Notes on Property in Commons (draft)

[I’m publishing this draft work-in-progress here to make it easier to get feedback. Feel free to leave a question or comment]

Elinor Ostrom makes the point that commons-pool resources and commons property are different animals. Any particular commons resource can be held under a variety of different property regimes or property law systems. But commons resources and commons property are often confused and used interchangeably.

Resources vs Rights


The Bundle of Rights



Bundles, Systems, and Holders of Property Rights (Schlager and Ostrom 1992)

“…most institutional analysts are familiar with the Schlager and Ostrom work on property rights (Schlager, Edella, and Elinor Ostrom. “Property-rights regimes and natural resources: a conceptual analysis.” Land economics (1992): 249-262.). In this piece, they lay out a conceptual map for bundling of various types of property rights with a goal of showing that ownership is more than a simple binary division. Their revised table (from a 1996 book chapter) looks like this:”

property roles and bundles of rights - Ostromspace




property-rights bundle - big

The Bundle of Property Rights — Click to enlarge (


Estates—Rights in real property which are or may become, possessory

1. Freehold estates—exist for an indefinite period of time

a. Fee estates (a fee, an estate in fee, estate of inheritance)

(1) Fee simple absolute—the greatest degree of ownership.

(2) Fee simple defeasible—can be defeated by some condition subsequent

2. Less-than-freehold estates (a leasehold estate)—exists for a determinable period of time—a form of personal property.

a. Estate for years

b. Estate from period to period (e.g., month-to-month)

c. Estate at will

d. Estate at sufferance

[from  Real Estate Trainers, Inc..Legal Aspects of Real Estate]


Concurrent Estates (tenancy in common, joint tenancy, tenancy by the entirety)



Trust (private, charitable, beneficial, etc.)

Beneficial Interest

Community Land Trust

Public Conservation Area

Private Conservancy


Doctrine of Mortmain


Do collective property rights make sense? Insights from central Vietnam


We draw on empirical results from three case studies of property rights change across forest and fisheries ecosystems in central Vietnam to investigate the circumstances under which collective property rights may make sense. A generic property rights framework was used to examine the bundles of rights and associated rights holders in each case, and to assess these arrangements with regard to their contextual fit, legitimacy and enforceability. The cases illustrate the interactions between private and collective rights to lands and resources, and the trade-offs inherent with different mixes of rights.

1. Introduction

Responding to the challenges of rural poverty and environmental sustainability requires a flexible mix of individual and collective property rights. Resource-based activities shift, depending upon, among other things, household needs, local ecologies and market opportunities. For these reasons, conventional categorization or advocacy of private, collective or public rights rarely account for the complex realities found in particular places (Barry and Meinzen-Dick 2008; German and Keeler 2010). Many property rights arrangements tend to enclose specific areas or reduce some people’s access to specific goods. Overlapping but differentiated ‘bundles of rights’ (Schlager and Ostrom 1992) and hybrid property regimes can offer a more effective lens for understanding property rights complexity. In the context of a mixed public-private or collective rights situation, such bundles of rights may be related to access, withdrawal, management, exclusion and alienation of resources, or parts of a resource, through time and space (Barry and Meinzen-Dick 2008). Farmers or fishers may advocate for part of a bundle of rights (extraction, for example) with other rights residing with the collective or the state (management or alienation, as an example). Sensitivity to circumstance or context reveals that individual, collective and public property rights each have merits (Evans et al. 2010). The challenge for the resource manager, donor or policy-maker is to ‘read’ when and where different rights regimes may be appropriate to support poverty alleviation and sustainable rural livelihoods more generally.

Vietnam has moved from forms of collectivization and state ownership that began in the late 1950s to an ambitious ‘renovation’ program leading to individual land titling in the late 1980s (Do and Iyer 2008). The Doi Moi period (or ‘renovation’) aimed to transform a centralized, state-planned economic system into a more decentralized, market-oriented system whereby the private sector would become the main engine of growth1. One aspect of these reform policies was to devolve authority over production decisions to farmers and enterprises, and to establish property rights (for agricultural land and in some cases for individual households to manage forest areas) to encourage investment and provide a form of collateral for rural dwellers (Sunderlin et al. 2008). The majority of Vietnam’s 90 million people have access to small amounts of land (1–2 ha), particularly in rural, agriculture-focused areas (where 72% of the population lives) (HDR 2009). Policy reforms in the 2000s (e.g. changes to the 2003 Land Law and Fisheries Law) recognized the role for collective rights, once again, to manage forest areas and fishing grounds. However, in the context of increasing privatization of land and marketization of rural production, the contextual fit, legitimacy and enforceability of collective rights has been uncertain…

Insights from the cases highlight how the needs and aspirations of individuals and households do not easily conform to conventional property rights narratives (private vs. collective) or the implementation of policy prescriptions that emerge from these narratives. Results of the analysis contribute to common property theory by showing how local actors may choose to collectively manage and use natural resources (forest lands and aquatic resources in this case) as part of a broader strategy to obtain individual bundles of rights (which may include access, withdrawal, management, exclusion and alienation of resources, or parts of a resource) within the context of a collective rights policy framework.


Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems, by Elinor Ostrom (2009 Nobel Prize lecture slides)


Individual garden plots on soviet collective farms

The sovkhozy tended to emphasize larger scale production than the kolkhozy and had the ability to specialize in certain crops. The government tended to supply them with better machinery and fertilizers. Labor productivity (and in turn incomes) tended to be greater on the sovkhozy. Workers in state farms received wages and social benefits, whereas those on the collective farms tended to receive a portion of the net income of their farm, based, in part, on the success of the harvest and their individual contribution.

Although accounting for a small share of cultivated area, private plots produced a substantial share of the country’s meat, milk, eggs, and vegetables.[citation needed]Although never more than 4% of the arable land in the USSR, private plots consistently produced roughly a quarter to a third of agricultural produce. Private plots were among many attempts made to restructure Soviet farming.[citation needed] However, the weak worker incentives and managerial autonomy, which were the crux of the problem, were not addressed.[citation needed]

The private plots were also an important source of income for rural households. In 1977, families of kolkhoz members obtained 72% of their meat, 76% of their eggs and most of their potatoes and eggs from private holdings. Surplus products, as well as surplus livestock, were sold to kolkhozy and sovkhozy and also to state consumer cooperatives. Statistics may actually under-represent the total contribution of private plots to Soviet agriculture.[4] The only time when private plots were completely banned was during collectivization, when famine took millions of lives.[5]

Soviets Pushing Food Production On Small Individual Plots…

Soviet law allows country and city dwellers alike to farm as much as one half a plots,— and the yield per acre far outstrips that of state and collective farms.


Party, State, and Citizen in the Soviet Union: A Collection of … – Page 258 – Google Books Result

The collective farm member’s personal household plot 57. use of a plot of land adjacent to their house as a vegetable garden, orchard, or to meet other needs.

Under the Collective Farm Charter (1935), individual farmers were permitted to keep small garden plots and a few animals for domestic use, and to sell surplus production in local free markets.


See R. W. Davies, The Soviet Collective Farm (1980); W. Hinton, The Great Reversal (1989); A. Etzioni et al., ed., The Organizational Structure of the Kibbutz (1980).


owners lavished more care and effort on their own crops than on collective or state fields. Comparative Economic Systems: Transition and capitalism alternatives – Page 96 – Google Books Result

Self-Sustainability of Subsidiary Household Plots: Lessons for

region actually was a combination of collective, state, and individual farming. Subsidiary household plots (lichnyye podsobnyye khozyaystva in Russian) culti ….. hectare, while the average yields in Russia are 18-20 centners per hectare. ….. Durgin, F., “Household Garden Plots,” RSEEA Newsletter, 13, 3, September 1991
The Meaning of Property “Rights:” Law vs. Economics?“Given the importance of property “rights” in economics, it might be expected that there would be some consensus in economic theory about what property “rights” are. But no such consensus appears to exist. In fact, property “rights” are defined variously and inconsistently in the economics literature.”

Analysis: Cuba’s derechos de superficie: Are they ‘real’ property rights?

A derecho de superficie is a derecho real over land that does not belong to its holder (the superficiario), but that the owner of the land in question concedes while retaining the title (dominio, or ownership) to the land itself. The superficiario is thus allowed to build and/or plant on the land while the laws acknowledge his own rights over the buildings or structures and plantations so emplaced as independent from the title holder or land-owner’s rights. Superficie rights are usually only temporary in nature. Once the superficie rights expire, when the term stipulated in its title (the grant or concession creating it) runs its course, or when it is otherwise extinguished, a reversion takes place and the owner of the land takes title to the buildings or improvements made on his land by the superficiario.

Over the past few years, the derecho de superficie has been enjoying a comeback in a number of countries — in Spain, in Argentina, even in China. And the Cuban Civil Code’s provisions on this topic are often cited as an example by those who urge their countries’ legislatures to make superficie rights part of their laws.

One of the reasons behind this resurge is intrinsically tied to societal models that, even if presently evolving (some faster than others), seek to keep the direct ownership of land in the hands of the state, such as Cuba.


Pensacola Beach is actually located on a barrier island in Escambia County, connected to the mainland Pensacola and Gulf Breeze by the Bob Sykes bridge. The land belongs to the Federal Government by virtue of a 1947 deed which leases it to the businesses and residents in 99 year increments, making them long-term leaseholders through the Santa Rosa Island Authority, instead of property owners.

Santa Rosa Island Authority

Pensacola Beach, is owned by Escambia County, Florida, and is under the direction of the Santa Rosa Island Authority (SRIA). The SRIA was created by the Florida legislature in 1947 under Chapter 24500. The SRIA does not receive tax support from the taxpayers of the county. It is fully funded from rental fees collected from business and residences on the beach.

The Authority is made up of six members, five are named by members of the Escambia County Board of County Commissioner and whose term is the same as the commissioner who appointed them. The sixth member is elected by the registered voters on Pensacola Beach. The sixth members’ term is two years.

Because of restrictions placed in the legal document from the United States government, land may not be purchased on Pensacola Beach; instead property is rented by the Island Authority for varying periods of time.

