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Honoring Elinor Ostrom


Nobel Prize 2009-Press Conference KVA-30
Elinor Ostrom / Prolineserver 2010 / Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA

A collective sigh of sadness went around the Creative Commons community yesterday when we heard that Elinor Ostrom passed away. Elinor is greatly admired for her pioneering studies on the governance of common-pool resources (the Commons) and collective action across the fields of economics, social science, politics and policy.

Her seminal book ‘Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action’, was published in 1990; however, Elinor’s work on common property began in the 1960s. Her studies showed that “ordinary people are capable of creating rules and institutions that allow for the sustainable and equitable management of shared resources,” and resources held in the commons may reduce potential over-use or under-investment, and so enable sustainability. At the time of publication it debunked the conventional thinking that ‘common-pool’ finite resources required ‘top down’ regulation or private ownership to maximise their utility and prevent depletion. Elinor also created the International Association for the Study of the Commons.

Creative Commons celebrated her 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, and highlighted her 2003 co-authored paper contextualizing knowledge commons and the study of other commons: Ideas, Artifacts, and Facilities: Information as a Common-Pool Resource (pdf), in Law and Contemporary Problems, v.66, p.111. It includes a citation of Creative Commons, which was just about to launch its licenses at the time the paper was written:

An example of an effective grassroots initiative is that taken by the Public Library of Science (“PLS”), a nonprofit organization of scientists dedicated to making the world’s scientific and medical literature freely accessible “for the benefit of scientific progress, education and the public good” (p.126). PLS has so far encouraged over 30,888 scientists from 182 countries to sign its open letter to publishers to make their publications freely available on the web site PubMed Central (p. 127). By September 2002, there were over eighty full-text journals available at this site (p.128). Another new collective action initiative is the Creative Commons (p. 129) founded by Lawrence Lessig, James Boyle, and others to promote “the innovative reuse of all sorts of intellectual works” (p.130). Their first project is to “offer the public a set of copyright licenses free of charge,” (p.131).

Elinor’s global impact was recognized in April 2012 when she was included in Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.

Our heartfelt thoughts and deepest sympathies are with Vincent Ostrom (her husband and colleague), her family, our friends at the International Association for the Study of the Commons and her colleagues at Indiana University. Thanks Elinor for pioneering a model of cooperative behavior, norms and faith in social control mechanisms that motivates our efforts at Creative Commons.

Posted 13 June 2012