Think Big, Act Small

  • 29th Jul 2022

Elinor Ostrom’s Radical Vision for Community Power

Elinor Ostrom humanised the study of economics and politics. She discovered what is possible, and the problems that can be solved, when we trust each other. Her work inspires optimism, but she was also a realist, basing her findings on decades of tireless work in the real world. 

This quietly revolutionary research led her to become the first woman to win a Nobel prize in economics. She demonstrated that people’s motivation and ability to cooperate, participate, and sustainably control their own resources are far greater than is usually assumed.

Ostrom’s work offers grounds for ambitiously re-imagining the relationship between people and institutions. It should inform and inspire policy debate about community power, devolution, public service reform, and organisational transformation.

This report draws out Ostrom’s insights for the UK in the context of a growing crisis in the relationship between people and institutions. It adapts and contextualises her work into a new set of practical lessons for ‘self-governance’ – where communities take control over the things that matter to them – and connects these with contemporary examples of community-powered projects in the UK.

It offers a new analysis of Ostrom’s key insights: that a different model, “beyond markets and states”, is possible in communities with high levels of autonomy and internal trust. Recognition of these insights could lead to more diverse and creative solutions to our problems.


About the authors:

Dr Simon Kay
Senior Policy Researcher
New Local

New Local (formerly the New Local Government Network) is an independent think tank and network with a mission to transform public services and unlock community power.