Design Principles for Global Commons

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* Article: Stern, P. (2011). Design principles for global commons: natural resources and emerging technologies. Int. J. Commons 5, 213–232. doi: 10.18352/ijc.305



David Rozas et al.:

"Ostrom (1990) studied commons-based communitarian practices and identified eight design principles2 that contributed to the sustainable management of commons. These principles include diverse considerations such as the need to define boundaries in the community, having participatory and inclusive decision-making, or appropriate conflict resolution mechanisms. These principles remain a source of inspiration for the new global challenges. However, under the global scale of the resources and the communities which manage them, these principles require further re-consideration. Stern (2011) analyzed the degree to which Ostrom’s design principles were transferable to the management of global commons. The conclusion was that, although they have considerable external validity, Ostrom’s classic principles required adaptation when applied to global commons (Stern, 2011, 229). This conclusion is in line with the evaluation of the applicability of these principles to global commons undertaken by Ostrom herself (Ostrom et al., 1999, 281–282). Ostrom identified a set of challenges for global commons regarding governance, that include difficulties to scale up participation and define collective choices, challenges due to the cultural diversity, complications because of increasing rates of interdependency and change, and the fact that global commons depend on a single planet, from which there is no place to move." (


Local Versus Global Commons

David Rozas et al. :

"For our analysis, we draw on Stern’s (2011) identification of limitations of Ostrom’s principles, which has been widely employed in the commons literature (e.g., Nayak and Berkes, 2012; Cox, 2014; Allen and Potts, 2016; Potts, 2019). In his analysis of the limitations of Ostrom’s principles, Stern identifies a set of distinctive characteristics of the commons studied by Ostrom from which her principles were derived (Stern, 2011, 215). Developing from these characteristics, he identifies (Stern, 2011, 216–218) a series of differences between local and global commons that are relevant regarding governance. Stern’s work, however, is focused on rival and global commons, such as global fossil supplies. Thus, in order to analyze the potentialities of blockchain for the governance of CBPP communities managing global digital commons, we need firstly to revisit these characteristics for the narrower scope of global digital commons.

According to Stern (2011, 215), the main characteristics of the commons studied by Ostrom, from which she derived her principles, are:

1. The commons studied by Ostrom are bounded at local to regional scale, in contrast to global commons. Thus, for the cases we are going to analyze, Stern’s differences and limitations are aligned with those from our analysis.

2. The number of participants in Ostrom’s case studies are in the tens to a few thousands, while in the global commons discussed by Stern, he assumes millions or even billions of actors involved. For our analysis, we consider large cases of CBPP communities, such as Wikipedia and large FLOSS projects such as Apache, Firefox and Drupal, that have from few millions to hundreds of thousands of participants (Fuster-Morell et al., 2016). Thus, we consider large CBPP communities, and incorporate Stern’s limitations partially.

3. The third of the differences concerns the degradation of the commons, typical of rival commons. Digital commons, such as FLOSS or digital encyclopedias, are non-rival and, furthermore, sometimes anti-rival (Weber, 2004). Therefore, we do not include the limitations associated with this property in our analysis.

4. In the type of commons analyzed by Ostrom, the participants share common interests with respect to the management of the resource; while in the global commons discussed by Stern, their collective interests tend to diverge significantly. Tensions, regarding different interests, appropriation and co-optation by internal and external actors, are also a common problem in large CBPP communities (e.g., De Filippi and Vieira, 2014; Birkinbine, 2015; Sandoval, 2019). Therefore, we incorporate Stern’s identified limitations regarding this characteristic in our analysis.

5. The participants in the management of commons studied by Ostrom share a common cultural and institutional context; while in the global commons discussed by Stern they come from “all cultures, all countries, all political-economic systems, all political ideologies, and so forth” (Stern, 2011, 217). While large CBPP communities managing global digital commons develop a common cultural context (Fuster-Morell, 2014), the challenges regarding cultural diversity, also identified by Ostrom et al.(1999, 281–282) for global commons, are similarly present in large CBPP communities. Therefore, we incorporate this characteristic and its derived limitations in our analysis.

6. Learning from experience is a possible strategy in the local commons studied by Ostrom, while it is unfeasible for the type of global commons analyzed by Stern. We discard this limitation placed by Stern, since the literature shows how large CBPP communities managing global digital commons develop mechanisms and structures to facilitate the learning and extension of communitarian practices." (

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