Sustaining groups



Even when people share goals and have good motivations, it can be difficult for them to coordinate their individual actions so that the group accomplishes desired outcomes. This is the “Problem of collective action,” and it comes in many forms. There are ways of overcoming it.


  • Grade Inflation and Teaching: The Private School Marketplace
    “Grade Inflation and Teaching: What Should Teachers do in a World of Entitlement?” by Meira Levinson and Ilana Finefter from Justice in Schools is a case that poses classic questions about a problem of collective action and values. From the summary: In a world of increasingly competitive college admissions, more and more one grade may … Continue reading
  • Commons game (online version)
    This is a game that will play well for a large virtual group, and it is free. An in-person game is available elsewhere on this site. A useful list of other games, with reviews, is here. This game simulates: A pandemic at a university. (How much does each student comply with social distancing?) Carbon policy. (How … Continue reading
  • Commons game (in person version)
    Lesson plans can be found all over the Internet for games that model the “Tragedy of the Commons” using goldfish crackers. This is a version used in the Introduction to Civic Studies course at Tufts. Materials: goldfish crackers (“fish”); plastic bowls (“lakes”); and forks (as tools for fishing). Rules: Each group of four people should sit in … Continue reading

Related Concepts

  • Design principles for commons
    Elinor Ostrom and colleagues have found that communities are more likely to succeed at producing and protecting common pool resources if they employ the principles listed below (as phrased in Levine 2022, drawing on E. Ostrom 1990 and E. Ostrom 2010, 653) For the underlying theory, see this video lecture by Peter Levine on Ostrom’s … Continue reading
  • Social capital
    “Capital” always means something of value that produces a “flow” of goods for the one(s) who own it. For instance, a factory is physical capital. It can produce manufactured products if it is supplied with trained people (human capital) and raw materials. Social capital is unique in that it is not owned by an individual … Continue reading

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