More on Institutional Developments from the Great Barrier Reef

A month ago I wrote about research findings on institutional analysis in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.  At the time I noted two interesting developments – one on the efficacy of polycentricity and conflictual findings from the GBR Marine Park.  Basically, the park has a monocentric structure but efficiently uses zoning to achieve some desirable outcomes.  The second interesting research finding is about property rights.  I’ll try to keep this short and to the point for non-academic readers so your eyes don’t glass over immediately.

In essence, most institutional analysts are familiar with the Schlager and Ostrom work on property rights (Schlager, Edella, and Elinor Ostrom. “Property-rights regimes and natural resources: a conceptual analysis.” Land economics (1992): 249-262.).  In this piece, they lay out a conceptual map for bundling of various types of property rights with a goal of showing that ownership is more than a simple binary division.  Their revised table (from a 1996 book chapter) looks like this:


As one moves from the position of entrant to user and eventually to full owner, we see the associated bundles of property rights increasing.  This greatly clarified the issue of property rights as complex bundles of goods.  It expanded our thinking from that of a binary (ownership or not) to a deeper understanding that the concept of ownership comes with nuance.

However, in our current work, we see examples in which such a step-wise progression still oversimplifies the process.  Through the use of fishing rights (individual transferable quotas or ITQs), for instance, we see owners with the rights of access, withdrawal, and alienation (selling of rights) without the rights of management or exclusion.  Likewise we see others – managers – with management and access rights without the rights of withdrawal or alienation.

It’s time to start reexamining the bundles of property rights and look at the innovative ways in which bundles can be packaged and the ramifications of various packages.  This has implications for both scholarship and for practice as we think about new ways to govern.  As expected, the complexity continues to grow.  Very interesting topic for future research.

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