IASC Conference 2008


Governing shared resources:
connecting local experience to global challenges

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Photo by Ken Taylor: Keld in upper Swaledale, North Yorkshire

Conference Themes

Organisation of the conference

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horses on common 

The emphasis of the conference is the exchange of knowledge on shared resources or ‘commons’: between the developing and developed world, between practitioners and researchers, and between old and ‘new’ commons.  The overarching theme of governing shared resources aims to encourage discussion on new ways of using, managing, protecting and creating what many understand as ‘commons’.  The themes recognise the wide variety of understanding over the term ‘commons’ and the need to link practical experience at the local level with larger global commons issues. 


In many parts of the world shared resources or commons remain under threat as a result of global economic forces, regional and national political developments, and inadequate legal recognition of common property rights.  At the same time the global implications of poor resource management are increasingly recognised in terms of loss of biodiversity, destruction of valued resource systems both natural (fisheries, forests) and man-made (irrigation systems), and global warming impacts.  Some of the world’s environmental systems are becoming recognised as ‘global commons’ that should be explored from a common-pool resource perspective.  It is here that local experience may hold lessons or provide insights into problems of dealing with global issues such as climate change and biodiversity loss.  How should we manage shared resources at the local, regional, national and global scales?  What forms of governance are required and acceptable?  These are the questions that the conference seeks to address. 


In Europe some of the old traditional common pool resources are now being recognised for their high ecological value and the role they play in developing social and economic capital for local communities.  Local communities, resource managers, and governments are starting to realise the multiple benefits that arise from communal approaches to the management of shared resources.  In particular they may offer more effective pathways to achieving what is increasingly being called multi-functionality and there is renewed interest in preserving or continuing traditional management approaches. 


The long history of commons management in some parts of Europe may hold lessons for problems occurring in other parts of the world and may inform the institutional and policy development of ‘new’ commons such as the global commons, knowledge commons and urban commons.  On the other hand, the diversity of methods used in the developing world and innovative approaches to solving problems may benefit developed world countries facing new situations arising from changing agricultural policy, climate change, and the move towards sustainability. 


We intend the conference to focus on the exchange of ideas between developing and developed world, between practitioners and researchers, and between old and new conceptions of commons.  Policy improvements will only result through discussion and testing of new theories, approaches and new knowledge.  The conference will provide a range of opportunities for those with the ‘hands-on’ experience of resource management to engage with researchers trying to understand, synthesize and develop new theories about the collective management of shared resources.  We hope to explore these issues through a series of six themes that will link the different elements of the conference together.



Conference themes

1. Understanding the benefits of commons

2. Property rights: recognition, protection and creation

3. Community and governance: exploring new approaches

4. Analysing the multi-functional nature of complex commons

5.  Evolution and enclosure of commons

6.  Social movements, networks and collective action


1.      Understanding the benefits of commons

Poor understanding of the ecological, social and economic benefits of commons affects the management of shared resources and commons everywhere, resulting in a failure to use rights, in creation of less-efficient or unsustainable management regimes, and ultimately in loss of the commons itself.   There is a need to gain a greater understanding of the ‘efficiency’ of common pool resource management regimes in environmental, social, and political terms as well as the purely economic.  This theme would explore, for example, alternative ways to measure the benefits of environmental services (such as clean air and water, or provision of open space), provided on a national as well as a global scale.  

Illustrative questions to consider:

·        What is the potential for measuring the social and economic benefits from managing property as commons?

·        To what extent are frameworks such as the Ecosystem Approach able to provide a holistic link between the various services provided by commons resources?

·        In what ways might different notions of community welfare, alternative measures of environmental values, and ideas of social and human capital influence common pool resources?

·        What impact are, supply chains, aid and trade policies, having on commons management in different parts of the world?



2. Property rights: recognition, protection and creation

New commons require the creation and recognition of new forms of property right.  In long-enduring commons, property rights need to be recognised and protected to avoid loss through lack of use or through forced removal.  Different legal systems give varying amounts of protection to property rights yet this is often fundamental to the continuation, and to the development of, common property management regimes.  Many areas of both developed and developing world have experienced land tenure reform, which can fundamentally alter the distribution and value of commons rights and the theme will provide space for exploration of this issue. 


A crucial part of this theme will be development of knowledge that can be transferred from one part of the world to another.  Historical lessons can be learned from common property functions and institutions in European countries which exhibit a range of long duration commons that have survived enormous cultural, social and economic changes.  In the developing world some commons management regimes are surviving and adapting to massive changes in social, economic and political conditions.  There is scope for improved understanding of commons management from the transfer of knowledge and understanding.

Illustrative questions to consider:

·        What lessons can be learned from existing commons resource management regimes

·        Is institutional change necessary?  How can it be achieved?

·        What policy inputs are required to create and/or protect property rights?

·        What type of rights are important?  How is ‘ownership’ established?

·        Should rights be related to historical or current use?

·        What is the scope for creating and using regional networks of understanding and exchange of knowledge? 

·        How are issues of equity handled?

·        What lessons can be drawn from ‘old’ commons for application to ‘new’ common pool resources, and is there scope to transfer knowledge about institutional change between commons? 



