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Ingredients of a successful commons

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The commons refers to the shared resources and ecosystem or human services that sustain or enhance life and have not been portioned off to individual ownership and/or assigned monetary values.

The sharing approaches of a commons occur under a range of agreements, arrangements and principles, many of which evolve over time. A commons may cover agricultural or grazing land, an area of ecosystem services, a pivotal meeting place, a sharing of goods/ideas, a flow of creativity, and so forth. At its heart is a commonly accepted form of managing everyone's use of finite human and environmental systems to ensure infinite availability for all. A commons may be shared by a community or a group within a community, such as shepherds or fisherfolk; child/elderly carers or musicians; authors or community gardeners, just to give a few broad examples.

Despite many areas of land now subject to enclosure, private ownership and government regulation, commons areas continue to thrive in the face of such pressures, and maybe despite these pressures in some cases.

What are the ingredients of a successful commons?

Ostrom’sW scholarship over the past three decades has demonstrated that self-organized communities of “commoners” are quite capable of managing finite natural resources without destroying them.

Ostrom identifies eight "design principles" of stable local common pool resource management:[1]

  1. Clearly defined boundaries (effective exclusion of external unentitled parties);
  2. Rules regarding the appropriation and provision of common resources are adapted to local conditions;
  3. Collective-choice arrangements allow most resource appropriators to participate in the decision-making process;
  4. Effective monitoring by monitors who are part of or accountable to the appropriators;
  5. There is a scale of graduated sanctions for resource appropriators who violate community rules;
  6. Mechanisms of conflict resolution are cheap and easy of access;
  7. The self-determination of the community is recognized by higher-level authorities;
  8. In the case of larger common-pool resources: organization in the form of multiple layers of nested enterprises, with small local CPRs at the base level.

Enable sharing

Open licenses are key to sharing within the commons.

One key difficulty now with sharing content is the popularity of various content licenses which are not all compatible.NonCommercial and NoDerivatives clauses break compatibility with true open licenses such as CC-BY-SA (using only the Attribution and ShareAlike clauses) as used by Appropedia and Wikipedia.

See An Introduction to Creative Commons for an overview.

See also


  1. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, 1990, Elinor Ostrom, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-40599-8.

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This page or section includes content from Wikipedia. The original article was at Elinor Ostrom. The list of authors can be seen in the history for that page. As with Appropedia, the text of Wikipedia is available under the CC-BY-SA.