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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: October 2015

Chapter 4 - Analyzing Institutional Change


In the preceding chapter I examined institutions for governing CPRs in which appropriators have devised governance systems that have survived for long periods of time in environments characterized by considerable uncertainty and change. Although the particular problems involved in governing mountain commons vary from those involved in governing irrigation systems, all of these long-enduring institutional arrangements have shared commonalities. These cases clearly demonstrate the feasibility (but obviously not the likelihood) of robust, self-governing institutions for managing complex CPR situations, but the origins of these systems are lost in time. It is not possible to reconstruct how earlier users of Swiss alpine meadows, Japanese mountain commons, the Spanish huertas, or the Philippine zanjeras devised rules that have survived such long periods. We do not know who originated or opposed various proposals, or anything about the process of change itself.

A study of the origins of institutions must address the problem of supply raised in Chapter 2. As Bates (1988) points out, the presence of collective benefits as a result of designing new institutions is itself a second-order collective dilemma. A proposed new institution uis subject to the very incentive problems it is supposed to resolve” (Bates 1988, p. 395). Many questions need to be addressed. How many participants were involved? What was their internal group structure? Who initiated action? Who paid the costs of entrepreneurial activities? What kind of information did participants have about their situation? What were the risks and exposures of various participants? What broader institutions did participants use in establishing new rules? These questions are rarely answered in the extensive case-study literature describing behavior within ongoing institutional arrangements. Once a set of rules is in place, the incentives facing appropriators are entirely different from the incentives that faced an earlier set of appropriators when confronted with severe appropriation or provision suboptimalities.

In this chapter, the origins of a set of institutions to manage a series of groundwater basins located beneath the Los Angeles metropolitan area are examined. Louis Weschler and I did extensive fieldwork in these areas during the late 1950s and early 1960s, when many changes were occurring (E. Ostrom 1965; Weschler 1968). We attended meetings, read internal memoranda, and interviewed participants to obtain information about the strategies of groundwater producers to organize voluntary associations, to undertake litigation, to create special districts, and to constitute a complex public-private governance system to regulate their basins.

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Governing the Commons
  • Online ISBN: 9781316423936
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