Design principles

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Various articulations of "design principles" for a commons, hopefully inspirational to others:

Elinor Ostrom

From Ted Bergstrom:

Ostrom attempts to identify common features of societies and institutions that promoted their efficacy and survival. She enumerates these "Design Principles Illustrated by Long-Enduring CPR institutions" as follows.[1]

  1. Clearly defined boundaries, defining who can withdraw common re-sources and who cannot. This feature makes the resources ”commonproperty” of insiders but does not allow “open access” to outsiders.
  2. Appropriation rules that restrict time, place, technology, and/or quan-tity of resources withdrawn, where these rules are tailored to localconditions.
  3. Collective choice rules that allow most individuals affected by rules toparticipate in any modification of these rules.
  4. Monitoring of compliance, where the monitors are accountable to thelocal resource appropriators. Self-enforcement by group members is acritical feature of most successful solutions. Usually this works betterthan attempts to enforce rules passed by a an outside government thatis ill-equipped to enforce these rules.
  5. Graduated sanctions for non-compliance, where the severity of sanc-tions depend on the severity and context of the offense.
  6. Access to rapid, low-cost arenas to resolve conflict among uses andbetween users and officials.
  7. Minimal recognition of the right to organize by a national or localgovernment.
  8. For larger common pools, the presence of governance activities orga-nized in multiple layers of nested enterprises.


  1. This list appears in her 1990 book [19] (page 90) and also in her Journal of Economic Perspectives article [21].