Collective Action and the Evolution of Social Norm by Elinor Ostrom on Managing the Commons & Common Pool Resources

Highlights & Notes

”ral finding is that the world contains multiple types of individuals, some more willing than others to initiate reciprocity to achieve the benefits of collective action. Thus, a core question is how potential cooperators signal one another and design institutions that reinforce rather than destroy conditional cooperation. While no” (Ostrom 2021:25)

Different individual tendencies to cooperate - How can cooperators signal one another and design institutions that reinforce cooperation? (note on p.25)

“n general, learning the game better tends to lead to more cooperation, not less. In a clear test of an earlier speculation that itjust took time for subjects to learn the predicted equilibrium strategy in public good games, Isaac, Walker and Williams (1994) repeated the same game for 10 rounds, 40 rounds, and 60 rounds with experienced subjects who were specifically told the end period of each design. They found that the rate of decay is inversely related to the number of decision rounds. In other words, instead of learning not to cooperate, subjects learn how to cooperate at a moderate level for ever-longer periods of time!” (Ostrom 2021:27)

Learning the game encourages cooperation (note on p.27)

“ace-to-face communication in a public good game-as well as in other types of social dilemmas-produces substantial increases in cooperation that are sustained across all periods including the last period (Ostrom” (Ostrom 2021:27)

Face to face much more effective than computer communication (note on p.27)

“deed, experiments conducted in the United States, Switzerland, and Japan show that individuals who are initially the least trusting are more willing to contribute to sanctioning systems and are likely to be transformed into strong cooperators by the availability of a sanctioning mechanism (Fehr and Gachter, forthcoming). The finding that face-to-face communication is more efficacious than computerized signaling is probably due to the richer language structure available and the added intrinsic costs involved in hearing the intonation and seeing the body language of those who are genuinely angry at free riders (Ostrom, 1998a).” (Ostrom 2021:28)

Possibility to sanction increases cooperation (note on p.28)

“Assuming the existence of two types of “norm-using” players-”conditional cooperators” and “willing punishers”-in addition to rational egoists, enables one to start making more coherent sense out of the findings of the laboratory experiments on contributions to public goods.” (Ostrom 2021:29)

3 types of players (note on p.29)

“hers may also become willing rewarders if the circle of relationships allows them to reward those who have contributed more than the minimal level. Some conditional cooperators may also be willing punishers. Together, conditional cooperators and willing punishers create a more robust opening for collective action and a mechanism for helping it grow. Whe” (Ostrom 2021:29)

Willing punishers are important (note on p.29)

“intrinsic cost or anguish that an individual suffers from failing to use a social norm, such as telling the truth or keeping a promise, is referred to as guilt, if entirely self-inflicted, or as shame, when the knowledge of the failure is known by others (Posner and Rasmusen, 1999).” (Ostrom 2021:31)

Guilt, shame as evolutionary mechanisms to make us comply with social norms (note on p.31)

“complete information regarding types, conditional cooperators playing a trustworthy strategy will more frequently receive the higher payoff, while rational egoists will consistently receive a lower payoff, since others will not trust them.” (Ostrom 2021:32)

Trusting, cooperating people are mosre trustworthy, and get rewarded when information is public. When no info is available, only raitonal egoists survive (note on p.32)

“If there is no information about player types for a relatively large population, preferences will evolve so that only rational egoists survive.8 If i” (Ostrom 2021:32)

“rty percent of a pool of 136 subjects ranked the cooperative outcome (C,C) higher than the outcome if they defect while the other cooperates (D,C), and 27 percent were indifferent between these outcomes, even though their individual payoff was substantially higher for them in the latter outcome (Ahn, Ostrom and Walker, 1998).10 This finding confirms that not all players enter a collective action situation as pure forward-looking rational egoists who make decisions based solely on individual outcomes. Some bring with them a set of norms and values that can support cooperation.” (Ostrom 2021:33)

Some people prefer cooperation even if not defecting on the other (betraying) gives a higher payoff (note on p.33)

