The Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis was founded at Indiana University in 1973 by Nobel Prize–winning economist Elinor Ostrom and her husband, Vincent Ostrom. The Ostroms believed that ideas and theories must be considered through the lens of experience—that the critical connection is between ideas and what gets done

The term “workshop” represents the conviction that the skills for this type of research are best acquired and used in a setting where students, working as apprentices and journeymen, have the opportunity to collaborate with experienced scholars. From a simple tradition of voluntarily organized weekly colloquia with their colleagues across campus, they crafted an academic environment in which students, visiting scholars, and colleagues from diverse disciplines and countries interacted daily, studying issues of institutional analysis and collective action.

Over its 40-year history, Workshop scholars have produced pioneering research and taught generations of students about the ways in which governance processes at the local, national, and global level can be crafted to enhance human well-being, while promoting democratic principles and sustainable resource management. 

In their work, the Ostroms delved deeply into how governance arrangements affect the performance of urban police agencies, irrigation systems, and forest resources. Vincent Ostrom’s pioneering studies on metropolitan governance along with Elinor (Lin) Ostrom’s empirical work on polycentricity and local public economies focused on national problems. Later, Lin’s extended studies on common-pool resources added both global dimension and a focus on self-governance. In 2009, Lin Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences “for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons.” The Ostroms’ persistent search to better understand the diversity of formal and informal rules that shape human behavior was also driven by a keen interest to better understand policy implications with practical solutions to societal problems.

Today, the Ostrom Workshop is leveraging the intellectual legacy of its founders to continue addressing governance problems. By governance, we mean the formal and informal rules that shape human behavior. We believe that we will solve major societal problems only by taking a complex, interdisciplinary approach.