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School of Public Affairs

Nobel Prize-winner nurtures research culture


Elinor Ostrom, who won the Nobel Prize in economics last year for her work on economic governance and the commons, participated in the Institutional Analysis and Development Symposium on the Auraria campus Friday and Saturday.

Ostrom said the demands on her time have been enormous since the Nobel Prize was announced last October, but participating in symposia with other scholars remains a top priority.

“I consider this a very important thing,” she said of the IAD symposium. “It’s taking ideas that I’ve been part of and seeing my colleagues really moving ahead on them. Things haven’t stopped. We’re able to get a lot more going and I’m very pleased about that.”

Ostrom delivered her paper, “Institutional Analysis and Development Framework: Historical and Contemporary Developments,” on Friday afternoon and participated in discussions on a variety of IAD research presentation on Saturday.

In Friday’s presentation, she explained the more than 15 years of work that led to her becoming the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in economics.

While conventional theory suggests that collective behavior is most often changed by regulation through public policy, Ostrom’s research demonstrated a variety of situations in which groups of people cooperated at high levels on their own to conserve resources such as water supplies and fisheries for the common good.

The level of cooperation was highly dependent on communication and trust among the participants. Joint benefits also were important to the success of cooperative ventures. If individuals in the community were anonymous or had inadequate lines of communication, she said the prospects for successful self-governance were slim.

Frustration with the pace of action by public institutions also has contributed to the growth of interest in cooperative ventures, Ostrom explained. “A lot more people recognize that if we sit and wait for them, we will be waiting forever. If we get more people to realize that ‘Yes we can,’ we get a lot more accomplished. That’s one of the phrases I want to get out there.”

That’s not to say that every attempt will succeed. “You can’t have trial and error without error,” she said.

Other participants in the symposium included Paul Dragos Aligica, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center; Xavier Basurto, assistant professor of sustainability science, marine science and conservation at Duke University; William Blomquist, dean of the School of Liberal Arts at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis; Brenda Bushouse, associate professor of political science and public policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst; Mark Davis, a Ph.D. candidate at the School of Public Affairs; Tanya Heikkila, associate professor at the School of Public Affairs; Edella Schlager, associate professor at the School of Government and Public Policy at the University of Arizona; Michael D. McGinnis, director of graduate studies in the Department of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington; Roger Parks, professor emeritus at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University; Ron Oakerson, a member of the faculty at the College at Houghton; Anu Ramaswami, director of the IGERT Program on Sustainable Urban Infrastructure at UCD; Saba Siddiki, an IGERT Ph.D. fellow at UCD; and Christopher Weible, assistant professor at the School of Public Affairs.

The symposium was sponsored by the School of Public Affairs, IGERT and the Policy Studies Journal. | Physical Address: 1380 Lawrence St., Ste. 500  Denver, CO  80204 | Mailing Address: University of Colorado Denver, SPA, Campus Box 142, P.O. Box 173364, Denver, CO 80217-3364 | ph: 303.315.2228 | fax: 303.315.2229 | SPA Website Feedback

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