The three edited volumes of selected research reports from the first 25 years of the Workshop's existence were published by the University of Michigan Press.  Each of these volumes covers different aspects of the Workshop's multi-faceted research programs, as explained in the Series Foreword included below.  Links are provided to draft copies of the introductory essays written by Michael McGinnis, who edited all three volumes. Each volume contains material originally published in a diverse array of books and journals, as well as a few previously unpublished working papers.  If you have comments on any of these materials, please contact Michael McGinnis ( or Patty Lezotte (

Links to the Web Pages:

  • Series Foreword: Self-Governance, Institutional Analysis, and the Workshop
  • Polycentric Governance and Development (1999)
  • Polycentricity and Local Public Economies (1999)
  • Polycentric Games and Institutions (2000)

  • [Preface] Revised Draft 6/2/98
    Series Foreword:
    Self-Governance, Institutional Analysis, and the Workshop
    Michael D. McGinnis

    From its current location in a few scattered office buildings on the Bloomington campus of Indiana University, the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis lies at the heart of a worldwide network of scholars who use institutional analysis to understand and to strengthen the foundations of self-governance. Over the past twenty-five years, the political scientists, policy analysts, economists, lawyers, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, biologists, ecologists, and policymakers associated with the Workshop have investigated diverse research topics. Results of these research programs have been published in books and journals from several disciplines. A portion of this work has been gathered in this volume; two related volumes are scheduled to be published at approximately the same time.

    Each of these edited volumes exemplifies what is special and distinctive about institutional analysis as it has been developed and practiced by Workshop scholars. Institutions are ubiquitous in contemporary society, and the fields of political science and economics have experienced a recent renaissance in the study of institutions. The Workshop approach is uniquely multidisciplinary, drawing on the complementary strengths of a wide range of social science methodologies: laboratory experiments, formal models, comparative case studies, opinion surveys, archival research, philosophical investigations, physical measurements, computer simulations, and, most recently, satellite imagery. Institutions affect all aspects of social life. Major Workshop research programs have focused on (1) police services in metropolitan centers in the United States; (2) the management of fisheries, irrigation systems, forests, and other common-pool resources from California to Nepal (and many places in between); and (3) the macro-structure of constitutional order from Imperial China to the contemporary international system, with particular emphasis given to the nature of American democracy.

    Beneath this bewildering variety lies a core message, buttressed by reinforcing methodological and political foundations. Politically, the goal is to establish and sustain capacities for self-governance, by which is meant the structured ways communities organize themselves to solve collective problems, achieve common aspirations, and resolve conflicts. Methodologically, the goal is to understand the institutional foundations of self-governance, that is, to determine which conditions strengthen and which conditions undermine community capacities for self-governance.

    In practice, these goals have inspired a series of careful, detailed studies of narrow ranges of empirical phenomena. However, since each study draws on a single framework of analysis, the overall product has import far beyond the confines of these particular settings. The aggregate lesson of these empirical analyses is clear: many, many self-governing communities thrive, in all parts of the world.

    By focusing on community efforts to resolve local problems, the writings of Workshop scholars are sometimes misinterpreted as lending credence to the "small is beautiful" slogan. For many public purposes, local community action will be effective, but other circumstances require coordinated policies at the regional, national, or international levels. It is important to remember that public officials at all levels of aggregation have important roles to play in helping communities provide for their own needs.

    Shouting slogans about the desirability of decentralization or civil society contributes little towards the crucially important task of sustaining capacities for self-governance. The challenge of institutional analysis lies in producing solid research findings, based on rigorous empirical tests of hypotheses grounded in carefully articulated theories and models. Institutional analysts have a responsibility to combine policy relevance and scientific rigor.

    A basic tenet of institutional analysis is that multiple arenas, or centers, of interaction and participation need to be considered simultaneously. Self-governance works best if the overall governance structure is polycentric. The word itself may be awkward, but it encapsulates a way of approaching the study of politics and policy analysis that stands in sharp contrast to standard modes of thought. Governance does not require a single center of power, and governments should not claim an exclusive responsibility for resolving political issues. Instead, politics should be envisioned as an activity that goes on in many arenas simultaneously, at many scales of aggregation. Implications of polycentric governance for particular empirical and theoretical contexts are detailed in the readings included in these volumes.

    To illustrate the coherence of the theoretical approach that underlies applications to a wide array of empirical domains, a selection of previously published articles and book chapters have been collected into three books with similar titles: Polycentric Governance and Development, Polycentric Games and Institutions, and Polycentricity and Local Public Economies. Each book addresses a separate audience of scholars and policy analysts, but each should also be of interest to anyone seeking to understand the institutional foundations of self-governance.

    Papers in Polycentric Governance and Development demonstrate that empirical analyses of the management of irrigation systems, fisheries, groundwater basins, and other common-pool resources have important implications for development policy. Long before sustainable development became an over-used slogan, scholars associated with the Workshop were trying to understand the myriad ways self-governing communities had already achieved that goal in practice.

    After an initial section on the general conceptual framework that has influenced research on the full array of Workshop research topics, Polycentricity and Local Public Economies presents papers published from the first major empirical project associated with the Workshop, a comparative study of the performance of police agencies in metropolitan areas of the United States. Although most of the research results included in this volume date from over a decade ago, these results remain relevant today. Recent trends toward community policing, for example, reflect the continuing influence of factors identified in this research program.

    In Polycentric Games and Institutions, the general concepts that guided these empirical analyses themselves become the focus of analysis. Workshop scholars use game theory and laboratory experiments to understand how individuals behave in the context of diverse political and economic institutions. Results from laboratory experiments and field settings show that individuals draw upon an extensive repertoire of rules or strategies from which they select different strategies, given their understanding of the nature of the situation at hand.

    By collecting readings on similar topics that were originally published in scattered outlets, we hope to highlight the contribution these research programs have made to their respective fields of study. However, any evaluation of the scholarly contribution of institutional analysis as a whole must be partial and incomplete, for the Workshop remains an active place. Each of these research themes is being pursued by scholars who have long been associated with the Workshop and by a new generation of scholars.

    Each article or book chapter is reprinted without changes, except for a few minor corrections to the published versions. To avoid duplication of material and improve the flow of this presentation, textual deletions have been made in a few of the selections. In a few instances, short introductions specifically addressed to a single article have been added to draw out the connections among what may appear to be widely divergent material. Reference and footnote conventions used in the original sources are left intact, although footnotes were changed into endnotes.

    Selection of an appropriate set of readings was a daunting task, for the list of publications is long and diverse. I enjoyed digging through the extensive files of reprints, and I wish we could have included many more readings. However, that would have defeated the purpose of compiling accessible surveys of selected Workshop research programs. I tried to minimize overlap with the most influential and widely available books that have emerged from these research programs. Each edited volume includes an integrative introductory essay, in which frequent references are made to the many other books and journals in which the results of these diverse research projects are reported. Each book also includes an annotated list of suggested readings.

    One final caveat is in order. Vincent Ostrom and Elinor Ostrom are authors or co-authors of a high proportion of the readings included in all three books. Without doubt, these two individuals have been absolutely crucial to the success of the Workshop. Both have served jointly as Co-Directors since its establishment in 1973. Even so, they would be the first to insist that they have not been the only reason for its success. Collaboration has always been a hallmark of the Workshop. Many individuals have made essential contributions, as will be apparent throughout the readings included in these books. Yet, it is impossible to imagine how the Workshop could have been established or sustained without the tireless efforts of Elinor and Vincent Ostrom. Their influence will continue to shape the future direction of the Workshop for years to come.

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    Last updated:  March 11, 2004