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what we are about

Glenn Robert, Oli Williams, and Bertil Lindenfalk have since 2019 explored the potential for using Elinor Ostrom's principles for collaborative group working to improve co-design endeavours taking place in relation to people's health. We believe that for various groups of actors to realise their full potential and create sustainable long-lasting solutions that benefit all actors, everyone needs to participate in an equitable way and understand how what they do impacts on the wider systems of which they are a part. We believe that Ostrom's eight principles can aid us in that endeavour - we just need to figure out how.

CGW in the context of health and social care

We are exploring the prospective use of Noble Prize winner Elinor Ostrom's eight design principles to enhance collaborative group workings for co-design endeavours within the context of health and social care.


We are currently experiencing an increased diversity among actors involved in improvement projects within health and social care, not least with the positive involvement of people with lived experience as active participants in the (re-)design process. 



The term 'tragedies of the commons' was coined to highlight what happens when one or more actors use publicly available resources purely for their own interest and how such actions negatively impacts the system as whole. We believe that the common resource we can draw on to improve health and social care is each of our own experience and expertise whether as service users, service providers and as citizens. We think that Ostrom’s principles can be a great tool not only to help communities and groups co-create and sustain systemic public value but also to avoid what we call the 'tragedies of co-design'.

In this work we are exploring if Ostrom's 8 design principles for collaborative group working can be used as a heuristic to guide our collaborative efforts. On this website we have collated all of our current knowledge about how you can use the principles to guide you in your own collaborative group working.

This work is partially funded by the Samskapa research programme on co-production led by Jönköping University. This is funded by Forte, the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare under grant agreement no. 2018– 01431. Oli Williams is supported by the Health Foundation's grant to the University of Cambridge for The Healthcare Improvement Studies Institute. The Healthcare Improvement Studies Institute is supported by the Health Foundation—an independent charity committed to bringing about better health and healthcare for people in the United Kingdom.

tragedies of co-design

The ‘tragedies of co-design’ is a concept that we came up with to describe what can happen when people using co-design fail to recognise, prepare for, and appropriately manage the very real possibility that a co-design project will have negative aspects and outcomes. Co-design can be a positive process with positive outcomes but all too often co-design projects fail to ‘plan in’ the potential for co-designing negative experiences and outcomes. This concept is in reference to Garrett Hardin’s (1968) ‘tragedies of the commons’ concept which describes how individual self-interest can lead to people and groups overusing resources (e.g., forests and fisheries) and this leading to societal dysfunction (e.g., mass deforestation and overfishing). With the ’tragedies of co-design’ we are not only describing the traditional ‘tragedies’ of overuse, for example inequitable contributions between collaborators leading to burnout and less effective collaboration, but unlike Hardin’s definition we are also describing underuse as the ultimate tragedy. For example, where a co-design project produces negative outcomes which then serve as a justification for more traditional (top-down and often ineffective) ways of working. Theorising co-design in this way further emphasises the potential utility of Ostrom’s design principles to enhance co-design efforts and foster more collaborative and inclusive approaches to service design and integration.

Elinor Ostrom's eight core design principles

In line with what Ostrom herself concluded, we propose that thinking about and applying Ostrom’s design principles as a heuristic to support planning, delivery, and evaluation could support the co-creation of systemic public value by groups including public contributors/service users and multiple service providers within and/or across systems.






















The 8 principles of Ostrom span across three different categories connected to the co-design; Exploring, Defining and Doing. We have started to adapt them based on feedback from the community and in their current form we describe them as the following:

  1. Explore the Boundaries of the System - The identity of the group and the boundaries of the shared resource are clearly delineated

  2. Proportional Equivalence Between Benefits and Costs - Members of the group must negotiate a system that rewards members for their contributions. High status or other disproportionate benefits must be earned. Unfair inequality poisons collective efforts

  3. Collective-Choice Arrangements - Group members must be able to create at least some of their own rules and make their own decisions by consensus. People hate being told what to do but will work for group goals that they have agreed upon

  4. Monitoring - Managing a commons is inherently vulnerable to free-riding and active exploitation. Unless these undermining strategies can be detected at a relatively low cost by norm-abiding members of the group, the tragedy of the commons will occur

  5. Graduated Sanctions - Transgressions need not require heavy-handed punishment, at least initially. Often gossip or a gentle reminder is sufficient, but more severe forms of punishment must also be waiting in the wings for use when necessary

  6. Conflict Resolution Mechanisms - It must be possible to resolve conflicts quickly and in ways that are perceived as fair by members of the group

  7. Minimal Recognition of Rights to (self-) Organise - Groups must have the authority to conduct their own affairs. Externally imposed rules are unlikely to be adapted to local circumstances and violate principle 3

  8. For groups that are part of a larger system, there must be appropriate coordination among relevant groups - Every sphere of activity has an optimal scale. Large scale governance requires finding the optimal scale for each sphere of activity and appropriately coordinating the activities, a concept called polycentric governance. A related concept is subsidiarity, which assigns governance tasks by default to the lower jurisdiction, unless this is explicitly determined to be ineffective

Winding Forest Road

the road ahead

We want to make Elinor Ostroms principle available to everyone because we simply believe that it would make the world a better place. Therefore we invite you to participate and reflect with us on their applicability in various contexts. If you are interested please contact us.

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