About LabGov Georgetown

The History of LabGov Georgetown

The first LabGov was founded in 2011 at LUISS Guido Carli University in Rome by Professor Christian Iaione as an applied research laboratory that sought to bring together international scholars from various disciplines, along with practitioners and other experts from around the globe, to explore innovative forms of stewardship and governance of shared urban resources.  LabGov soon became internationally renown for its role in helping to draft and implement the Bologna Regulation on the Urban Commons, which became a celebrated international example of innovation in this area. 

The Bologna Regulation was drafted after two years of immersive field work and three “urban commons governance labs” run by Professor Christian Iaione. The Bologna Regulation is a 30-page regulatory framework outlining how local authorities, citizens, and the community at large can manage public and private spaces and assets together. It is a sort of handbook for civic and public collaboration, and also a new vision for government. It reflects the strong belief that we need a cultural shift in terms of how we think about urban governance, moving away from the Leviathan or Welfare State toward more collaborative or polycentric forms of governance.

Logo for the international association for the study of the commons

Bologna became the site of the first ever international conference on the urban commons, sponsored by IASC, which was held in November 2015 and drew over 200 researchers and practitioners from around the world. For an overview of this conference, its many successes, and its “creative energy,” read one participant’s reflections of the conference here

Due in part to the success and acclaim of the Bologna Regulation, other LabGov’s began to emerge around the globe, from Costa Rica, to Saõ Paolo, to New York and beyond. LabGov Georgetown is one of the newest LabGov’s to emerge and remains in close partnership with the founding and original LabGov in Italy

LabGov Georgetown, like the other LabGovs, is primarily focused on exploring and further developing what is referred to as “commons” research, which focuses on access to, and the governance of, shared resources, both tangible and intangible, and open access spaces. This body of research was first inspired by the ground-breaking work of American political economist Elinor Ostrom, whose research on the commons won her the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. Ostrom, who remains the only woman to ever receive a Nobel Peace Prize in Economics, shattered conventional wisdom regarding shared, open-access resources, which was then based on Garrett Hardin’s famous Tragedy of the Commons thesis. This thesis held that unowned spaces or resources, in the absence of government regulation or private ownership, will ultimately fall victim to human greediness, and therefore, over-exploitation and ultimate depletion. Through a series of powerful empirical case studies, Ostrom proved that Hardin’s pessimistic conclusion was not inevitable, and that instead, in certain contexts, communities and collections of individuals can successfully collaborate, even in the absence of governmental regulation or privatization, to sustainably manage open access resources. 

Picture of Elinor Ostrom, winner of the nobel peace prize in Economics in 2009

Ostrom’s work primarily focused on natural resources, such as rivers, lakes, fisheries, and forests.  The LabGov project expands on, and extends, Ostrom’s line of inquiry to a new field entirely: the city.  Using Ostrom’s many insights and design principles as guidance, the LabGov attempts to understand and explicate how, under what circumstances, using which tools, and according to which principles, coalitions of individuals come together in urban contexts to share, enjoy and utilize their shared living spaces and resources. 

LabGov treats the city as a “commons,” or a shared, open access resource to which its residents are entitled to utilize and enjoy for their mutual advantage and benefit.  It explores the creative, nuanced, and multi-faceted ways that communities, local governments, civil society organizations, and certain private actors collaborate together to enjoy, govern and use their city in this way.  Finally, it attempts to identify the patterns, themes, and commonalities, what we refer to as the “design principles,” that make certain initiatives successful, sustainable and accessible to all members of the community in ways that advance principles of distributive justice.

LabGov Georgetown’s Mission    

Sketch by Becca Barad of the Co-City Method which underlies the study of the commons

LabGov Georgetown brings the study of the commons to Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy in Washington DC through a partnership with the original LabGov based in Rome, Italy. LabGov Georgetown is the primary U.S. based research site for the exchange of ideas among scholars and practitioners to refine and improve experimental policies and projects specifically relating to the urban commons, a nascent and cutting-edge area of study spearheaded by Professors Sheila Foster and Christian Iaione. LabGov Georgetown is co-host to the groundbreaking international applied research project, the “Co-Cities Project” under the direction of Professor Sheila Foster. The Co-Cities project is collecting data on public policies and local projects from cities around the world that are spurring innovative approaches to shared urban resources. To date, the project has collected data on over 400 projects from over 100 cities!

*Sketch compliments of artist Becca Barad (@BeccaB_Rad).

As part of the Co-Cities Project, LabGov is also developing a prototype of an institutionalized process to govern resources in cities as a collaborative commons. It will help to develop the Co-Cities research program at Georgetown, coordinating with local researchers working in all regions of the globe. LabGov Georgetown hopes to integrate and connect its work on the urban commons with the work of researchers working on similar issues at Georgetown. In this way, LabGov is an interdisciplinary and internationally-focused project that hopes to attract scholars and practitioners alike in the project of developing and expanding our understanding of the urban commons and how it can be co-governed.

Read our Latest Blog Post: “Ostrom in the City: Design Principles for the Urban Commons,” August 20, 2017.

Read about the Exciting and Successful “Celebrating Commons Scholarship” Conference held at Georgetown University on Oct 5-6, 2018.

Check out Other Active LabGovs Around the Globe.