The Workshop, since its founding in 1973, has focused on research topics that are both wide and deep. The work in each of these research areas began as an informal working group made up of faculty, students, and visiting scholars. For our newest research area of health and health care, the working group also includes executives, elected officials, technologists, and social entrepreneurs. All of these areas have been intrinsically interdisciplinary in design and realization.
Although the diverse substantive topics covered by these research programs may appear to be unconnected, they share a common foundation in the realization that formal institutions, if they are to remain effective and sustainable, must be productively connected to more informal patterns of political, economic, and social life as well as to relevant characteristics of the physical and biological surroundings. This is the key insight behind the Workshop’s Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework.
In 2011, researchers at Indiana University and two other institutions were awarded a $1.2 million National Science Foundation grant to study the impact of climate change on water resources and the ability of governance systems to adapt to the resulting challenges. The three-year project, which includes experts from diverse academic disciplines, will focus on the changing availability of water from glaciers and seasonal snow packs, an increasingly important source for irrigation of agricultural lands and global food supply.
Elinor Ostrom is the principal investigator. Co-principal investigators are Tom Evans (associate professor, Department of Geography, IU) and Daniel Cole (professor, IU Maurer School of Law & SPEA), along with Kelly Caylor (Princeton University) and Krister Andersson (University of Colorado).
The project will focus on snowmelt-dependent, semi-arid regions in Colorado and New Mexico and in eastern Kenya, providing a range of governmental and institutional arrangements to study. The researchers will integrate methodological approaches from physical sciences, social sciences and legal scholarship, including interviews, focus groups, field hydrological measurements and GIS-based spatial modeling, to assess the vulnerability of communities to climate change and understand how they might respond to alterations in water availability. They will examine how governance systems have responded to past changes in order to gauge the resilience of institutions under different climate scenarios.
In 2010, Elinor Ostrom and the Workshop were awarded a $295,000 grant from the Fannie E. Rippel Foundation to undertake an 18-month research project to explore applying Ostrom’s theories and insights to health and health care. Mike McGinnis will serve as PI, assisted by Claudia Brink, Joan Pong Linton (English), and two graduate students: Carrie Ann Lawrence (HPER) and Ryan Conway (POLS). In addition, we received invaluable advice from two other faculty members, Kathy Gilbert (HPER) and Lauren MacLean (POLS), both of whom are experts on qualitative research methods in their respective fields.
The study will apply methods of institutional analysis, as developed by Vincent Ostrom and Elinor Ostrom and their colleagues and collaborators, to the common resource pools most critically involved in the health system. The Rippel Foundation hopes this analysis can help Americans become healthier while paying lower and more sustainable costs for high-quality health care.
“The Rippel Foundation is excited about the prospect of extending Professor Ostrom’s work to health care,” said Laura Landy, president of the Rippel Foundation. “Managing the health care commons is a crucial challenge for our nation and the world, and Lin Ostrom and her team are uniquely qualified to lead that effort. We hope that this project will result both in valuable new insights and in practical tools for health care leaders and concerned communities.”
“The Rippel Foundation’s support is making it possible to explore the application of a totally different set of proven economic theories that could have profound and practical application to health care,” said Elinor Ostrom. “The challenge of using well our common shared resources in health and health care is of utmost importance if we are to reach the goal of a healthier population and a sustainable health system. We’re thrilled at the opportunity to contribute new insights to meeting that challenge.”
The project will include in-depth studies of four diverse regions: Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Grand Junction, Colo.; and Bloomington and Bedford, Ind. Each of these communities has differing experiences with collaborative models of governance, many of which have been focused on health. In cases where sustained collaborative management practices have been in place, the result seems to be higher-than-average quality of health care at lower-than-average costs.
Among the project’s outcomes will be insights into new economic models, as well as surveys, assessments, and other measurement instruments that can be used in regions across the country, if these communities can first be understood.
Decentralization and SANREM-CRSP
Several Workshop students have completed PhD dissertations on decentralization policies using institutional theory to evaluate implementation of such policies. Typically, results demonstrate that without adequate safeguards, decentralization can contribute to the entrenchment of local tyrannies. On the other hand, if community groups participate fully in the planning and implementation of policy initiatives, then decentralization can result in much improved policy outcomes.
One project has recently emerged from this area of work. In January 2006, the US Agency for International Development funded a Workshop proposal on the Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management Collaborative Research Support Program (SANREM-CRSP) for a total of $1,141,790. The core purpose of this project is to study the effects of forest decentralization policies on both forest health and livelihoods. Through this project, we are working with partners in Mexico, Kenya, Bolivia, and Uganda as well as the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to study the effects of decentralization policies on forests and livelihoods in each of these countries using the Workshop-based International Forestry Resources and Institutions (IFRI) approach.
CDI and IFRI Hubs
An initial pre-proposal for a project on Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation (CDI) focused on making advances in how variables associated with different types of natural resources could be conceptualized via a set of common categories while still retaining reference to properties unique to that particular resource. Later versions of this proposal shifted to focus on data generated through IFRI-based field research. Even though this data had been originally gathered according to the common survey format developed at IFRI, there remained significant difficulties in integrating all of this material into a standard format. This has been particularly challenging given the limited computer facilities of our collaborators in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
A pending full proposal invited by NSF requests support to implement this common data architecture centered around three IFRI CRCs as hubs. If supported, this project will strengthen the polycentric basis of the IFRI program by dramatically enhancing the logistical capacity of institutions in Guatemala, Uganda, and Thailand to act as hubs for their regions.
