Journal links Ostrom research to study of nonprofits and voluntary action

A special August 2016 issue of the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly celebrates the legacy of the late Indiana University scholar Elinor Ostrom and applies her insights and theories to new research in the area of nonprofit organizations and voluntary action.

Edited by three researchers who studied with Ostrom while earning Ph.D. degrees at IU Bloomington, the journal features theoretical articles as well as studies on such varied topics as neighborhood dog parks, voluntary support of U.S. national parks and Brazilian microfinance programs.

Elinor Ostrom

Elinor Ostrom

The issue brings together the body of scholarship produced by Elinor Ostrom and her collaborator and husband, Vincent Ostrom, with the academic study of nonprofit and voluntary action, known as NVA. Both areas of research, the editors say, are concerned with similar problems: How institutions are governed and how people organize for collective action.

“The Ostroms were really effective at creating a toolbox of methods and theories that they were able to test in interesting settings,” said Brent Never, associate professor of nonprofit leadership at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and one of the editors. “We felt strongly that the toolbox had a lot of value for scholars in our area, and that it had been underused.”

Other editors of the issue are Brenda K. Bushouse, an associate professor of political science and public policy at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and Robert K. Christensen, associate professor of management at Brigham Young University.

Among the authors of the articles are IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs faculty members Beth Gazley of IU Bloomington, and Douglas Noonan, Saba Siddiki and Suzann Lupton of IUPUI, as well as researchers at other institutions who earned doctorates at IU.

Elinor Ostrom, a distinguished professor of political science at IU Bloomington, received the 2009 Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, commonly known as the Nobel Prize in Economics, for her analysis of economic governance, especially of the commons. She is the only woman who has received the award.

She and Vincent Ostrom established the Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at IU Bloomington in 1973. Both died in June 2012.

Bushouse, Christensen and Never began discussing a special issue soon after the Ostroms died. They arranged for publication in the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, a premier journal in the social sciences, put out a call for papers and received many high-quality responses. Each paper was read by three reviewers, including one familiar with the Ostroms’ work and one grounded in nonprofit and voluntary action studies.

In an introductory article, the editors describe the range of research in the issue and provide a primer on terms and tools developed and used by scholars at the Ostrom Workshop. They write that the integration of Ostrom Workshop and nonprofit and voluntary action research centers on three questions: What conditions lend themselves to collective action? How does ‘the nature of a good’ impact governance? And how do rules and norms incentivize voluntary action?

“Our hope for the special issue is that this is going to direct future research – that this is just a starting point,” Bushouse said.

The editors also note that Ostrom Workshop research and scholarship on nonprofit organizations and voluntary action have something else in common: Both are highly interdisciplinary, bringing together expertise from social and natural sciences and the humanities.

“This is an effort to synthesize and integrate work from different disciplines that wouldn’t normally have a lot of interaction,” Christensen said. “I think Lin and Vincent would be proud.”

Financial support for the issue comes from the Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis and the School of Public and Environmental  Affairs at IU and the Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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