Pensacola Beach is about 1,474 acres, which make up approximately 30% of Escambia County on Santa Rosa Island. Pensacola Beach is about eight miles long and a quarter mile at its widest. At the present time 60% of Pensacola Beach is public use or public service land with the remaining 40% rented for residential and commercial use.


Open access vs. the commons

When Hardin (1968, p. 1244) asked his readers to “[p]icture a pasture open to all,” he was referencing an ungoverned open-access regime from which nobody could be excluded. Yet by calling the resulting collective action problem “the tragedy of the commons,” the notion of common property became conflated with the lawless (or law-free) condition of open access. The distinction between open-access and common property was made decades ago by Ciriacy-Wantrup and Bishop (1975) and has been reiterated by Ostrom (e.g. 1999, pp. 335–336; see also Schlager and Ostrom 1992) and others (e.g. McCay 1996, p. 113; Dagan and Heller 2001, pp. 556–557; Eggertsson 2003, pp. 75–76). Yet confusion on this point has yet to be fully eradicated. Recognizing that nearly all “private” property is actually owned (or at least used) by groups, such as households or firms, offers one way around this blind spot. These everyday examples of non-tragic commons lead us to ask not whether common property is feasible at all, but rather under what circumstances and at what scale.


Lee Anne FennellUniversity of Chicago Law School,

Elinor Ostrom’s work has immeasurably enhanced legal scholars’ understanding of property. Although the richness of these contributions cannot be distilled into a single thesis, their flavor can be captured in a maxim I call Ostrom’s Law: A resource arrangement that works in practice can work in theory. Ostrom’s scholarship challenges the conventional wisdom by examining how people interact over resources on the ground – an approach that enables her to identify recurring institutional features associated with long-term success. In this essay, I trace some of the ways that Ostrom’s focus on situated examples has advanced interdisciplinary dialogue about property as a legal institution and as a human invention for solving practical problems. I begin by highlighting the attention to detail that characterizes Ostrom’s methodology. I then examine how Ostrom’s scholarship yields insights for, and employs insights from, property theory. Next, I consider the question of scale, an important focal point of Ostrom’s work, and one that carries profound implications for law. I conclude with some observations about interdisciplinarity as it relates to research on the commons.


anticommons; commons; interdisciplinarity; models; scale; semicommons

Sermon on the Land

Animal husbandry, 2300 BC

Animal husbandry, 2300 BC (Photo credit: Marcel Douwe Dekker)

At the risk of being labeled a communitarian fundamentalist, and preaching at you, I think that our first duty both to ourselves and to this world is to participate in a localized, sustainable, self-reliant (within a global system of balanced, recursive self-reliance and interdependence), community of peers. Without a community that achieves a certain threshold of economic self-reliance, security, and basic independence for its members, either in urban or rural settings (but without being too large to be personally intimate and nurturing), one tends to become a victim, a serf, or even a slave, caught in a trap; and thereafter to sink deeper and deeper into tragic compromises of ones values and actions. This can happen even to talented high achievers. It has been called the rat race.

And without a certain degree of geographic localization of such communities, even if not technically required for solidarity, production, or economic self-reliance, “unoccupied” parts of the commons tend to get robbed. Even if resources are considered common property or non-property, belonging to all, good stewardship is seldom an absentee role.
English: Private Property.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Husbandry is also not the work of strangers. I have seen this in many situations over the years. And that’s why I agree with Aristotle that private property (conditionally, within reason) can promote virtue. But this only applies to property that is occupied or tended in a way appropriate to its type and in a way that is responsible to society and to future generations. Abuse, neglect, and absentee ownership are anathema.

I understand of course that many people don’t want to be tied to a particular place–people are increasingly mobile and globally oriented– and I think that’s fine as long as the rest of us are enough in number to keep the local places–all the city blocks, the paddocks, and the wide-open wild spaces– looked after, tended to, and deeply cared for.

Poor Richard
Packard plant

Packard plant by Ashley Dinges, on Flickr

Related articles

Normal Schnormal

The older I get, the crazier I realize that I am. Despite some evidence that I am getting smarter at peeling back layers of reality and seeing more of the big picture, the more clearly I see myself, the worse I appear in my mental bathroom mirror– full of neuroses, false narratives, revised memories, self-deceptions, obsessions and compulsions, unconscious associations, and cognitive biases.

If I’m right that each age and each age group suffers from its own set of individual and collective self-delusions, the only rational behavior would be for all of us to abandon our faith in normality, whatever we currently think it is, and work together in multi-generational, multi-disciplinary groups to re-explore the world and to prospect for new nuggets and veins of reality together.

Homer statue at the University of Virginia

Homer statue at the University of Virginia (Image via Wikipedia)

Prospecting for reality…

I think this is what Thomas Jefferson hoped would happen at the University he established. He doubted the value of simply handing out degrees as certificates of competence. He wanted to create an ongoing, living experiment–a diverse demographic of people living and laboring together in a common cause: questioning normality and learning something new about reality every day. I don’t think the University of Virginia has lived up to that hope over time, but time isn’t all over and done, yet.

