Polycentric System of Governance

Polycentric system of governance is a complex form of governance with multiple centers of semiautonomous decision making, operating under an overarching set of rules that act as a framework allowing the centers mentioned above take each other into account in competitive and cooperative relationships and have recourse to conflict resolution mechanisms.

Here you will learn about ideas of the polycentric governance that we draw upon. Our own Mariposa Polycentric System of Governance will be explained in our master plan that will appear on this website a bit later.

Polycentric System of Governance is a form of Competitive Governance you can learn more about at another resource page on this website.

"The term polycentricity was first used in essays Michael Polanyi published as The Logic of Liberty (1951) to describe a method of social organization in which individuals are free to pursue their objectives within a general system of rules (Polanyi, 1951; see also V. Ostrom, 1999a). A decade after the publication of The Logic of Liberty, V. Ostrom et al. (1961) adopted the term polycentricity to describe a form of organization in metropolitan-area governance characterized by a multiplicity of overlapping political units. V. Ostrom et al. (1961) argued that this seemingly inefficient configuration of political units could achieve greater efficiency in the production and provision of public goods and services than a centralized government if certain market-like characteristics were present". (K. Carlisle & R. Gruby, 2019)

In the video below you will learn about how polycentric law solves the problems of "Single Power" such as government corruption, and how polycentricity provides genuine reciprocity, checks, and balances.

Polycentric Legal Order:

We are not affiliated with the next speaker and don't approve his actions in the world, however, we believe that his TEDx talk that explains the importance of decentralization deserves your attention.

The four pillars of a decentralized society:

In the article Polycentricity: From Polanyi to Ostrom, and Beyond" Ostroms' followers Paul D. Aligica and Vlad Tarko further elaborated the concept of a polycentric system of governance, defining the necessary conditions for polycentricity.

The Necessary Conditions for Polycentricity:

Active exercise of diverse opinions and preferences: the opinions (ideas or methods about how to conduct something) are actually implemented into practice by at least one decision center, rather than just being enounced by someone (i.e., existing merely as a proposal or a hypothesis).
Incentives compatibility: the rules are considered to be useful by the agents subjected to them and the consequences of the rules are relatively transparent. In other words, we are talking about the rule of law and that for a system to be polycentric, it has to be a rule of law system. You can learn more about it here.
Autonomous decision-making layers: the different overlapping decision centers make operational decisions autonomously from the higher level.

D. Aligica and Vlad Tarko also described potential differences between various instances of polycentricity and discovered that "the logic structure derived from the paradigmatic cases considered, allows for 288 different possible types of polycentric systems" (Paul D. Aligica & Vlad Tarko, 2012).

Interesting that Paul D. Aligica and Vlad Tarko also mentioned that "the concept [of polycentricity in governance] is often recognized as important". Yet, at the moment, we are not aware of any polycentric governance model implemented in the world. We might be the first to do it.

Books about Polycentricity:

The Structure of Liberty: Justice And The Rule Of Law by Randy E. Barnett
In this book, legal scholar Randy Barnett elaborates and defends the fundamental premise of the Declaration of Independence: that all persons have a natural right to pursue happiness so long as they respect the equal rights of others, and that governments are only justly established to secure these rights.
Drawing upon insights from philosophy, economics, political theory, and law, Barnett explains why, when people pursue happiness while living in society with each other, they confront the pervasive social problems of knowledge, interest and power. These problems are best dealt with by ensuring the liberty of the people to pursue their own ends, but this liberty is distinguished from "license" by certain fundamental rights and procedures associated with the classical liberal conception of "justice" and "the rule of law." He then outlines the constitutional framework that is needed to put these principles into practice.
In a new Afterword to this second edition, Barnett elaborates on this thesis by responding to several important criticisms of the original work. He then explains how this "libertarian" approach is more modest than either the "social justice" theories of the left or the "legal moralism" of the right.

Articles about Polycentricity:

Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems. Nobel Prize Lecture, December 8, 2009 by Elinor Ostrom
Scholars are slowly shifting from positing simple systems to using more complex frameworks, theories, and models to understand the diversity of puzzles and problems facing humans interacting in contemporary societies.
Polycentricity: From Polanyi to Ostrom and Beyond by Paul D. Aligica and Vlad Tarko, Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions, Vol. 25, No. 2, April 2012
The article overviews and elaborates the concept of polycentricity, defined as a structural feature of social systems of many decision centers having limited and autonomous prerogatives and operating under an overarching set of rules
Polycentric Systems of Governance: A Theoretical Model for the Commons by Keith Carlisle and Rebecca L. Gruby, Policy Studies Journal, Vol.47, No.4, 2019
Polycentricity is a fundamental concept in commons scholarship that connotes a complex form of governance with multiple centers of semiautonomous decision making. If the decision-making centers take each other into account in competitive and cooperative relationships and have recourse to conflict resolution mechanisms, they may be regarded as a polycentric governance system. In the context of natural resource governance, commons scholars have ascribed a number of advantages to polycentric governance systems, most notably enhanced adaptive capacity, provision of good institutional fit for natural resource systems, and mitigation of risk on account of redundant governance actors and institutions. Despite the popularity of the concept, systematic development of polycentricity, including its posited advantages, is lacking in the commons literature. To build greater clarity and specificity around the concept, we develop a theoretical model of a polycentric governance system with a focus on the features necessary or conducive for achieving the functioning predicted by commons scholars. The model is comprised of attributes, which constitute the definitional elements, and enabling conditions, which specify additional institutional features for achieving functionality in the commons. The model we propose takes the concept a step further toward specificity without sacrificing the generality necessary for contextual application and further development.