Sustainability in Social-Ecological Systems
Lin Ostrom and Mike McGinnis have organized a new working group on a Diagnostic Ontology for Social-Ecological Sustainability (DOSES). The goal of this project is to more fully operationalize the multi-tier framework developed by Lin Ostrom and others in articles recently published in Science, PNAS, and other outlets. This framework goes beyond the basic IAD framework to give equal attention to the social and the biophysical sides of social-ecological systems. The units and systems in operation at each scale of aggregation are specified, with what is a system at one scale treated as a coherent unit on the next higher level of aggregation. This logic of nested systems has long been a hallmark of ecology, but it has been less fully developed in the social sciences. At each level of aggregation, distinct kinds of variables categorize units and systems, and these variables themselves can be further disaggregated into distinct sub-categories. In DOSES, we hope to build an ontological foundation for understanding each tier of variables as a step toward building more explicit models of the multi-level, nested relationships observed in particular situations. Our short-term goal is to apply for major NSF funding by the end of 2010.
In addition, affiliate Tom Evans is pursuing research that will explore the linkage between land use, water management, and the expansion of biofuel production in the United States and Brazil. A second research track will examine the resilience of smallholder agriculturalists in semi-arid Africa; a proposal submission to NSF is planned for 2010.
Democracy in Africa
The Workshop is a founding member and the institutional home of the Consortium for Self-Governance in Africa (CSGA), led by Workshop Research Associate Amos Sawyer. Founded in 2002, the CSGA is an association of teaching, research, and action-oriented organizations concerned with the study of Africa’s governance challenges and with the promotion of self-governing institutions. The importance of a bottom-up approach to the constitution of order, which has been pervasive in Workshop scholarship, is a cornerstone of the CGSA.
Amos Sawyer serves as Chairman of Liberia’s Governance Commission, a position he accepted soon after President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took office in 2006. In recent years, Sawyer’s time has been split between Bloomington and Monrovia as he works with innumerable Liberian and foreign actors to tackle several reform initiatives.
Also involved in efforts in Liberia is affiliate Verlon Stone, Director of the Liberian Collections Project at IU. Stone is seeking grant funding with Liberian partners for records restoration and digitization and for support of the Liberian Land Commission; he is also working with Sawyer and others at IU to enhance health sciences education and cyber-connectivity at the University of Liberia.
Workshop research associates Wal Duany and Julia Duany are participating in similar efforts in the Sudan, with Wal serving in the Southern Sudan legislature and Julia appointed by the President of Southern Sudan as the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs—the first woman to serve in this position. Former Workshop research associate Sheldon Gellar has been involved in several African development projects since he retired from academia, and Geller recently moved to Israel.
Political Economy of Democratic Sustainability (PEDS)
Soon after Workshop affiliates Bill Bianco and Regina Smyth joined the Department of Political Science at IU, they began to organize interdisciplinary discussions around critiques of the dominant “transition paradigm” approach to understanding regime change. They were concerned that, since contemporary research on democracy remains largely discipline-centered, our knowledge of how democracy works remains circumscribed.
In NSF-funded research, Bianco, Smyth, Itai Sened (Washington University), and Christopher Kam (University of British Columbia) identified conditions under which majority-rule procedures are characterized by low uncertainty, a high likelihood of satisfactory outcomes for most or all participants, and little potential for manipulation. These findings provide a basis for explaining variation in macro-level outcomes – why democratic consolidation is relatively quick and progressive in some countries, versus protracted or stillborn in others. In short, democracy can be sustainable only when decision-making processes reinforce these conditions rather than generating incentives to subvert them.
Networks and Institutional Analysis
Within the Workshop tradition, the concept of network governance dates back at least to the 1961 Ostrom-Tiebout-Warren APSR article that first introduced the concept of polycentric order. Political Science Assistant Professor Armando Razo worked with Workshop staff to submit a proposal for an NSF CAREER grant to support a long-term project on the ways in which informal networks and formal institutions interact in the context of developing countries; this grant will help Razo seek funding within five years for a larger cyberinfrastructure project. Razo’s initial research focused on the relevance of social networks in facilitating economic growth in Mexico despite the long domination of authoritarian regimes.
The Workshop has an active group of students, visiting scholars, and affiliated faculty conducting experiments that focus on the role of institutions in shaping behavior. These experiments range in scope from evaluating levels of trust in simple settings to voting institutions in common-pool resource settings. For the past two years, faculty, visiting scholars, and students from numerous disciplines have met as a working group, discussing various experimental research projects and the role of the experimental methodology—both in the lab and in the field—as a tool for enhancing social science research. Workshop graduate students have written successful proposals to NSF to fund experimental work in recent years, and experimental elements are increasingly being included in larger proposals.
Lin Ostrom, James Walker, and other Workshoppers have long used experiments to study behavior in social dilemmas, defined as situations in which individuals tend to underprovide public goods or overexploit common-pool resources. Ostrom and Walker recently received a three-year grant from NSF (with James Cox at Georgia State University) to build on the experimental research program they began while James Cox was a visiting scholar at the Workshop in 2006. This project investigates how asymmetric power can lead to divergent norms of behavior across public good and common pool settings. This research will provide important insights into how collective action depends on institutions that allow for transparency and on control over the exploitive powers associated with agents with administrative authority.