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Governing complex commons – the role of communication for experimental learning and coordinated management

Therese Lindahl, Örjan Bodin and MariaTengö. 2013.


In this paper, we build on adaptive management and common pool research to increase our understanding on if and how communication between resource users affects their joint ability to learn about and manage complex ecological common resources over time. More specifically we will study the role of user communication in relation to learning through continual experimentation, when managing a complex resource system involving resource interdependencies. For this purpose we design a laboratory experiment where we test the effect of user communication in a setup with two interdependent resources and where resource access is asymmetrical. Our results indicate that communication is more multifaceted than what previous experimental studies on commons dilemmas suggest. We show for example that in communicating groups that can share information and therefore has access to more data points, the likelihood of a successful resource management increases, especially in earlier time periods. Moreover, sustained communication and coordinated extractions seems to stimulate fine-tuning of management through experimental learning over time. Furthermore we hypothesize that in communicating groups, the need to gain a basic understanding of the resource dynamics overshadows the potential tension brought by the asymmetry in resource access, but this effect may diminish once a basic understanding of the system has been achieved, after which more attention is drawn to sharing rules and norms.

Keywords: social-ecological systems, resource interdependencies, asymmetries laboratory experiments, common pool resources, adaptive management, communication, learning

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