Elinor Ostrom, SANREM partner and Nobel Prize receipient, leaves legacy of commons research

Elinor Ostrom, a close collaborator of natural resource management with the SANREM CRSP at Virginia Tech, succumbed to pancreatic cancer at Indiana University’s Health Bloomington Hospital on June 12, 2012. Ostrom was widely lauded for her work in the analysis of economic governance of common property resources such as pastures, lakes, fisheries and forests. In 2009 she became the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize for her research in the field of economic science.Ostrom’s lifelong research of natural resource management at the University of Indiana eventually led her to establish a partnership with SANREM. During her tenure as a lead PI for Phase III Long-term research Award I of the SANREM CRSP, Ostrom examined how alternative forest management policies and governance regulations in developing countries affected the livelihoods of local forest users and protected land management use of the forests themselves. Her project, “Decentralization Reforms and Property Rights: Potentials and Puzzles for Forest Sustainability and Livelihoods” demonstrated her thesis that common property is often well managed by those who use it rather than bureaucrats.

“Lin enriched our meetings with the depth of her understanding, a joyful personality, and the precision of her interventions,” said Keith Moore, associate program director, SANREM CRSP.

One of her greatest published works, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action demonstrated in contradiction of currently accepted conventional wisdom that local populations around the world could organize themselves without state intervention to sustainably govern common property resources. It has become a standard reference for policymakers and resource-users alike since its publication in 1990.

Ostrom cultivated an intense interest in resource management as a young girl in Los Angeles growing vegetables in her family’s garden and canning peaches and apricots during the Great Depression. These seemingly simple, even utilitarian, interactions with soil and water led her to some of her greatest achievements.