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Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database: Theory

Commons boundaries and collective action

Variable relationship:

Ostrom (1990) and others (Giordano 2003) suggest that when commons are contained within a clearly defined area (Commons Boundaries), this increases the likelihood that groups will self-organize (Collective Action) to successfully manage a resource (Commons Condition Trend).

The presence of boundaries can facilitate successful collective action for a number of reasons.  First clear boundaries help users to collect better information about resource conditions, facilitate monitoring and exclusion, and internalize the costs and benefits of management.

Scientific Field
Component Type(s)


VariableRoleRole ExplanationValue
Commons boundariesProximate independent variableClearly understood physical boundaries around the resource generate incentives to support collective actionClear boundaries
Collective actionIntermediate outcomeClear boundaries generate incentives to support high levels of collective action. High
Commons condition trendFinal outcomeHigh levels of collective action increase the likelihood that groups successfully manage a resource.Remined the same or Improved

Related Theories

TheoryRelationshipCharacterizing Variables
CBNRM design principlesnested
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).


Giordano, Mark. 2003. "The Geography of the Commons: The Role of Scale and Space." Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 93(2), 365-75.