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January 29, 2014

Film on the commons

As it happens, co-production wasn’t invented by the Ministry of Jargon.  The phrase was first coined back in the 1970’s by Nobel winning economist Elinar Ostrum when describing the importance of reciprocity in community relations and specifically, why the Chicago police needed communities every bit as much as communities needed the police. Elinar Ostrum and her husband Vincent made an enormous contribution to our understanding of how communities function and in particular how they intuitively manage their common resources. A film, documenting their lives is being planned.


Over their half-century relationship, Lin and Vincent Ostrom built an enduring, loving marriage, an influential intellectual partnership, and a wide ranging movement of people dedicated—as the Ostroms were—to addressing the enormous problems that plague human societies: climate change, endangered species, ocean pollution, deforestation. Their ideas about the big issues developed from problem solving in daily life and in studying the basic challenges that all communities face. Where do we get our water? How do we heat our homes? Who makes sure we don’t take more than our share or more than we need? Who will build our roads? How do we make sure everyone contributes to the group? How do we pass on these lessons to the next generation?

As a literal and symbolic home for this path-breaking inquiry, the Ostroms founded The Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University where it is better known simply as The Workshop. Now 40 years old, the Workshop has been home to visiting scholars from more than 100 countries. Some Workshoppers have become prominent international figures, while others have created new frameworks for studying institutions, offered new ways to understand the connections between humans and the environment, and contributed to the new science of sustainability. In Vincent’s words, “We have family around the world.”

As a Workshop alumna for some 40 years and Senior Research Fellow, I am part of that “family around the world.“ Actual World, Possible Future presents a view from the inside of the Ostroms’ remarkable relationship and the global effects of their creation.

Our goal is to raise $200,000 ($50,000 through Indiegogo) to tell the story of Elinor and Vincent Ostrom, two people who spent 48 years as husband and wife and implementers of a constellation of ever-evolving ideas. The funds raised with your help are for post-production—the phase of filmmaking where hundreds of hours of film, photos and artifacts are put together and assembled into a compelling story that causes people to think and behave differently when engaged in problem solving. The more we raise on Indiegogo, the more quickly we will achieve our ultimate goal: get the film out into the world where it can have an impact in the community, in the classroom and with policy-makers and decision makers.

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