When I suggest abandoning normality, I’m not proposing anarchy. I’m really talking about “beginner’s mind“. Of course, there may be some babes worth saving from the dingy bath water of normality and tradition. But normality is  missing something we need to keep the whole bathtub from going over a cliff: We need a diversity of experimental colleges* and universities that aim to combine life-long continuing education with original research and scholarship, which aim to support themselves sustainably on their own local resources, not just as institutions but as diversified micro-cultures; and which aim to reinvent the art of being human for the modern age of anthropogenic disaster.

Not everyone wants to be a student or a scholar. Fewer yet want to be scientists and engineers. Still, I see no reason why every one of us can’t live and work within communities designed to be experimental, educational, and mindful at every level.

Poor Richard


* “Originally, college meant a group of persons living together, under a common set of rules (con- = “together” + leg- = “law” or lego = “I choose”); indeed, some colleges call their members “fellows”.” (Wikipedia: college)

Related PRA 2010 posts:


AHA! = Average Humans Anonymous!

(A 12-step program for cognitive enhancement)

What is an “average” human?

Modern humans are known taxonomically as Homo sapiens (Latin: “wise man” or “knowing man”).

Mitochondrial DNA and fossil evidence indicates that anatomically modern humans originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago. (Wikipedia: Homo Sapiens)

Of course, 200,000 years ago we were not nearly as wise or knowing, not nearly as sapient, as we are (or think we are) today.

Behavioral modernity is a term used in anthropology, archeology and sociology to refer to a set of traits that distinguish present day humans and their recent ancestors from both living primates and other extinct hominid lineages. It is the point at which Homo sapiens began to demonstrate a reliance on symbolic thought and to express cultural creativity. These developments are often thought to be associated with the origin of language.[1]

There are two main theories regarding when modern human behavior emerged.[2] One theory holds that behavioral modernity occurred as a sudden event some 50 kya (50,000 years ago), possibly as a result of a major genetic mutation or as a result of a biological reorganization of the brain that led to the emergence of modern human natural languages.[3] Proponents of this theory refer to this event as the Great Leap Forward[4] or the Upper Paleolithic Revolution.

The second theory holds that there was never any single technological or cognitive revolution. Proponents of this view argue that modern human behavior is basically the result of the gradual accumulation of knowledge, skills and culture occurring over hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution.[5] Proponents of this view include Stephen Oppenheimer in his book Out of Eden, and John Skoyles and Dorion Sagan in their book Up from Dragons: The evolution of human intelligence. (Wikipedia: Behavioral Modernity)

Whenever behavioral modernity may have settled upon Homo sapiens, the beginnings of it are lost in prehistory, in past ages far before we have any clear and unambiguous physical or historical evidence.  The fields of evolutionary psychology and behavioral genetics promise to shed new light on the origins of modern human behavior but they are only in the very early stages of their own evolution as scientific genres.

Nevertheless, the important point is that the typical, average, or normal human has a brain that is an evolutionary work-in-progress.

We only invented agriculture about 10,000 years or so ago, which in brain-evolution time is like ten seconds ago. In that 10,000 years (or ten seconds) our brains have not had time to really get it right. Our agricultural methods are still causing too much long-term damage to the very resources we depend on to continue being productive in the future. Instead of improving the resource base over time, as brainless nature does, we are still destroying it faster than ever before. The situation with energy and manufacturing is just as bad. Our technology develops at a far greater pace than our brains, which we use to plan and manage the applications of the technology, hoping to maximize productivity and avoid drastic unintended consequences.

Our track record is not so good.

Interesting times

May you live in interesting times, often referred to as the Chinese curse, was the first of three curses of increasing severity, the other two being:

  • May you come to the attention of those in authority
  • May you find what you are looking for


It is only in very recent, recorded history that humanity has come so close to achieving true greatness. Only recently have the consequences of human behavior become so great and so visible.  That makes the present day the most interesting time in all of human history.

In the past, the planetary environment was vast in proportion to all the cumulative impacts of human populations. Over a fairly recent period of time, however, humanity has turned a corner or crossed a tipping point where the environment is no longer large enough to fully absorb and erase all the effects that human activity creates. Those human effects are overtaking the planet’s homeostatic systems and causing ecological processes and environments to degrade or permanently fail. We can see this in species extinctions, failing hydrological systems, changing ocean currents and weather systems, and now even in planetary temperature regulation and rising sea levels.

The most interesting thing about these times is the extent to which the external world has become our mirror. Almost everything that’s wrong with our culture and our environment now is a result of human behavior and can be traced backwards to an evolutionary origin in the normal, anatomically and behaviorally modern, human brain.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

Animation of Plato’s Cave

Madness and normality

The problem with the modern human brain isn’t what we call clinical, DSM-level, mental illness–it is sub-clinical. The problem is normality–which includes standard, predictable cognitive faults, irregularities, and distortions that belong to many kinds of so-called “spectrum disorders” but fall below the accepted level of clinical severity or are just too complex to disentange.

