Yes, the balancing is complex. But Ostrom stressed that the small local CPRs (commons) are ‘the base level’. Christopher Allen zoomed in on this and offered this treatment of the 8th principle:

8. CONNECT TO RELATED SYSTEMS: Any side effects or other repercussions by one community to another in managing their commons, should be addressed in the context of larger, nested communities that have a legitimate role in those consequences. These externalities should be resolved by the community at the most immediate or local level (aka subsidiarity) that can operate from effective human relationships, rather than by a faceless authority.

ALT 8. COORDINATE WITH RELATED SYSTEMS: For groups that are part of larger social systems, there must be appropriate coordination among relevant groups. Every sphere of activity has an optimal scale. Large scale governance requires finding the optimal scale for each sphere of activity and appropriately coordinating the activities, a concept called polycentric governance. A related concept is subsidiarity, which assigns governance tasks by default to the lowest jurisdiction, unless this is explicitly determined to be ineffective.

I recommend that anyone interested in these topics read Allen’s piece, which generalizes Ostrom’s work beyond the discussion of physical ‘public goods’ — like air, water, and land — to include social constructs like communities, markets, and up to geopolitical regions like states:

I also wanted to generalize her principles for broader use given my broader definition of the commons, and apply them to everything from how to manage an online community to how a business should function with competitors.

Work ecologist. Founder, Work Futures. The ecology of work and the anthropology of the future.

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