Lin's legacy: A Conversation with Michael Cox

Prosocial is founded in large part on the work of Elinor Ostrom, a political scientist by training who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2009. I met Lin (as she insisted everyone should call her) at a workshop in 2009, just a few months before she received the prize, and we worked together until her death in 2012. A partner in our collaboration was Michael Cox, who received his PhD with Lin and worked with her as a postdoctoral associate before accepting a faculty position in the Environmental Studies Program at Dartmouth College.

Michael is prominent among those extending Lin’s legacy and was the inaugural recipient of the Elinor Ostrom Award on Collective Governance of the Commons in 2016. He is the perfect person to discuss how Prosocial’s “Core Design Principles (CDP) Approach” is being applied elsewhere.

DSW: Greetings, Michael, and welcome to Prosocial Magazine. It’s a pleasure to interact with you again.

MC: Thank you David for setting this up. I am excited to talk about the “Core Design Principles” as you call them.

DSW: Always self-effacing, Lin insisted that they should NOT be called “The Ostrom Principles”. The announcement of your award on Dartmouth’s website says a little about how you became involved with Lin and what you are up to at Dartmouth. Let’s get right to a discussion of the Core Design Principles. Tell our readers how Lin derived them and how you and others had expanded upon her work at the time that I began working with you.

MC: It’s difficult to authoritatively describe how Lin derived the design principles, but I have impressions. More than anything I remember Lin talking about trying to “make sense” of the patterns she was seeing in a set of cases of community-based natural resource management. She was looking at cases of success and failure, although the design principles are most commonly seen as conditions for success, and that is how she introduced them. I do remember Lin telling me about going for walks as she struggled to find a pattern among the successful and unsuccessful cases. I suppose someone could criticize this effort for not being very reproducible, which is something we want in science. But maybe it is the case that many novel and importantly innovative efforts are not reproducible, and what is needed is an unpredictable stroke of intuition or intellectual creativity to make progress.

DSW: Did she eventually do a statistical analysis, based on numerical codings of the case studies, or was her analysis entirely descriptive?