Schweik Granted Award Honoring Legacy of Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom

Charles Schweik
Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Associate Professor Charles Schweik (environmental conservation and public policy) is one of three senior scholars worldwide to receive a new award honoring the late political economist Elinor Ostrom, the only woman to date to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

Schweik was recognized with the Elinor Ostrom Award on Collective Governance of the Commons for his innovative efforts over the last 15 years to study Internet-based collective action, particularly related to open-source (free) software. In his book Internet Success: A Study of Open Source Software Commons (MIT Press, 2012), Schweik and his former graduate student Robert English analyzed more than 170,000 Internet-based common property projects and tested more than 40 theoretically based hypotheses.

The Ostrom award also recognizes Schweik’s commitment to putting his open-source research into practice in the form of open-education projects. For example, since 2007 Schweik has led an effort to build an international network of faculty that collaborate on open-source geographic information systems education. Over the last couple years he has also worked closely with the UMass Amherst's provost’s office and the W.E.B. Du Bois Library on the Open Education Initiative, a program that promotes the production and use of open-access educational materials to engage students and keep their textbook costs down. In 2012 the Center for Digital Education named Schweik one of the top 50 innovators in education for his cutting-edge use of open-source software in the classroom and as a research focus.

Finally, the recognition also highlights Schweik’s efforts in promoting and mentoring students in the study of “knowledge commons.” Schweik recently founded the Workshop in the Study of Knowledge Commons, which brings together faculty, staff and students on the UMass campus who want to understand new models for producing and sharing information that can feed humanity’s knowledge.

The other senior scholars to receive this year’s Ostrom award were Ben Cousins (University of Western Cape, South Africa) and Harini Nagendra (Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, India).

Throughout her career, Ostrom, who was a professor of political science at Indiana University  and died in 2012, focused on demonstrating that “collaboration is possible, frequent and occurs among individuals of different rationalities and in different context.” She challenged previously accepted “conventional wisdom that common property is poorly managed and should be either regulated by central authorities or privatized.” As a result, Ostrom dramatically changed the norms that had regulated not only political science and economics, but also social and behavioral sciences more generally. In 2009 she received the Nobel memorial prize “for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons,” and shared the award with fellow economist Oliver E. Williamson. Ostrom was on the UMass Amherst campus in 2011 to present the Philip Gamble Memorial Lecture.