Making complex commons work: identifying critical social-ecological factors and mechanisms for sustainable ecosystem management
2015 (English)Licentiate thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Collective action holds the key to many sustainability challenges, from local to global scales. Whether it is to manage community-based fisheries or take action against climate change or biodiversity loss – the question on how to overcome the conflict between individual and collective interests (i.e., social dilemmas) has attracted and fascinated scholars from various disciplines. This has led to substantial progress over the past decades in the field of Sustainability Science. However, many puzzles remain, since solving social dilemmas is far from trivial. Until recently, most research has emphasized understanding social interactions and institutional factors as they relate to collective action emergence, sustainability and success. This thesis takes a social-ecological systems perspective on collective action problems, more specifically, commons dilemmas at the local scale, and incorporates both social, and ecological sources of complexity. Evidence suggests that with increasing anthropogenic pressure, the likelihood for abrupt and potentially undesirable ecosystem change increases. This might further complicate the emergence of collective action and successful ecosystem management. At the same time, such potential changes make successful collective action even more critical. This thesis addresses these challenges by identifying critical social-ecological factors and mechanisms underpinning successful collective action and sustainable ecosystem management in the face of complex ecosystem dynamics and associated uncertainties. In Paper 1 and Paper 2 of this licentiate thesis, we experimentally assess the risk for, and effect of undesirable, endogenously driven non-linear ecosystem change, i.e., a regime shift. We use laboratory common-pool resource games, with students as participants. We show that such a very likely or certain regime shift can mobilize collective action, and that it can serve as focal point around which people coordinate their actions, thereby protecting key ecological functions. In Paper 3, we develop an agent-based model (ABM) empirically informed by a subset of the experiments of Paper 1 and Paper 2. The ABM allows us to zoom into the process of how user groups formulate cooperative agreements, revealing when cooperation leads to sustainable management. Our results highlight that it is not only the overall level of individual understanding of the ecosystem dynamics that matters, but how the distribution of this understanding within the group plays out in combination with the environmental uncertainty the individuals perceive, and whether or not they feel comfortable enough to share their understanding with the other group members. Together, the three papers show that accounting for social-ecological dynamics can reveal factors and mechanisms critical for cooperation and sustainable management, beyond the social and institutional realm. Consequently, this licentiate thesis contributes to advancing the understanding of collective action and sustainable ecosystem management.
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University , 2015.
Agent-based modelling, Behavioural experiments, Collective action, Common-pool resources, Cooperation, Ecological complexity, Knowledge sharing, Regime shifts, Social-ecological systems, Sustainable management, Thresholds, Uncertainty
Research subject Sustainability Science
IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-121445OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-121445DiVA: diva2:858199