“example, consider somie paradoxical findings of Frohlich and Oppenheimer (1996) from a prisoner’s dilemma game. One set of groups played a regular prisoner’s dilemma game, some with communication and some without. A second set of groups used an externally imposed, incentive-compatible mechanism designed to enhance cooperative choices. In the first phase of the experiment, the second set gained higher monetary returns than the control groups, as expected. In the second phase of the experiment, both groups played a regular prisoner’s dilemma game. To the surprise of the experimenters, a higher level of cooperation occurred in the control groups that played the regular prisoner’s dilemma in both phases, especially for those who communicated on a face-to-face basis. The greater cooperation that had occurred due to the exogenously created incentive-compatible mechanism appeared to be transient. As the autLhors put it (p. 180), the removal of the external mechanism “seemed to undermine subsequent cooperation and leave the group worse off than those in the control group who had played a regular . .. prisoner’s dilemma."" (Ostrom 2021:34)

SImilar to other cases where a monetary incentive to ncentivize a behavior can become counter-productive when removed (note on p.34)

“oreover, norms seem to have a certain staying power in encouraging a growth of the desire for cooperative behavior over time, while cooperation enforced by externally imposed rules can disappear very quickly. Finally, the worst of all worlds may be one where external authorities impose rules but are only able to achieve weak monitoring and sanctioning. In a world of strong external monitoring and sanctioning, cooperation is enforced without any need for internal norms to develop. In a world of no external rules or monitoring, norms can evolve to support cooperation. But in an in-between case, the mild degree of external monitoring discourages the formation of social norms, wlhile also mnaking it attrac-” (Ostrom 2021:34)

Imposed rules with weak monitoring is the worst (note on p.34)

“immense number of contextual variables are also identified by field researchers as conducive or detrimental to endogenous collective action. Among those proposed are: the type of production and allocation functions; the predictability of resource flows; the relative scarcity of the good; the size of the group involved; the heterogeneity of the group; the dependence of the group on the good; common understanding of the group; the size of the total collective benefit; the marginal contribution by one person to the collective good; the size of the temptation to free ride; the loss to cooperators when others do not cooperate; having a choice of participating or not; the presence of leadership; past experience and level of social capital; the autonomy to make binding rules; and a wide diversity of rules that are used to change the structure of the situation (see literature cited in Ostrom, forthcoming).” (Ostrom 2021:35)

Variables affecting collaboration (note on p.35)

“quent finding is that when the users of a common-pool resource organize themselves to devise and enforce some of their own basic rules, they tend to manage local resources more sustainably than when rules are externally imposed on them (for example, Tang, 1992; Blomquist, 1992; Baland and Platteau, 1996; Wade, 1994). C” (Ostrom 2021:35)

self-organized > externally imposed (note on p.35)

“of a common-pool resource face a first-level dilemma that each individual would prefer that others control their use of the resource while each is able to use the resource freely. An effort to change these rules is a second-level dilemma, since the new rules that they share are a public good. Thus, users face a collective action problem, similar in many respects to the experiments discussed above, of how to cooperate when their immediate best-response strategies lead to suboptimal outcomes for all. A key question now is: How does evolutionary theory help us understand the well-established finding that many groups of individuals overcome both dilemmas? Further, how can we understand how self-organized resource regimes, that rarely rely on external third-party enforcement, frequently outperform government-owned resource regimes that rely on externally enforced, formal rules?” (Ostrom 2021:35)

Double dilemma, yet can be overcome (note on p.35)

“a leader or entrepreneur, who articulates different ways of organizing to improve joint outcomes, is frequently an important initial stimulus (Frohlich, Oppenheimer and Young, 1971; Varughese, 1999).12” (Ostrom 2021:36)

a leader/initiator helps (note on p.36)

“ndaries are frequently marked by well-understood criteria, like everyone who lives in a particular community or has joined a specific local cooperative. Membership may also be marked by symbolic boundaries and involve complex rituals and beliefs that help solidify individual beliefs about the trustworthiness of others.” (Ostrom 2021:36)

Group boundaries and membership (note on p.36)

“users is going to harvest from a resource over the long run, they must devise rules related to how much, when, and how different products are to be harvested, and they need to assess the costs on users of operating a system. Well-tailored rules help to account for the perseverance of the resource itself. How to relate user inputs to the benefits they obtain is a crucial element of establishing a fair system (Trawick, 1999). If some users get all the benefits and pay few of the costs, others become unwilling to follow rules over time.” (Ostrom 2021:37)

Well-devised rules are important - proportional benefits to inputs (note on p.37)

“The third design principle is that most of the individuals affected by a resource regime can participate in making and modifying their rules. Resource regimes that use this principle are both able to tailor better rules to local circumstances and to devise rules that are considered fair by participants. The Chisasibi” (Ostrom 2021:37)