It is the pandemic of typical, sub-clinical mental faults that causes poverty, crime,  global warming, oil spills, Iraq & Afghan wars, financial crisis, bad government, etc. Any behavior which produces negative utility is irrational.

The main reason our times have become so “interesting” is not disease, not resource scarcity, not over population. The root problem is our normal thinking and our typical behavior. We could cure all physical illness, all clinical mental illness, all poverty, war, etc. and we would still be hurtling just as fast (and probably even faster!) towards our own self-destruction! The problem is not what we have traditionally seen as illness or scarcity or other external threats. The problem is normality!

The root cause of our threatened survival is installed inside of every “healthy”, “normal” human being.

It’s in our DNA!

The standard brain: our normal cognitive faults, boo-boos, crutches, and placebos:

  • excessive bias towards simplicity and popularity of ideas and beliefs with little regard for accuracy
  • intolerance of ambiguity and cognitive dissonance
  • excessive sensitivity to emotional states and excessive positive bias (leading to addictions)
  • unconscious mental associations, cognitive biases, and behavior patterns
  • black-box (unconscious or pre-conscious) decision making with post hoc rationale
  • reverse-precedence cognitive hierarchy (highest, most recently evolved cognitive functions have lowest precedence)
  • fragmentation/compartmentalization (weak integration) of values, goals, personality, identity, and memory components
  • weak self-observation and attention management
  • automatic thoughts and behaviors (autopilot)
  • dishonesty
  • corruption
  • magical thinking (errors of causal association)
  • unconscious logical fallacies/errors
  • cultural biases (reinforcements for conformity, educational agenda biases, neuro-linguistic “dialects”, memes, etc.)
  • random and inconsistent neural programming (spaghetti code) from random experience/reinforcements
  • inappropriate psychological defense mechanisms (denial, self-delusion, wishful thinking, etc.)
  • linguistic deficiencies (formal thinking requires linguistic/grammatical/logical proficiency)

The 12 Steps of AHA!

By which we attempt to correct as many of the above cognitive boo-boos as possible:


  1. Admit we are powerless over our thoughts, emotions, and moods; and over our sub-clinical  neurotic or impulsive behavior disorders and cognitive disorders—that our lives have become unmanageable, and if we don’t fix ourselves, our species will probably hit the wall in fifty years or less.

    “The subjective experience of powerlessness over one’s emotions can generate multiple kinds of behavior disorders, or it can be a cause of mental suffering with no consistent behavioral manifestation, such as affective disorders.” (Wikipedia: Emotions Anonymous)

    “The cognitive mental disorder perspective is the theory that psychological disorders originate from an interruption, whether short or long, in our basic cognitive functions, i.e. memory processing, perception, problem solving and language. In distinction (or in addition) to this perspective are the psychodynamic mental disorder perspective, behavioral mental disorder perspective, sociocultural mental disorder perspective, interpersonal mental disorder perspective and neurological/biological mental disorder perspective. One pioneer of cognitive disorder perspective is Albert Ellis. In 1962, Ellis proposed that humans develop irrational beliefs/goals about the world; and therefore, create disorders in cognitive abilities[1]. Another pioneer of the cognitive disorder perspective is Aaron Beck. In 1967, Beck designed what is known as the “cognitive model” for emotional disorders, mainly depression[2]. His model showed that a blending of negative cognitive functions about the self, the world, and possible selves lead to cognitive mental disorders.” (Wikipedia: Cognitive disorders).

    Nearly all forms of clinical mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, (PTSD), Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD), and Dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder), have sub-clinical counterparts in nearly all normal individuals.

  2. Came to believe that a higher, more stable, and more consistent level of cognitive integration and functionality could be achieved through work on cognitive modification.
  3. Made a searching and fearless cognitive inventory of ourselves. A cognitive inventory consists of a self-assessment and a coached/group assessment of our cognitive faults (see list of “The standard human cognitive faults, boo-boos, crutches and placebos” above) using various assessment tools, tests, surveys, monitored exercises, etc.

    The Deming System of Profound Knowledge

    “The prevailing [default] style of [cognition] must undergo transformation. A system cannot fully understand itself. The transformation requires a view from outside….”

    “The first step is transformation of the individual. This transformation is discontinuous. It comes from understanding of the system of profound knowledge. The individual, transformed, will perceive new meaning to his life, to events, to numbers, to interactions between people.” (More on this later…)

  4. Admitted to ourselves and to others in our group the exact nature of our cognitive faults.
  5. Were entirely ready to give up all these cognitive defects and shortcomings.
  6. Made a list of all persons we had affected as a consequence of our cognitive defects, and made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would harm them or others.
  7. Continued to take personal cognitive inventories and when we discovered faults promptly admitted and modified them via the Deming “PDCA” Cycle for Continuous Improvement:
      Wikipedia: PDCA (plan-do-check-act) is an iterative four-step problem-solving process typically used in business process improvement. It is also known as the Deming cycle, Shewhart cycle, Deming wheel, or plan-do-study-act.

  8. PDCA was made popular by Dr. W. Edwards Deming, who is considered by many to be the father of modern quality control; however it was always referred to by him as the “Shewhart cycle”. Later in Deming’s career, he modified PDCA to “Plan, Do, Study, Act” (PDSA) so as to better describe his recommendations.

