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Working Papers

August 28, 2017

Robustness and resilience have become central ideas in Sustainability Science in general and, more specifically, the study of social-ecological systems (SESs) and their capacity to cope with change (Anderies et al., 2013; Walker et al., 2009; Janssen et al., 2007; Janssen and Anderies, 2007; Walker et al., 2006; Adger et al., 2010; Eakin and Wehbe, 2009).

January 25, 2017

Groundwater is one of the most challenging common pool resources to govern, resulting in resource depletion in many areas. We present an innovative use of collective action games to not only measure propensity for collective action, but to improve local understanding of groundwater interrelationships and stimulate collective governance of groundwater, based on a pilot study with NGOs in Andhra Pradesh, India. The games simulate crop choice and consequences for the aquifer.

October 24, 2016

To evaluate the concern over the reproducibility of computational science we reviewed 2367 journal articles on agent-based models published between 1990 and 2014 and documented the public availability of source code. The percentage of publications that make the model code available is about 10%. The percentages are similar for publications that are reportedly dependent on public funding.

April 27, 2016

The planetary boundary framework constitutes an opportunity for decision makers to define climate policy through the lens of adaptive governance. Here, we use the DICE model for analyzing the set of adaptive climate policies that comply with the two planetary boundaries on climate change: 1) staying below a CO2 concentration of 550ppm until 2100 and 2) recovering 350ppm in 2100.

April 27, 2016

We report on experiments with a spatial explicit dynamic resource where individuals make incentivized real-time decisions when and where to harvest the resource units. We test how individuals make decisions when they manage the resource on their own, or share a resource twice the size with another person. We find that most individuals do not harvest resources close to the optimal strategy when they manage the resource individually, and this relates to their understanding of the instructions and their social orientation. Cooperators let resources grow even when there is no social dilemma.

December 16, 2015

Formal models are commonly used in natural resource management (NRM) to study human-environment interactions and inform policy aking. In the majority of applications, human behavior is represented by the rational actor model despite growing empirical evidence of its shortcomings in NRM contexts.

October 30, 2015

Encouragement of learning is considered central to resilience of complex systems such as social-ecological systems (SESs). However, despite the consensus on the centrality of learning, our understanding of the details of how learning should be encouraged remains far from settled. This study investigates that puzzle by examining existing data of a behavioral experiment of a SES that involves endogenous group learning. We generate new hypotheses regarding how learning should be encouraged by comparing the learning process undergone by 21 groups of human-subjects.

October 28, 2015

Improving the adaptive capacity of small-scale irrigation systems to the impacts of climate change is crucial for food security in Asia. This study analyzes the capacity of small-scale irrigation systems dependent on the Asian monsoon to adapt to variability in river discharge caused by climate change. Our study is motivated by the Pumpa irrigation system, a small-scale irrigation system located in Nepal that is a model for this type of system.

August 28, 2015

Many scholars have worked for decades to understand what characteristics of social organization enable groups to solve social dilemmas. Social dilemmas involve two problems: 1) individuals face a choice in which the best outcome can only be achieved if many other decision makers make a choice that benefits the total payoff of the group and 2) there is no way to guarantee others will also make decisions that will benefit the group, so individuals face strong incentives to make a choice that is best for themselves and will have negative impacts on the group.

July 13, 2015

On-going efforts to understand the dynamics of coupled social-ecological (or more broadly, coupled infrastructure) systems and common pool resources have led to the generation of numerous datasets based on a large number of case studies.

June 11, 2015

Previous statistical analyses of Elinor Ostrom's design principles have demonstrated that they have some predictive capacity to explain successful self-governance and CPR management regimes. But their implementation does not ensure success in multiple dimensions. Critiques have shown that there are important contexts and contingencies that these principles do not consider, and that other scholars working from different approaches could develop a different set of principles with similar explanatory power.

April 15, 2015

This paper contributes to the development of a theory of hunter-gatherer territorial dynamics. We investigate the impact of institutions (rules and norms) that restrict the use rights of territories and the storage of food on population-territory size dynamics. Our results indicate that the storage of food fundamentally alters population-territory size dynamics in hunter-gatherer societies. When societies store food, territory size is a sub-linear function of population. When societies do not store food, the function is approximately linear.

April 7, 2015

The evolution of agricultural economies requires two processes: 1) the domestication of plants and 2) specialization in domesticates at the expense of hunting and gathering. Yet, in the literature, domestication receives the lions share of attention while theories of specialization in domesticates lag behind.

April 6, 2015

Reciprocity is a core institution that allows diverse individuals to engage in collective action. Collective action is essential to meet the goals of sustainable development. The twin goals of sustainable development are to protect the well-being of individuals and ecosystems in ways that are

February 20, 2015

Behavioral experiments have demonstrated that people do cooperate in commons dilemmas. The traditional theory of selfish rational behavior is clearly falsified. However, we lack agreement on alternative formal models to explain the actions seen in the lab and beyond. In this paper, we will use agent-based models to compare alternative behavioral theories on a series of experimental data of irrigation games.

