Knowledge and Questions After 15 Years of Research

Paul C. Stern, Thomas Dietz, Nives Dolšak, Elinor Ostrom, and Susan Stonich

The study of institutions for managing common-pool resources has matured considerably since 1985. This chapter assesses the progress of the field as a scientific enterprise, characterizes what has been learned over the past decade and a half, and identifies a set of key research directions for the next decade of research. We find that the field is making marked progress along a trajectory of development that is common to many maturing areas in the social sciences. Some of the advances have practical value for natural resource managers, though knowledge has not progressed to a point at which managers can be offered detailed guidance. And of course, practical guidance must be based on an understanding of both the scientific knowledge base and the local situation. In this chapter we summarize some key lessons from recent research, discuss seven major challenges of institutional design, identify important directions for future research, including key understudied issues, and note ways that the field can benefit from linkages to several related fields of social science research.


Research on institutional designs for common-pool resource management has followed a development path that is similar to many other fields of social science that investigate complex real-world phenomena and develop knowledge intended to be useful for managing those phenomena. These fields seek to understand phenomena that are multivariate, path-dependent (i.e., historically contin-

We are indebted to James Acheson, Kai Lee, Ronald Mitchell, and the chapter authors of this volume for insightful discussions and written comments on drafts of this chapter.

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