    The concept of PDCA is based on the scientific method, as developed from the work of Francis Bacon (Novum Organum, 1620). The scientific method can be written as “hypothesis” – “experiment” – “evaluation”; or plan, do, and check… According to Deming, during his lectures in Japan in the early 1950s, the Japanese participants revised the steps to the now traditional plan, do, check, act.

    Deming preferred plan, do, study, act (PDSA) because “study” has connotations in English closer to Shewhart’s intent than “check”.

    Wikipedia: William Edwards Deming “(October 14, 1900 – December 20, 1993) was an American statistician, professor, author, lecturer, and consultant. He is perhaps best known for his work in Japan. There, from 1950 onward he taught top management how to improve design (and thus service), product quality, testing and sales (the last through global markets), through various methods, including the application of statistical methods.

    Deming made a significant contribution to Japan’s later reputation for innovative high-quality products and its economic power. He is regarded as having had more impact upon Japanese manufacturing and business than any other individual not of Japanese heritage. Despite being considered something of a hero in Japan, he was only just beginning to win widespread recognition in the U.S. at the time of his death.” (Wikipedia)

    Though virtually unknown and unappreciated in the US, Deming is almost solely responsible for the transformation of Japanese industry from having, in my childhood, a reputation for manufacturing cheap junk goods to, by the mid-70’s, a reputation as the maker of the world’s highest quality and highest value automobiles, electronics , and many other consumer goods. Though his ideas of continuous improvement were originally widely rejected in the US until recently because they did not fit with autocratic US corporate culture, in the 80’s and 90’s US industry imported many Japanese manufacturing consultants  due to the reputation for quality and efficiency that Japan had gained, ironically, as a direct result of adopting Deming’s ideas.

    Demings ideas, rejected by US captains of industry for decades, swept through the entire Asian world and are largely responsible for the fact that Asian manufacturers are still kicking US industry’s ass today in markets as diverse as cars, cell phones, personal computers, and solar cells. Where would American workers be without such enlightened and visionary US corporate management? Perhaps still in the middle class instead of in unemployment lines or among the the ranks of the working poor.

    Deming’s PDCA continuous improvement cycle constitutes the next four steps (8 through 11) of AHA!

  9. PLAN

    Establish the objectives and cognitive processes necessary to deliver results in accordance with the expected output. By making the expected output the focus, it differs from other techniques in that the completeness and accuracy of the specification is also part of the improvement.

  10. DO
    Implement the new cognitive processes . Often on a small group scale if possible.
  11. CHECK
    Measure the new cognitive processes and compare the results against the expected results to ascertain any differences.
  12. ACT
    Analyze the differences to determine their cause. Each will be part of either one or more of the P-D-C-A steps. Determine where to apply cognitive changes that will include improvement. When a pass through these four steps does not result in the need to improve, refine the scope to which PDCA is applied until there is a plan that involves improvement.
  13. The final step of the AHA! twelve-step program: Having had a cognitive awakening and transformation as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The principles and practices of cognitive modification (cognitive hygiene)

  1. Linguistic education and training. Although humans could think before they developed language, language has now become the brick, mortar, timber, metal and glass of conscious, rational thought and social interaction. Cognitive hygiene requires education and practice in formal language but not merely for the sake of constructing well-formed internal thoughts. Improving cognitive hygiene depends heavily on group dynamics and interaction, which require a common set of effective communication skills. Language is one of the most recently evolved abilities of the brain, and language training reinforces the dominance of the higher reasoning centers and networks over the earlier and more primitive functions of the brain. In addition to vocabulary, grammar, English usage and style, etc. (linguistic prescription), linguistic education involves the skills of well-crafted logic and argument (debate). The recognition of logical fallacies, a major cognitive pitfall, can be taught best in this context as well.
    Wikipedia: The origin of language:The main difficulty of the question [of language origins] stems from the fact that it concerns a development in deep prehistory which left no direct fossil traces and for which no comparable processes can be observed today.[2]The time range under discussion in this context extends from the phylogenetic separation of Homo and Pan some 5 million years ago to the emergence of full behavioral modernity some 50,000 years ago. The evolution of fully modern human language requires the development of the vocal tract used for speech production and the cognitive abilities required to produce linguistic utterances… It is mostly undisputed that pre-human australopithecines did not have communication systems significantly different from those found in great apes in general, but scholarly opinions vary as to the developments since the appearance of Homo some 2.5 million years ago. Some scholars assume the development of primitive language-like systems (proto-language) as early as Homo habilis, while others place the development of primitive symbolic communication only with Homo erectus (1.8 million years ago) or Homo heidelbergensis (0.6 million years ago) and the development of language proper with Homo sapiens sapiens less than 100,000 years ago.Wikipedia: History of concepts of the origin of language

    Thomas Hobbes, followed by John Locke and others, said that language is an extension of the “speech” that humans have within themselves as part of reason, one of the most primary characteristics of human nature. Hobbes in Leviathan while postulating as did Aristotle that language is a prerequisite for society, attributed it to innovation and learning after an initial impulse by God:[16]

    But the most noble and profitable invention of all others was that of speech … whereby men register their thoughts, recall them when they are past, and also declare them to one another for mutual utility and conversation; without which there had been amongst men neither commonwealth, nor society, nor contract, nor peace, no more than amongst lions, bears and wolves. The first author of speech was God himself, that instructed Adam how to name such creatures as He presented to his sight; for the Scripture goeth no further in this matter.”

