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Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database: Theory

Proportionality and collective-action

Variable relationship:

Ostrom (1990) highlights the importance of proportionality between costs and benefits (Proportionality), and associates it with collective-action (Collective Action) and commons maintenance (Commons Condition Trend). In addition, proportionality is related to a model of human behavior that underlies much of the literature on the commons (e.g. see Ostrom 2005). This model argues that commons users will continue to cooperate so long as the costs do not outweight the benefits. A proportionality of costs and benefits ensures that, in accordance with the rise in costs associated with cooperation, benefits are also increased. Several other theories are seen as a way to ensure this proportionality and the cooperation needed in ever case to ensure that a commons is sustained.


Scientific Field
Component Type(s)


VariableRoleRole ExplanationValue
Proportionality (of costs and benefits)Proximate independent variableProportionality between the relative distribution of costs and benefits increases the likelihood that actors will invest in managing a resource. Yes
Collective actionIntermediate outcomeProportional costs and benefits help to ensure that users are incentivized to cooperate with each other over time to sustain a commons.High
Commons condition trendFinal outcomeHigh levels of collective-action help to sustain the commons that is being managed.Remained the same or improved.

Related Theories

TheoryRelationshipCharacterizing Variables
CBNRM design principlesnested
Crowding out from external supportnested
Collective action and the commonscontains

Related Studies


Ostrom, Elinor. 1990. Governing the Commons. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Cox, Michael, Gwen Arnold, and Sergio Villamayor-Tomas. 2010. “A Review of Design Principles for Community-Based Natural Resource Management.” Ecology and Society 15 (4).