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Professor Bushouse honors Nobel Prize winner, Elinor Ostrom, with journal special issue

Special Issue Connecting Work of Elinor and Vincent Ostrom to Nonprofit and Voluntary Action.

A special August 2016 issue of the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly celebrates the legacy of the late Indiana University scholar Elinor Ostrom and applies her insights and theories to new research in the area of nonprofit organizations and voluntary action.  

Edited by UMass Political Science and School of Public Policy Professor Brenda Bushouse,  Brent Never (University of Missouri-Kansas City) and Robert Christensen (Brigham Young University) the special issue brings together the body of scholarship produced by Elinor Ostrom, recipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, and her collaborator and husband, Vincent Ostrom, with the academic study of nonprofit and voluntary action.  Both areas of research, the editors say, are concerned with similar problems: How institutions are governed and how people organize for collective action.  

Bushouse, Christensen and Never began discussing a special issue soon after the Ostroms died in June 2012. As former students of the Ostrom Workshop, they reflected on the “toolbox” of frameworks and theories that they learned while students but then realized that none had utilized the toolbox in their own nonprofit and voluntary action research.  Never notes, “We recognized that the Workshop toolbox had a lot of potential value for scholars in the NVA area and that it had been under-utilized.”  

In an introductory article, the editors describe the range of research in the issue and provide a primer on terms and tools developed and used by scholars at the Ostrom Workshop. They write that the integration of the Ostrom Workshop toolbox and nonprofit and voluntary action centers on three questions: What conditions lend themselves to collective action? How does ‘the nature of a good’ impact governance? And how do rules and norms incentivize voluntary action?

The editors decided to pursue a special issue of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly because it is a top journal in the social sciences and the premier journal in nonprofit and voluntary action. Bushouse states, “we wanted to connect two parallel streams of research and NVSQ was the best journal for doing that” but she noted that getting reviewers from the two streams of research to agree on papers was “an arduous process.”  It took nearly four years to bring the issue from proposal to print.  “But,” she notes, “it was well worth it if the bridges we have identified lead to shared research projects. Our hope for the special issue is that this is going to direct future research – that this is just a starting point.”  Christensen concludes, “this is an effort to synthesize and integrate work from different traditions.  I think Lin and Vincent would be proud.”

Financial support for the issue comes from the Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis and the School of Public and Environmental  Affairs at Indiana University and the Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.


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