The “Best” Form of Governance

A very large number of policymakers and policy articles talk about ‘the best’ way of doing something. For many purposes, if the market was not the best way people used to think that it meant that the government was the best way. We need to get away from thinking about very broad terms that do not give us the specific detail that is needed to really know what we are talking about.

We need to recognise that the governance systems that actually have worked in practice fit the diversity of ecological conditions that exist in a fishery, irrigation system or pasture, as well as the social systems. There is a huge diversity out there, and the range of governance systems that work reflects that diversity. We have found that government, private and community-based mechanisms all work in some settings. People want to make me argue that community systems of governance are always the best: I will not walk into that trap.

There are certainly very important situations where people can self-organise to manage environmental resources, but we cannot simply say that the community is, or is not, the best; that the government is, or is not, the best; or that the market is, or is not, the best. It all depends on the nature of the problem that we are trying to solve.

Elinor Ostrom from The future of the commons: beyond market failure and government regulation