Selfgoverning institutional arrangements

Ostrom (2001) argues that resource users are more likely to invest in designing and adopting rules to address CPR dilemmas if they perceive that (i) the benefits produced by the new sets of rules outweigh the costs of devising, monitoring and enforcement; and (ii) they will enjoy those benefits. Whether these two conditions hold depends on characteristics of the resource and characteristics of the resource users. For Ostrom (2001) four resource characteristics are crucial:

1. Feasible improvement: Resource conditions are not at a point of deterioration such that it is useless to organize or so underutilized that little advantage results from organizing.

2. Indicators: Reliable and valid indicators of the condition of the resource system are frequently available at a relatively low cost.

3. Predictability: The flow of resource units is relatively predictable.

4. Spatial extent: The resource system is sufficiently small, given the transportation and communication technology in use, that appropriators can develop accurate knowledge of external boundaries and internal microenvironments (Ostrom, 2001, p. 40).

There must be a sense among resource users that governance attempts will make a difference (attribute 1). If a resource is so degraded that users believe there is little they can do to positively affect the situation, they are unlikely to make the attempt. Conversely, appropriators may find little benefit in investing in governing arrangements if a resource is relatively abundant and of adequate quality. Whether resource users believe that feasible improvement in the productivity of the resource is possible depends on the information that they have and their ability to exercise some control over the resource. Information about a resource depends on availability of reliable and valid indicators of resource conditions, the spatial extent of the resource and the predictability of resource units (attributes 2-4). Indicators vary from resource to resource and may be as 'simple' as paying attention to wool or milk production of grazing animals or as complex as monitoring wells. The spatial extent of a resource affects both the ability of users to develop information and to assess their relative ability to capture the benefits of organization. Resource systems or subsystems that are more closely matched with the ability of resource users to monitor encourage investment in rules. Finally, predictability should be interpreted broadly to include volume and temporal and spatial patterns. Predictability provides resource users the opportunity not only to learn about the resource but also to govern harvesting activities in meaningful ways.2

In addition to characteristics of resources, qualities of the resource users themselves affect the benefits and costs of cooperation to devise governing arrangements. Ostrom (2001) posits the following attributes of resource users:

1. Salience: Appropriators are dependent on the resource system for a major portion of their livelihood or other important activity.

2. Common understanding: Appropriators have a shared image of how the resource system operates, and how their actions affect each other and the resource system.

3. Low discount rate: Appropriators use a sufficiently low discount rate in relation to future benefits to be achieved from the resource.

4. Trust and reciprocity: Appropriators trust one another to keep promises and relate to one another with reciprocity.

5. Autonomy: Appropriators are able to determine access and harvesting rules without external authorities countermanding them.

6. Prior organizational experience and local leadership: Appropriators have learned at least minimal skills of organization and leadership through participation in other local associations or studying ways that neighbouring groups have organized (Ostrom, 2001, p. 40).

These characteristics ease the costs of organizing, developing and adopting a common set of rules. Attributes 1 and 3 measure how appropriators value the resource. If resource users are heavily dependent on the resource for their livelihood and if they anticipate continued reliance on it well into the future, they are more likely to invest in new sets of rules. If appropriators share a common understanding of the resource and the effects of their actions on the resource and on each other, they are more likely to share a common understanding of the problems that they face and are more likely to agree upon a set of rules to address those problems. Trust and reciprocity and leadership provide resource users with 'social capital' that they can draw upon to ease bargaining and negotiation costs. Autonomy provides appropriators with the 'space' needed to engage in rule making and confidence that they will be able to capture the benefits of their institutional investments. While Ostrom (2001) separates the two sets of attributes for the sake of clarity, the attributes interact to support or discourage collective action. Resource users may have a relatively complete and accurate understanding of the resource; however, they may still be unwilling to invest in new sets of rules if the resource is of low salience to them.

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