3.      Community and governance: exploring new approaches

Many existing commons management regimes have had to adapt in order to survive.  The respective roles for the state, for local and regional authorities, for communities and existing resource managers under different social, political and economic conditions need to be explored.  This applies to the developed world where changing agricultural conditions and increased leisure time require multi-functional uses from limited resources, and new forms of common property require new institutional frameworks.  In the developing world it applies where traditional rights are under threat from global and national economic changes.  This theme will explore local management arrangements on an individual basis as well as how they can be sustained through larger regional networks that can represent a broad range of interests to national governments and international organisations.

Illustrative questions to consider:

·        What benefits are provided by community based management approaches? 

·        To what extent do they offer scope for local input and tailoring of management to meet local objectives?

·        What are the policy implications of changing the governance structures of commons?

·        Is there renewed interest in increasing the input from local communities to manage ‘their’ resources? 

·        What lessons can community management of commons provide for the developed world? 

·        How do communities assert and retain influence in the face of large powerful organisations, and global forces?

·        How do people share resources in order to preserve or sustain them?

·        How do economic development policies at different scales (local to global) influence the governance and management of commons resources?




4. Analysing the multi-functional nature of complex commons

Commons in some more densely populated countries are coming under increasing pressure to provide a broader range services, for example, ecological diversity, recreational space, heritage protection, as well as the traditional agricultural function.  In some cases the range of demands increases conflict over the resource putting pressure on traditional management structures.  Similar issues are apparent in the recognition of global commons where scale provides an added layer of complexity.  Institutional flexibility is required to enable effective management and maintenance of the resource base. 


This theme will explore examples of multi-functional resource management, the problems created by competing demands, and strategies for change and adaptation.  Moreover the theme will investigate ways of working with commons that operate under multiple and simultaneous types of property claims.  This may cover everything from urban gardens and community-based parks to the rural commons of landscape character, and from countryside management in Europe to production and conservation in landscapes of patchwork properties from S.E. Asia and the Americas.  It will also include more global commons such as the atmosphere and biodiversity, as well as the Internet.

Illustrative questions to consider:

·        How might the traditional functions of commons change in the light of global environmental problems?

·        To what extent do carbon sequestration and ecological protection, for example, offer resource management possibilities that might benefit traditional commons management regimes?

·        To what extent can new developments in Game Theory offer insights for management of multi-functional and complex commons?

·        Are there limits to the size and ‘multi-functionality’ of a commons resource?

·        What type of institutional and policy changes might be required for managing multi-functional commons at different scales: local, regional and international?

·        How will traditional participatory commons management approaches need to be altered to deal with the increasing complexity of the problems confronting local and global communities?



5.  Evolution and enclosure of commons

An increasing number of resources are becoming recognised as new types of commons as a result of technological change, new legislation, and improved scientific understanding.  There are new groups arising, new institutions and new conceptualisations of ‘common’ resources.  These include tourism, landscapes, medical resources, scientific information, electronic resources, nanotechnologies, streets, playgrounds, and a myriad number of other types of shared resources.  


Enclosure continues to be a threat to all commons.  As soon as ‘new’ common pool resources appear with any value, they come under threat from forces seeking to capture those benefits for private gain.  New technology for example, allows for the ‘capture’ of previously ‘un-capturable’ resources with no rules about rights or management.  ‘Enclosure’ of commons based on incomplete understanding of the values and effectiveness of managing shared resources continues to be a major threat not just for new commons but also for many existing natural resource based commons such as fisheries, and terrestrial commons such as forestry in many developing countries. 

Illustrative questions to consider:

·        What lessons can be learned about the processes of commons recognition and the processes of enclosing communal resources? 

·        Where are commons likely to occur in the future? 

·        To what extent can we predict the formation of a new common pool resource, and what institutional arrangements might we be able to implement to prevent enclosure and improve chances of survival?

·        What lessons have we learnt from the historical enclosures that are important in the context of new areas of ‘enclosure’?

·        Alternatively, is there a new drive for privatization and what ‘resources’ are at risk from the new ‘enclosures’? 

·        Are governments beginning to recognize some rights while restricting or privatising others? 

·        What are the policy implications for recognition of new commons?

·        When does a shared resource or a ‘public good’ become a ‘commons’?



6.  Social movements, networks and collective action

There is concern throughout the world about the how different forms of social movement, and the creation of new networks of interests are changing - and the impact this has on both ‘old’ and ‘new’ commons.  The theme will explore this issue beyond a traditional property-rights focus into a wide range of areas including social change, ecological politics and environmental sociology.  Sessions will look to highlight the latest findings and approaches used in research on the social processes that affect the management of both traditional and new commons resources. 

Illustrative questions to consider:

·        What are the issues, threats and opportunities associated with local rights and how are groups mobilized?

·        What scope does technology offer with the capacity to develop virtual as well as real networks of interests?

·        What kind of pressures does migration of people create and how is this affecting governance of commons?

·        When does ‘collective action’ become commons management?


Organisation of the conference

delegates in lecture theatre 

We will use the themes as a means of identifying and threading together key issues facing common pool resources throughout the world.  This will allow for cross-sectoral reflection on the content of the meeting and enable discussion and analysis that will push back the boundaries of knowledge and understanding on commons issues. 


There will be multiple forms of participation as this global meeting will be more than just a talking shop.  We will use the opportunity to build human and social capital, and to raise awareness about sustainable management of resources held in common local communities, academic, and practitioner communities. 


In particular the conference will provide opportunities for young researchers to present their work and ideas, and for practitioners and researchers to exchange ideas, knowledge and experience. 


Cotswold common