January 1, 2015

When governing shared resources, the level and quality of information available to resource users on the actions of others and the state of the environment may have a critical effect on the performance of groups. In the work presented here, we find that lower availability of information does not affect the average performance of the group in terms of their capacity to provide public infrastructure and govern resource use, but it affects the distribution of earnings and the ability to cope with disturbances. We performed behavioral experiments that mimic irrigation dilemmas in which

December 5, 2014

Ecological models are a fundamental tool that archaeologists use to clarify our thinking about the processes that generate the archaeological record. Typically, arguments reasoned from a single model are bolstered by observing the consistency of ethnographic data with the argument. This is often referred to as model validation, and establishes that an argument is reasonable.

November 3, 2014

Governing common pool resources in the face of disturbances such as globalization and climate change is challenging. Success stories often become non-success stories when they are transplanted from one context, with a dierent set of conditions to another. We analyzed 69 cases of irrigation systems, sheries, and forests to understand some of the factors that underlie the long-term success of common pool resource management regimes in the face of change.

August 27, 2014

For several millennia, humans have created built environments to harness natural processes for their benefit. Today, human-environment interactions are mediated extensively by physical infrastructure in both rural and urban environments. Yet studies of social-ecological systems (SESs) have not paid suficient attention to how infrastructure influences coupled natural and social processes. This misses an important point: critical infrastructure is often a public good that depends on cooperation of the agents who share it.

August 18, 2014

Groundwater is a common pool resource which experiences depletion in many places around the world. The increased use of irrigation and water demanding cash crops stimulate this development. We present results of field experiments on groundwater dilemmas performed in hard rock areas of Andhra Pradesh, India. Two NGOs (Foundation for Ecological Security and Jana Jagriti) ran the games in communities in which they were working to improve watershed and water management. Games were played with groups of five men or five women, followed by a community debriefing.

April 28, 2014

I present a general mathematical modeling framework that can provide a foundation for the study of sustainability in social ecological systems (SESs). Using basic principles from feedback control and a sequence of specific models from bioeconomics and economic growth, I outline several mathematical and empirical challenges associated with the study of sustainability of SESs. These challenges are categorized into three classes: 1) the social choice of performance measures, 2) uncertainty, and 3) collective action.

February 6, 2014

Research on collective action and common pool resources is extensive. However, little work has concentrated on the effect of uncertainty in resource availability and collective action, especially in the context of asymmetric access to resources. Earlier works have demonstrated that uncertainty often leads to a reduction of collective action in the governance of shared resources. Here we assess how uncertainty in the resource availability may impact collective action. We perform a behavioral experiment of an irrigation dilemma.

January 29, 2014

Recently, there has been an increased interest in using behavioral experiments to study hypotheses on the governance of social-ecological experiments. A diversity of software tools are used to implement such experiments. In this paper we evaluate various publicly available platforms that could be used in research and education on the governance of social-ecological systems. The aims of the various platforms are distinct and this is noticeable in the differences in their user-friendliness and their adaptability to novel research questions.

October 14, 2013

Conventional wisdom suggests that improving water governance is the key to solving water insecurity in developing countries but there are also many disagreements on operational and methodological issues. In this paper, we build on the work of Saleth and Dinar and surveyed 100 water experts from 17 countries in Asia to compare 19 indicators of water laws, policies and administration among and within countries from 2001 to 2010.

October 7, 2013

Allowing resource users to communicate in behavioral experiments on commons dilemmas increases the level of cooperation. In actual common pool resource dilemmas in the real world, communication is costly, which is an important detail missing from most typical experiments. We conducted experiments where participants must give up harvesting opportunities to communicate. The constrained communication treatment is compared with the effect of limited information about the state of the resource and the actions of the other participants.

October 7, 2013

In traditional public good experiments participants receive an endowment from the experimenter that can be invested in a public good or kept in a private account. In this paper we present an experimental environment that uses participants time as their natural endowment, which can be invested in the public good experiment. The experiment runs for several days and participants can make contributions to the threshold public good by logging into a web application and performing virtual actions.

September 18, 2013

We develop an agent-based model of foraging behavior based on ecological parameters of the environment and prey characteristics measured in the Mbaracayu Reserve Paraguay. We then compare predicted foraging behavior from our model to the ethnographically observed behavior of Ache hunter-gatherers who inhabit the region and show a close match for daily harvest rates, time allocation, and species composition of prey.

September 13, 2013

We present a repository for disseminating the computational models associated with publications in the social and life sciences. The number of research projects using computational models has been steadily increasing but the resulting publications often lack model code and documentation which hinders replication, verication of results and accumulation of knowledge. We have developed an open repository, the CoMSES Net Computational Model Library, to address this problem.

August 14, 2013

Human societies are unique in the level of cooperation among non-kin. Evolutionary models explaining this behavior typically assume pure strategies of cooperation and defection. Behavioral experiments, however, demonstrate that humans are typically conditional co-operators who have other-regarding preferences. Building on existing models on the evolution of cooperation and costly punishment, we use a utilitarian formulation of agent decision making to explore conditions that support the emergence of cooperative behavior.

