Strengthening collective action institutions involves recognizing local community or user group land rights particularly through formal property mechanisms. However, policy initiatives based on collective action theories can be highly prescriptive and difficult to apply in developing contexts. Employing a qualitative case study methodology, I explore the ways in which donor organizations in Mongolia attempt to strengthen common property or collective action institutions by engineering socioeconomic units and formalizing property rights to pastureland. These initiatives face difficulties in defining group social and resource use boundaries and the herders' vision of pastureland management. Using an access approach, this study reveals various legal and extra-legal mechanisms that have historically persisted to enable the state and local community to manage state territories, pastoral production, and resources. Overestimating the capacity of formalized property rights obscures the importance of other mechanisms in strengthening state and local community co-management and collective action institutions.