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What were Elinor Ostrom's key contributions to economic thought?

A-Level, IB
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 15 Jul 2023

Elinor Ostrom was a renowned political economist and the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2009. Her research focused on the governance of common resources and collective action problems, and she made several key contributions to economic thought.

Ending The Tragedy of The Commons | Elinor Ostrom | Big Think

Ostrom's key contributions to economic thought include:

  • The theory of common-pool resources: Ostrom developed the theory of common-pool resources, which is a model of how communities can manage shared resources in a sustainable way. This model takes into account the factors that contribute to the sustainability of common-pool resources, such as the size of the resource, the number of users, and the rules that are used to manage the resource.
  • Design principles for common-pool resources: Ostrom developed a set of design principles that can be used to manage common-pool resources in a sustainable way. These principles include clearly defined boundaries, rules that are matched to local conditions, monitoring, graduated sanctions, conflict resolution mechanisms, and nested enterprises.
  • Importance of institutions: Ostrom argued that institutions are essential for the management of common-pool resources. Institutions are the rules, norms, and organizations that govern how people interact with each other. Ostrom showed that well-designed institutions can help communities to manage common-pool resources in a sustainable way.

Her work challenged the top-down approach to resource management and emphasized the importance of local knowledge and community participation. Ostrom's findings suggested that community-based management and user participation can be effective alternatives to state or market-based solutions. Her research provided insights for policymakers and practitioners seeking sustainable solutions to resource management challenges.

Ostrom's contributions to economic thought are still debated today. However, there is no doubt that she was one of the most influential economists of the 20th century. Her work has had a profound impact on the way we think about the management of common-pool resources and the role of institutions in economic development.

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