Explaining success and failure in the commons: The configural nature of Ostrom’s institutional design principles

Jacopo A. Baggio, Allain J. Barnett, Irene Perez-Ibara, Ute Brady, Elicia Ratajczyk, Nathan Rollins, Cathy Rubiños, Hoon C. Shin, David J. Yu, Rimjhim Aggarwal, John M. Anderies, Marco A. Janssen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle in a journalpeer-review

79 Scopus citations


All rights reserved. Governing common pool resources (CPR) in the face of disturbances such as globalization and climate change is challenging. The outcome of any CPR governance regime is the influenced by local combinations of social, institutional, and biophysical factors, as well as cross-scale interdependencies. In this study, we take a step towards understanding multiple-causation of CPR outcomes by analyzing (1) the co-occurrence of design principles (DPs) by activity (irrigation, fishery and forestry), and (2) the combination(s) of DPs leading to social and ecological success. We analyzed 69 cases pertaining to three different activities: irrigation, fishery, and forestry. We find that the importance of the design principles is dependent upon the natural and hard human made infrastructure (i.e. canals, equipment, vessels etc.). For example, clearly defined social boundaries are important when the natural infrastructure is highly mobile (i.e. tuna fish), while monitoring is more important when the natural infrastructure is more static (i.e. forests or water contained within an irrigation system). However, we also find that congruence between local conditions and rules and proportionality between investment and extraction are key for CPR success independent from the natural and human hard made infrastructure. We further provide new visualization techniques for co-occurrence patterns and add to qualitative comparative analysis by introducing a reliability metric to deal with a large meta-analysis dataset on secondary data where information is missing or uncertain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417-439
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Journal of the Commons
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Common pool resources
  • Comparative case study analysis
  • Coupled infrastructure system
  • Fishery
  • Forestry
  • Governance
  • Irrigation
  • Ostrom design principles
  • QCA
  • Resource mobility
  • Social-ecological system
  • Technology


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