• Non-ICIMOD Publication

Understanding collective action

  • Ostrom, E.

Collective action occurs when more than one individual is required to contribute to an effort in order to achieve an outcome.&nbsp; People living in rural areas and using natural resources engage in collective action on a daily basis when they:&nbsp; <ul class='square_dot_ul'> <li>plant or harvest food together;</li> <li>use a common facility for marketing their products;</li> <li>maintain a local irrigation system or patrol a local forest to see that users are following rules; and</li> <li>meet to decide on rules related to all of the above.</li> </ul> Frequently, however, it becomes difficult to exclude nonparticipants from benefiting from the collective action of others. This situation creates a collective action problem for the participants.&nbsp; When individuals seek out short-term benefits for themselves alone, they are better off when others contribute to the collective action and they do not. In this case, they benefit without paying the costs.&nbsp; Of course, if all individuals pursue short-term, self-centered benefits, no collective benefits are achieved.

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    International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) 2020 Focus 11, Brief 2 of 16, February 2004: http://www.ifpri.org/2020/focus/focus11/focus11_02.pdf