Special issue of Publius on the Ostroms

From “Tokyo Tom” of The Collaborative Center Community Facebook page, http://goo.gl/Z3yjuC, notice of this special issue. Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize in Economics shortly before her death last year. The Ostroms’ work addressed the problems of community and collaboration. She is famous for many things but among them is her redemption of the commons from its supposed tragic demise.

How useful is her work for us in community development and management, especially for productive, open source communities? The answer depends on what one wants. To justify certain sorts of efforts (eg, those that relate to getting funding for some projects from constitutionally doubtful agencies) she is as useful as any authority would be. But she is also useful, or at least her work is, when backing up arguments in favor of collaboration.

But for most who would actually set up collaborative groups, they won’t (and don’t) care about the theory, good or bad. They care about the history and, even better, programmatic “case studies” that spell out (or at least strongly suggest) what to do and how. Proof–validity of action and praxis–counts infinitely over theory.

Put another way, you won’t be able to persuade anyone about how to set up a commons-based peer network only by using Ostrom, or I doubt it. You will persuade by using instances from Martin Fowler, say, or Benkler; or from practitioners. And at a guess, the practitioner is more interested in what he or she knows than in a theory supporting what she doesn’t; and if she is interested in theorizing, she will likely stay within the obvious authorities and case studies, as these are what others in her field know and can accept as such, even though they may disagree with them.

Were she to refer to Ostrom, she’d likely not lose credibility. It just wouldn’t go very far. (In contrast, I suspect she’d lose credibility in her business-oriented field if she referred to Jean-Luc Nancy, though Girard might be okay, as Peter Thiel, I believe–though it could be Musk–is a big fan.)

But I find it a little sad that one of the most interesting thinkers on the problems (and how to solve them) of community and collaboration is just not attended to in ways that could be useful, if not prescriptively, then at least descriptively.