    In Hobbes, man proceeds to learn on his own initiative all the words not taught by God: “figures, numbers, measures, colours ….” which are taught by “need, the mother of all inventions.” Hobbes, one of the first rationalists of the Age of Reason, identifies the ability of self-instruction as reason:[17]

    “For reason, in this sense, is nothing but reckoning … of the consequences of general names agreed upon for the marking and signifying of our thoughts; ….”

    Others have argued the opposite, that reason developed out of the need for more complex communication. Rousseau, despite writing[18] before the publication of Darwin‘s theory of evolution, said that there had once been humans with no language or reason who developed language first, rather than reason, the development of which he explicitly described as a mixed blessing, with many negative characteristics.

    Since the arrival of Darwin, the subject has been approached more often by scientists than philosophers. For example, neurologist Terrence Deacon in his Symbolic Species has argued that reason and language “coevolved“. Merlin Donald sees language as a later development building upon what he refers to as mimetic culture,[19] emphasizing that this coevolution depended upon the interactions of many individuals. He writes:

    A shared communicative culture, with sharing of mental representations to some degree, must have come first, before language, creating a social environment in which language would have been useful and adaptive.[20]

    The specific causes of the natural selection that led to language are, however, still the subject of much speculation, but a common theme going back to Aristotle is that many theories propose that the gains to be had from language and/or reason were probably mainly in the area of increasingly sophisticated social structures.

    In more recent times, a theory of mirror neurons has emerged in relation to language. Ramachandran[21] has gone so far as to argue that “mirror neurons will do for psychology what DNA did for biology: they will provide a unifying framework and help explain a host of mental abilities that have hitherto remained mysterious and inaccessible to experiments”. Mirror neurons are located in the human inferior frontal cortex and superior parietal lobe, and are unique in that they fire when one completes an action and also when one witnesses an actor performing the same action. Various studies have proposed a theory of mirror neurons related to language development.[22][23][24]

  2. Cognitive neuroscience education. General and specific material to support all the other cognitive modification goals and practices.
  3. Unconscious cognitive biases, implicit associations, and repetitive automatic thoughts. These items can be identified and quantified by computer tests and questionnaires. Once identified, they become the subjects of self-observation and cognitive de-conditioning/retraining via cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), cognitive restructuring, and similar methods.
  4. Attention training. This includes self-observation of mental and physical states and behaviors, focused attention, dual attention, mindfulness mediation, memory practices, brainwave bio-feedback, Tai Chi (proprioceptive awareness) etc.
  5. Behavior modification. Behavioral self-awareness, applied behavior analysis, operant conditioning, etc.
  6. Radical honesty.
  7. Cognitive integration and meta-cognition (thinking about thinking). Methods and practices to improve the integration and coordination of existing neural networks and functional centers, and reverse the bottom-up evolutionary order of precedence so that the highest (most recent) cognitive areas and functions such as the rational neo-cortex take greater precedence over more primitive areas like the “limbic” (emotional) system. This area of work is still largely speculative and experimental and at this date would consist primarily of research.
  8. The Deming System of Profound Knowledge. This is a catch-all category for research into ways that Deming’s theories of quality control and continuous improvement can be applied to cognitive modification.

    “The prevailing [default] style of management [cognition] must undergo transformation. A system cannot understand itself. The transformation requires a view from outside….

    “The first step is transformation of the individual. This transformation is discontinuous. It comes from understanding of the system of profound knowledge. The individual, transformed, will perceive new meaning to his life, to events, to numbers, to interactions between people.

    “Once the individual understands the system of profound knowledge, he will apply its principles in every kind of relationship with other people. He will have a basis for judgment of his own decisions and for transformation of the organizations that he belongs to. The individual, once transformed, will:

    • Set an example;
    • Be a good listener, but will not compromise;
    • Continually teach other people; and
    • Help people to pull away from their current practices and beliefs and move into the new philosophy without a feeling of guilt about the past.”

    Deming advocated that all managers need to have what he called a System of Profound Knowledge, consisting of four parts:

    1. Appreciation of a system: understanding the overall processes involving suppliers, producers, and customers (or recipients) of goods and services (explained below);
    2. Knowledge of variation: the range and causes of variation in quality, and use of statistical sampling in measurements;
    3. Theory of knowledge: the concepts explaining knowledge and the limits of what can be known (see also: epistemology);
    4. Knowledge of psychology: concepts of human nature.

    Deming explained, “One need not be eminent in any part nor in all four parts in order to understand it and to apply it. The 14 points for management in industry, education, and government follow naturally as application of this outside knowledge, for transformation from the present style of Western management to one of optimization.”

