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 resources and who cannot. This feature makes the resources ”common property” of insiders but does not allow “open access” to outsiders.
  2. Appropriation rules that restrict time, place, technology, and/or quantity of resources withdrawn, where these rules are tailored to local conditions.
  3. Collective choice rules that allow most individuals affected by rules to participate in any modification of these rules.
  4. Monitoring of compliance, where the monitors are accountable to the local resource appropriators. Self-enforcement by group members is a critical feature of most successful solutions. Usually this works better than attempts to enforce rules passed by a an outside government that is ill-equipped to enforce these rules.
  5. Graduated sanctions for non-compliance, where the severity of sanctions depend on the severity and context of the offense.
  6. Access to rapid, low-cost arenas to resolve conflict among uses and between users and officials.
  7. Minimal recognition of the right to organize by a national or local government.
  8. For larger common pools, the presence of governance activities organized 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].