Vincent Ostrom has made significant contributions in diverse parts of the interrelated fields of public administration and political science. In each of these areas, his interests ranged well beyond core research questions in either discipline.
With respect to the management of natural resources, his approach was unremittingly cross-disciplinary, making his work sometimes inaccessible to experts solely interested in a particular type of resource. When he articulated the potential benefits of fragmentation of public authority in metropolitan systems, he was less directly concerned about measuring those effects in any detail. He was content to express his understanding of the systems of political thought developed by Hobbes, Tocqueville, and the authors of The Federalist, and considerably less concerned about the historical context within which these giants of political philosophy worked. Although he was convinced that each of these had critical insights relevant to the establishment and sustainability of democratic systems of governance in diverse regions of the world, he resisted any temptation to recommend the specific forms that effective democratization might take in different biophysical and cultural settings.
An enthusiastic early advocate for the potential lessons that political scientists could learn from the analytical insights of economists and scholars in other disciplines, he could not fully embrace the specific forms of analysis that later developed into what we now know as public choice or social choice analysis. He reveled in the contestation inherent in political discourse, yet he remained skeptical of efforts to reduce complex strategic interactions to mathematical games with clearly defined equilibrium solutions. Finally, he insisted that scholars must remain sensitive to the words and concepts they chose to employ in their own analysis. Yet he was unable to convince the scholarly community to abstain from facile references to the state or the government, or to maintain a clear analytical distinction between provision and production of public goods and services.
That is from the article "Reflections on Vincent Ostrom, Public Administration, and Polycentricity" by Michael D. McGinnis and Elinor Ostrom (Public Administration Review, Feb 2012).Vincent Ostrom articulates a vision of democratic governance that embraces the complexity of real-world processes and can serve as a secure foundation for the establishment and protection of liberty. His work inspired others to develop specific ideas or propositions in more detail and to test hypothesized relationships between fragmentation of public authority and the quality of policy outcomes against data relevant to diverse realms of public policy. In the final analysis, his contributions will continue to grow as long as those inspired by his work continue to add to our collective body of knowledge in the intertwined fields of public administration, political science, policy, and institutional analysis.Vincent Ostrom articulates a vision of democratic governance that embraces the complexity of real-world processes and can serve as a secure foundation for the establishment and protection of liberty.