    “The various segments of the system of profound knowledge proposed here cannot be separated. They interact with each other. Thus, knowledge of psychology is incomplete without knowledge of variation.

    “A manager of people needs to understand that all people are different. This is not ranking people. He needs to understand that the performance of anyone is governed largely by the system that he works in, the responsibility of management. A psychologist that possesses even a crude understanding of variation as will be learned in the experiment with the Red Beads (Ch. 7) could no longer participate in refinement of a plan for ranking people.”[21]

    The Appreciation of a system involves understanding how interactions (i.e., feedback) between the elements of a system can result in internal restrictions that force the system to behave as a single organism that automatically seeks a steady state. It is this steady state that determines the output of the system rather than the individual elements. Thus it is the structure of the organization rather than the employees, alone, which holds the key to improving the quality of output.

    The Knowledge of variation involves understanding that everything measured consists of both “normal” variation due to the flexibility of the system and of “special causes” that create defects. Quality involves recognizing the difference to eliminate “special causes” while controlling normal variation. Deming taught that making changes in response to “normal” variation would only make the system perform worse. Understanding variation includes the mathematical certainty that variation will normally occur within six standard deviations of the mean.

  9. Cognitive self-help Group: In addition to serving as one venue or vehicle for many of the preceding methods and practices, the group setting promotes non-verbal communication skills, listening, assertiveness, boundaries, and numerous other social and cognitive skills.
  10. Wikipedia: Mental health self-help groups: In most cases, the group becomes a miniature society that can function like a buffer between the members and the rest of the world.[19] The most essential processes are those that meet personal and social needs in an environment of safety and simplicity. Elegant theoretical formulations, systematic behavioral techniques, and complicated cognitive-restructuring methods are not necessary.[11]

    Despite the differences, researchers have identified many psychosocial processes occurring in self-help groups related to their effectiveness. This list includes, but is not limited too: acceptance, behavioral rehearsal, changing member’s perspectives of themselves, changing member’s perspectives of the world, catharsis, extinction, role modeling, learning new coping strategies, mutual affirmation, personal goal setting, instilling hope, justification, normalization, positive reinforcement, reducing social isolation, reducing stigma, self-disclosure, sharing (or “opening up”), and showing empathy.[5][6][8][11][19][20][21]

    Five theoretical frameworks have been used in attempts to explain the effectiveness of self-help groups.[5]

    1. Social support: Having a community of people to give physical and emotional comfort, people who love and care, is a moderating factor in the development of psychological and physical disease.
    2. Experiential knowledge: Members obtain specialized information and perspectives that other members have obtained through living with severe mental illness. Validation of their approaches to problems increase their confidence.
    3. Social learning theory: Members with experience become creditable role models.
    4. Social comparison theory: Individuals with similar mental illness are attracted to each other in order to establish a sense of normalcy for themselves. Comparing one another to each other is considered to provide other peers with an incentive to change for the better either through upward comparison (looking up to someone as a role model) or downward comparison (seeing an example of how debilitating mental illness can be).
    5. Helper theory: Those helping each other feel greater interpersonal competence from changing other’s lives for the better. The helpers feel they have gained as much as they have given to others. The helpers receive “personalized learning” from working with helpees. The helpers’ self-esteem improves with the social approval received from those they have helped, putting them an a more advantageous position to help others.

    A framework derived from common themes in empirical data describes recovery as a contextual nonlinear process, a trend of general improvement with unavoidable paroxysms while negotiating environmental, socioeconomic and internal forces, motivated by a drive to move forward in one’s life. The framework identified several negotiation strategies, some designed to accommodate illnesses and other’s designed to change thinking and behavior. The former category includes strategies such as acceptance and balancing activities. The latter includes positive thinking, increasing one’s own personal agency/control and activism within the mental health system.[22]

  11. Community. This could range from a community of affiliated cognitive self-help groups to one or more complex, self-reliant, and sustainable communities or “micro-cultures” serving a broad variety of social, educational, and economic functions with cognitive modification at the core of each one. Such a micro-culture could provide a full spectrum of venues, each having appropriate cognitive hygiene processes and objectives at its core in addition to its other activity:
    • cognitive self-help groups
    • skilled trades and professional work groups
    • green agriculture, cottage industries, and commercial enterprises
    • medical, professional, and scientific facilities
    • formal educational venues
    • and many others

    Such a complex, cognitively optimized community might offer the most effective possible matrix for rapid human cognitive development.

Poor Richard


“Men are free when they belong to a living, organic, believing community, active in fulfilling some unfulfilled, perhaps unrealized purpose.”

— D. H. Lawrence

[F]or a long time, Lawrence moved about because he was continually looking for a place where he might conceivably establish that ideal community, Rananim, as it was to be called, for which he yearned over many years, that pre-Jeffersonian community of congenial and creative and co-operative persons (many were called but few chose) who would make their own society, outside the destructive pressures of society at large.

— A D. H. Lawrence Miscellany. Contributors: Harry T. Moore – editor, D. H. Lawrence – author. Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press.  Carbondale, IL.  1959. Page Number: 293.

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