EVeryone can participate in decision and rule-making (note on p.37)

“r rules of distribution help to build trusting relationships, since more individuals are willing to abide by these rules because they participated in their design and also because they meet shared concepts of fairness (Bowles, 1998).” (Ostrom 2021:37)

“Few long-surviving resource regimes rely only on endogenous levels of trust and reciprocity. The fourth design principle is that most long-surviving resource regimes select their own monitors, who are accountable to the users or are users themselves and who keep an eye on resource conditions as well as on user behavior. Further, the fifth design principle points out that these resource regimes use graduated sanctions that depend on the seriousness and context of the offense. By creating official positions for local monitors, a resource regime does not have to rely only on willing punishers to impose personal costs on those who break a rule.” (Ostrom 2021:38)

Monitoring and sanctioning are necessary (note on p.38)

“nitial sanctions that are imposed are often so low as to have no impact on an expected benefit-cost ratio of breaking local rules (given the substantial temptations frequently involved). Rather, the initial sanction needs to be considered more as information both to the person who is “caught” and to others in the community. Everyone can make an error or can face difficult problems leading them to break a rule. Rule infractions, however, can generate a downward cascade of cooperation in a group that relies only on conditional cooperation and has no capacity to sanction (for example, Kikuchi et al., 1998). In a regime that uses graduated punishments, however, a person who purposely or by error breaks a rule is notified that others notice the infraction (thereby increasing the individual’s confidence that others would also be caught). Further, the i” (Ostrom 2021:38)

Gradual sanctions make sense, but need to be there (note on p.38)

Ostrom’s Framework to Managing Commons

”Let me summarize my argument to this point. When the users of a resource design their own rules (Design Principle 3) that are enforced by local users or accountable to them (Design Principle 4) using graduated sanctions (Design Principle 5) that define who has rights to withdraw from the resource (Design Principle 1) and that effectively assign costs proportionate to benefits (Design Principle 2), collective action and monitoring problems are solved in a reinforcing manner (Agrawal, 1999).” (Ostrom 2021:38)

great summary of design principles (note on p.38)

“nditional cooperation and mutual monitoring reinforce one another, especially in regimes where the rules are designed to reduce monitoring costs. Over time, further adherence to shared norms evolves and high levels of cooperation are achieved without the need to engage in vely close and costly monitoring to enforce rule conformance.” (Ostrom 2021:39)

Conditional cooperation + mutual monitoring >>> (note on p.39)

“The operation of these principles is then bolstered by the sixth design principle that points to the importance of access to rapid, low-cost, local arenas to resolve conflict among users or between users and officials. Rules, unlike physical constraints, have to be understood to be effective. There are always situations in which participants can interpret a rule that they have jointly made in different ways. By devising simple, local mechanisms to get conflicts aired immediately and resolutions that are generally known in the community, the number of conflicts that reduce trust can be reduced. If individuals are going to follow rules over a long period of time, some mechanism for discussing and resolving what constitutes a rule infraction is necessary to the continuance of rule conformance itself.” (Ostrom 2021:39)

Conflicts are inevitable over time, important to have conflict resolution methods (note on p.39)

“migration (out of or into an area) is always a threat that may or may not be countered effectively. Out-migration may change the economic viability of a regime due to loss of those who contribute needed resources. In-migration may bring new participants who do not trust others and do not rapidly learn social norms that have been established over a long period of time. Since collective action is largely based on mutual trust, some self-organized resource regimes that are in areas of rapid settlement have disintegrated within relatively short times (Baland and Platteau, 1996).” (Ostrom 2021:40)

Migration as a threat to collective action (note on p.40)

“Empirical and theoretical work in the ftiture needs to ask how a large array of contextual variables affects the processes of teaching and evoking social norms; of informing participants about the behavior of others and their adherence to social norms; and of rewarding those who use social norms, such as reciprocity, trust, and fairness. We need to understand how institutional, cultural, and biophysical contexts affect the types of individuals who are recruited into and leave particular types of collective action situations, the kind of information that is made available about past actions, and how individuals can themselves change structural variables so as to enhance the probabilities of norm-using types being involved and growing in strength over time.” (Ostrom 2021:41)

Need to figure out contextual factors encouraging or discouraging collective action and social norms adherence (note on p.41)