May 20, 2013

Fishing communities and fisheries governance systems are dynamically engaged in a process of social, ecological, and economic change as they respond to double exposure from globalization and climate change (Leichenko and OBrien, 2008). In this study of the multi-species fishery of Barrington, Nova Scotia, I examine how fish harvesters have responded to warming water temperatures and declining wharf prices.

May 1, 2013

To govern the commons, states often focus on structures or instruments, such as delegated co-management or tradable quotas. This research argues that this emphasis often presents a trade-off with making investments into socially just action arenas. I revisit the case of the Port Lameron groundsh and lobster fishery in Southwest Nova Scotia, Canada, originally explored by Elinor Ostrom in Governing the Commons (1990) based on research by Davis (1984).

April 3, 2013

The context in which many self-governing commons systems operate will likely be signicantly altered
as globalization processes play out over the next few decades. Such dramatic changes will induce some
systems to fail and subsequently transform rather than merely adapt. Despite this foreseeable trend,
the research on globalization-induced transformations of social-ecological systems (SESs) is still
underexplored. This study seeks to help fill this gap by exploring patterns of transformation in SESs

January 7, 2013

In recent years there has been a shift in biodiversity conservation efforts from the confines of enclosed protected areas to a more expansive view of interlinked habitat patches across multiple land tenure types and land uses. However, much work remains on how conservation managers can intervene in such a system to achieve the sustainability of basic conservation goals.

January 7, 2013

Public policy processes are complex, dynamic phenomena. Understanding such dynamic phenomenon requires some sort of strategy for simplification - some way to isolate key system components and relationships among them that can be generalized to understand how the system structure defined by these components and relationships relates to policy outcomes across various contexts. There has been steady development of improved policy theory (Sabatier et al., 1999, 2007) focusing on better understanding how actors, problems, solutions, and decision opportunities interact to generate policy change.

January 7, 2013

Elinor Ostrom was a leader in using multiple methods to perform institutional analysis. In this paper we discuss how a multi-method approach she pioneered may be used to study the robustness of social-ecological systems. We synthesize lessons learned from a series of studies on small-scale irrigation systems in which we use comparative case study analysis, experimental methods in lab and field settings, and mathematical models.

December 7, 2012

This paper is a study of collective action in asymmetric access to a common resource. An example is an irrigation system with upstream and downstream resource users. While both contribute to the maintenance of the common infrastructure, the upstream participant has rst access to the resource. Results of our two-player asymmetric commons game show that privileged resource access player invest more than the downstream players. Investments by the downstream player into the common resource are rewarded by a higher share from the common resource by the upstream player.

October 5, 2012

Global sustainable use of natural resources confronts our society as a collective action problem at an unprecedented scale. Past research has provided insights into the attributes of local social-ecological systems that enable effective self-governance. In this note we discuss possible mechanisms to scale up those community level insights to a larger scale. We do this by combining insights from social-psychology on the role of information feedback with the increasing availability of information technology.

October 3, 2012

Globalization is an important feature affecting the robustness of small-scale social-ecological systems (SESs). Understanding the way globalization affects those systems is crucial for adaptation. In this paper we focus on analyzing how the increased displacement of resource users as a consequence of globalization affects the robustness of SESs. We developed a stylized agent-based model representing a dynamic population of agents moving and harvesting a renewable resource.

August 20, 2012

This paper develops a minimal model of land use and carbon cycle dynamics and explores the relationship between nonlinear dynamics and planetary boundaries. Only the most basic interactions between land cover, terrestrial carbon stocks and atmospheric carbon stocks are considered.

July 25, 2012

This chapter describes the empirical calibration of a theoretical model based on data from field experiments. Field experiments on irrigation dilemmas were performed to understand how resource users overcome asymmetric collective action problems (Janssen et al., 2012).

June 20, 2012

Studies of collective action in commons dilemmas in social-ecological systems typically focus on scenarios in which actors all share symmetric (or similar) positions in relation to the common-pool resource. Many common social-ecological systems do not meet these criteria, most notably, irrigation systems.

April 30, 2012

The performance of institutional arrangements is expected to depend on the fit between institutions and ecological dynamics. The ecological dynamics affect the ability of resource users to observe the behavior of others as well as the state of the ecological systems. If ecological dynamics increase the costs of monitoring, we can expect institutional arrangements to be crafted that reduce the costs of monitoring. In case studies we see examples of how ecological dynamics affect rules for appropriation. 

April 30, 2012

Around the globe, diarrheal disease causes millions of preventable deaths each year, with most in children zero to five years old. The transmission of disease follows a pathway in which fecal parts are spread to human hosts through fluids, tactile contact, flies, the environment, living quarters, and food. There are several barriers that can inhibit this transmission, with sanitation functioning primarily, while hygiene and potable water supply function as secondary barriers. A large amount of research has been done concerning the effectiveness of

April 30, 2012

A sustainable future requires a change of human activities at a global scale. Global agreements have not been very effective. At the local level there are many examples of successful efforts to solve collective action problems within social-ecological systems. The study of these examples has led to an understanding of the principles of self-governance. We propose to scale up these insights of self-governance using social media tools to address global change challenges.