Collaborative Advantage: Creating Global Commons for Science, Technology, and Innovation

Essay by Leonard Lynn and Hal Salzman: “…We argue that abandoning this techno-nationalist approach and instead investing in systems of global innovation commons, modeled on successful past experiences, and developing new principles and policies for collaborative STI could bring substantially greater benefits—not only for the world, but specifically for the United States. Key to this effort will be creating systems of governance that enable nations to contribute to the commons and to benefit from its innovations, while also allowing each country substantial freedom of action…

The competitive and insular tone of contemporary discourse about STI stands in contrast to our era’s most urgent challenges, which are global in scale: the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and governance of complex emerging technologies such as gene editing and artificial intelligence. These global challenges, we believe, require resources, scientific understanding, and know-how that can best be developed through common resource pools to enable both global scale and rapid dissemination. Moreover, aside from moral or ethical considerations about sharing such innovations, the reality of current globalization means that solutions—such as pandemic vaccines—must spread beyond national borders to fully benefit the world. Consequently, each separate national interest will be better served by collaboratively building up the global stocks of STI as public goods. Global scientific commons could be vital in addressing these challenges, but will require new frameworks for governance that are fair and attractive to many nations while also enabling them to act individually.

A valuable perspective on the governance of common pool resources (CPR) can be found in the work that Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom did with her colleagues beginning in the 1950s. Ostrom, a political scientist, studied how communities that must share common resources—water, fisheries, or grazing land—use trust, cooperation, and collective deliberation to manage those resources over the long term. Before Ostrom’s work, many economists believed that shared resource systems were inherently unsustainable because individuals acting in their own self-interest would ultimately undermine the good of the group, often described as “the tragedy of the commons.” Instead, Ostrom demonstrated that communities can create durable “practical algorithms” for sharing pooled resources, whether that be irrigation in Nepal or lobster fishing in Maine…(More)”.