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The Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis


Working Groups

Applied Community Commons

CoordinatorsCarrie Lawrence and Ryan Conway

The Applied Community Commons working group is intended to provide a forum for research and discussion of community-based and applied research methods, designed to engage communities and catalyze social change for the creation and preservation of commons. We invite academics, practitioners, commons enthusiasts, and local community members to come together to discuss both implications and applications of the cutting-edge scholarship developed by the Ostrom Workshop and by commons scholars around the world. By inviting a diverse audience to explore a diversity of commons concepts, we seek to cultivate synergies in the interface between commons research and commons practice, bringing citizen science to policy science and Workshop wisdom to commons sense. To these ends, we will be hosting regular Friday meetings—from 11:30 a.m.–1:00 p.m. in the Ostrom Room—which will include guest speakers, panels, round-table discussions, and research workshopping. We will also host events on campus and in town, including Community Commons Potlucks. For more information, please visit our website or email us at

Electric Energy

Coordinators: Elizabeth Baldwin and Keith Taylor

The Electric Energy Working Group is dedicated to understanding the governance systems at play within the US electric grid system. Recent attempts at electricity deregulation, and re-regulation, as well as various collective action and ecological dilemmas at a number of levels—the end consumer, the distribution network, the transmission lines, and the energy generators—make the electric grid a highly complex socio-technological construct. Limited understanding of the grid further separates the potential for public engagement on issues related to aging infrastructure, energy rates, and environmental externalities.

Health Commons

Coordinators: Mike McGinnis and Joan Pong Linton

The entire array of physical, financial, human, and social resources related to public health and medical care can be understood as a “health commons.” Regions in the United States vary dramatically in the cost, utilization, quality, and outcomes of health care, and this working group was inspired by the question of whether this regional variation is related to how well community or regional health care systems have been managed in the past. This working group began in 2010 with a grant from the Fannie E. Rippel Foundation for a research project led by Mike McGinnis. Members of this research team interviewed approximately 50 health care and other community leaders in each of three communities to assess the extent to which they act as effective stewards of local health-related resources. These assessments were initially based on the list of design principles that Lin Ostrom identified in her research on community-based management of natural resources, but we found that this list needed some revisions when applied to health and health care. Basically, every community can showcase diverse examples of successful collective action focused on specific issues of quality improvement or health promotion, but few communities have found a way to sustain and coordinate these programs.

In hopes of building momentum toward significant improvements in Bloomington and surrounding counties, Joan Pong Linton followed up on a community recommendation that came out of this research project by organizing a conference to facilitate campus-community partnerships. This conference is focused on development of a new web-based Health Connections Commons, with the function of helping participants make on-the-ground connections for collective action on issues of health and wellness.

Members of this working group have developed new courses, written papers and made presentations, and remain engaged in efforts to develop collaborative relationships with other interested scholars and practitioners. Thus far, this working group has focused on issues facing the U.S. health care system through the lenses of local communities, but we are definitely interested in expanding our horizons to explore how this commons perspective may (or may not) prove relevant for the very difficult issues facing developing countries and emerging economies. Anyone interested in exploring any of these topics is encouraged to contact either of the coordinators.

Institutions, Behavior, and Policy Outcomes

Coordinators: Salvador Espinosa (San Diego State University) and Saba Siddiki (IUPUI)

This group is interested in the effect of alternative institutional arrangements on behavior, and its possible impact on policy outcomes. Our goal is to uncover important theoretical relationships between these intertwined factors. We use the IAD’s approach to institutional analysis as a foundation, but we draw leverage from other theoretical and methodological approaches, such as behavioral law and economics, behavioral finance, experimental economics, sociology, among others. The group will discuss readings, share ideas, and explore topics for joint collaboration. The members of the group will interact online, using tools like Twitter, Dropbox, Google Docs, and videoconferencing.

Power in Institutions and Institutional Analysis

Coordinators: Prakash Kashwan, Gustavo Garcia Lopez, Eric Coleman, & Insa Theesfeld

Institutional analysis has contributed path-breaking insights to our understanding of the conditions that enable groups of individuals to overcome social dilemmas. The institutional theories developed at the Workshop have been critiqued at times for not being attentive enough to the issues of power. While power is not completely absent in the Workshop’s institutional theories or analytic approaches, the key question is about the conceptualization of power. Arguably, the analytic assumption of the Workshop’s approach, which is shared by many of the new institutionalists, is that power is equated to the bargaining power between individuals. What we have to think about, then, is what the focus on bargaining power reveals and what it obscures. What don’t we see as a result of the way that power is conceptualized and incorporated more implicitly, rather than explicitly?

Participants in this working group turn to theories of power to think about how we might explicitly conceptualize power in the institutional theories and methods developed at the Workshop. Specifically, we aim to develop our understanding of power in two related areas: theoretically grounded conceptualizations of power and its relation to institutions, and operationalization and measurement of power in collective-action situations.

Regarding the conceptual dimension, some of the main questions this group seeks to address are: How do power asymmetries affect the deliberation, design, and enforcement of institutions across different contexts? For instance, how might incorporation of power help us sharpen our understanding of the complexities surrounding the concepts that are at the very foundation of institutional analysis, e.g., choice and choice sets, incentives, reciprocity, trust, monitoring and enforcement, and compliance? How do the effects of ‘power over’ and ‘power to’ interact, and what factors, such as polycentric institutions and social movements, influence the predominance of one versus the other in a particular collective action situation? What do we learn by conceptualizing ‘power’ as a ‘resource’ individuals and groups of individuals might leverage to pursue varied goals? On the other hand, we think it is important to conceive of ways in which constructive power can be deployed to overcome the undesirable aspects of power. Might ‘trust’ and ‘social capital’ work as the forces that lead to undermining of power relations and progressive realization of relatively egalitarian outcomes? Regarding operationalization, some of the main questions are: In what ways can we formally classify and observe different dimensions of power? And how might field research and analytical approaches be bolstered to account for the effects of power in realms as diverse as collective action and coercive regulation? Are different concepts derived from fundamentally different sets of epistemological and ontological perspectives, and hence, essentially incommensurable?

These questions, we believe, are important not only for our theories of institutional origins and change but also for understanding and addressing real world problems around the world. This working group is intended to facilitate collaborative research and scholarship among a network of scholars interested in the questions at the intersection of institutions and power.

Property, Sovereignty, and Jurisdiction

Coordinator: Daniel Cole

The Working Group on Property, Sovereignty, and Jurisdiction studies those three concepts as intertwined aspects of control, in the sense of decision-making authority, including informal, formal, official, and unofficial authority, over both people and resources. The Workshop has a long history studying property systems, but not in the context of systems of sovereignty and jurisdiction. Whether the source of property, sovereignty, and/or jurisdiction lies in legal/constitutional, religious, or other texts, the determination of who has property (and who does not), who is sovereign (and who is not), and who has jurisdiction (and who does not) profoundly influences political power relations within society. Areas of applied interest include, but are not limited to: (1) property as sovereignty (and vice versa); (2) property as jurisdiction (and vice versa); (3) sovereignty as jurisdiction (and vice versa); (4) explicit or implicit combinations of property, sovereignty, and jurisdiction in historical (e.g., feudal) societies; and (5) relations property and sovereignty in contemporary religious communities (e.g., Muslim societies).