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Calling all Business Owners—Take the Ostrom Challenge!
David Sloan Wilson
David Sloan Wilson
is the SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology at Binghamton University and Arne Næss Chair in Global Justice and the Environment at the University of Oslo
Melvin Philip
Melvin Philip
is a graduate student in the Biological Sciences Department at Binghamton University.

Do you own a business? If so, do you know about Elinor Ostrom? If not, then your business might not be performing as well as it could.

Ostrom was a political scientist who received the Nobel Prize in economics in 2009. She didn’t study business groups. Instead, she studied groups that attempt to manage common-pool resources such as forests, pastures, fisheries, and irrigation systems. These resources are called “common pool” because they are available to multiple users. They are vulnerable to overexploitation since each user has an incentive to take more than his or her share. Conventional economic wisdom held that the only solutions to the “tragedy of the commons” are to privatize the resource (if possible) or impose top-down regulation. Ostrom compiled a database of common-pool resource groups and showed that some were able to successfully manage their resources on their own. Furthermore, she identified eight core design principles that made the difference between success and failure. Her achievement was so new against the background of orthodox economic theory that it earned her the profession’s highest honor.

So where does your business come in? It turns out that those eight core design principles aren’t just needed by common-pool resource groups. They are needed by all groups whose members must work together to achieve common goals. And they are likely to be as new for you, a business owner, as they were to most professional economists.

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This means that you have every reason to learn how well your company scores with respect to those core design principles—and we have made it easy by creating a free online survey that you and your employees can take in about 30 minutes. You will receive a report card and a guide to improving your company’s performance by better implementing the core design principles.

To learn more about Elinor Ostrom and her core design principles, visit To take part in the survey, email It might be the best decision that you ever made on behalf of your company.


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