Equitable Governance of Common Goods

In a “tragedy of the commons” individuals, acting according to their own self-interest, behave contrary to the best interests of the wider group by depleting or degrading a common resource. The Equitable Governance of Common Goods project will help avoid such tragedies by improving the regulation of open resources.

© Rtbilder | Dreamstime.com © Rtbilder | Dreamstime.com

© Rtbilder | Dreamstime.com

Ensuring that common goods and open-access resources—everything from clean air and the global climate to the internet and civil security—are equitably and fairly available to everyone, requires regulation. This is also true for living resources with shared ownership, such as stocks of fish and game.

In a limited world, open-access resources that are used without restriction often suffer from over exploitation and may collapse through a “tragedy of the commons.” Regulations to prevent these problems can emerge bottom-up, through interactions of and agreements among stakeholders, or be imposed top-down by governing agencies.

Bottom-up regulations are often efficient and typically perceived by stakeholders as equitable and fair. Such regulations, however, are usually successful only when the number of stakeholders is small enough that social agreements can be struck and enforced.

In contrast, top-down regulation of the use of resources has been marred by a history of fiascoes. Such regulations can fail for a host of reasons, including inadequate regulatory structure, a misunderstanding of what the stakeholders want, and loop holes that weaken the regulation.

This cross-cutting project brings together the expertise of scientists in the Evolution and Ecology and Risk, Poverty and Vulnerability Programs to explore how equity and fairness in resource utilization can be secured through regulation. Drawing on advances in game theory, choice theory, cooperative phenomena, and agent-based modeling, the research project is exploring how top-down regulations can be improved by integrative assessments of stakeholder conflicts and by scaling up the successful characteristics of self-organized and resilient bottom-up governance.

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Last edited: 14 December 2015


Joanne Linnerooth-Bayer

Distinguished Emeritus Research Scholar Equity and Justice Research Group - Population and Just Societies Program

Darina Zlatanova

Program and Project Officer Advancing Systems Analysis Program

Program and Project Officer Cooperation and Transformative Governance Research Group - Advancing Systems Analysis Program


2014 - 2017

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Schlossplatz 1, A-2361 Laxenburg, Austria
Phone: (+43 2236) 807 0 Fax:(+43 2236) 71 313