Losing a Heroine

I am of the opinion that every person and every organization should have at least one hero or heroine. For the SociaLens team, Elinor Ostrom is that person. She passed away this week in our home city of Bloomington, Indiana. A lot has been written about her groundbreaking work, her career, her passion and her warmth. If you have not before, do yourself a favor and learn a little about her here, here and here. I would also encourage you to read some of her own work, like this, this or this.

Though i feel that these words are hopelessly inadequate for the task, it seems appropriate to share some of the things that i have learned from Lin’s work, but more importantly from the way she (and her husband Vincent) approached their work. Their approach has helped to shape how i, and how SociaLens approach what we do, and also how we hope to approach what we do in the future.

  • No problem is too big to tackle
    Lin and Vincent Ostrom addressed huge problems like the governance of common pool resources around the world, with tenacity, vision, and with a willingness to do the team-building and broad collaboration it would take to address those problems.
  • Good solutions to complex human problems are neither panaceas nor completely particular
    Instead, good solutions live in the important space between the two extremes which requires us to search for general principles that can be adapted in specific situations.
  • Good solutions are always systemic, and cross disciplinary boundaries
    We cannot solve natural resource, government, organizational, social and technical problems separately. Rather, we must do our best to explore that ways that each of these improve the others as part of a system.
  • Giving is an art
    Lin Ostrom struck me as extremely unselfish and unpretentious (and i have heard many accounts from others in our community to support this). She gave credit and energy to others not only overtly, but also artfully through her expressions, and in her general demeanor.  Having participated in many sessions with Lin and the others from her Workshop over the course of the last year, i can say that the sense of  giving and goodwill in the room (fostered in large part by Lin over the years) has been palpably obvious.

Though i am sad to lose a heroine before i felt ready, i am forever thankful for what i as a person, we as SociaLens, and we as a global society have gained from Elinor. After our mourning subsides, may we all emerge challenged and inspired to continue what she so beautifully began.

(photo courtesy of Indiana University)

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