. Until recently, accepted theory has assumed that resource users will never self-organize to maintain their resources and that governments must impose solutions. A general framework is used to identify the likelihood of self-organization in efforts to achieve a sustainable SES.
The work being conducted at Ostrom’s Workshop not only allows the citizens of Indiana to take heart knowing that alternative methods of living on this planet DO exist; it also encourages us to effectively self-organize so we can better implement the changes that need to be made.
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Submitted by Rebecca Mahan