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Responsive Schools — Ostrom

January 31, 2014 by Tunya

Can citizens effectively and efficiently manage their own affairs?  Their own schools? Can self-governance work in education? YES, there is this hope for schools — provided there is limited central state interference and provided powerful special self-interest insiders don’t dominate.

That is the message Elinor Ostrom, a co-winner in 2009 Nobel Economics prize, passes on to help empower people at local levels to 1) challenge outsiders and self-interests, and 2) confidently evolve the procedures, rules, and oversight which serve their interests.  She cautions against any one-size-fits-all model. Local people, local governance.


While Ostrom’s work has usually dealt with user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes, and groundwater basins, she has also been embraced by development workers, especially in third world countries.  Her general principles apply to any area where citizens manage their own projects — without the heavy fist of the state or the invisible hand of the market.

Ostrom distinguishes the three methods of provision:  public, private, and civil. She sees more citizens becoming involved in policy analysis and application if they are to avoid becoming “the objects of an authoritarian regime” or exploited for profit.

Self-governing, adaptive organizations follow these principles:

1.  Balance power at many levels within the structure (checks and balances)
2.  Monitor performances and hold designated persons accountable
3.  Accept conflict as healthy, indicating need for mediation or more problem-solving
4.  Empower citizens and communities with enforceable rights to check abuses of authority

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