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Governing complex commons — The role of communication for experimental learning and coordinated management

Lindahl, T., Ö. Bodin and M. Tengö. (2015) Ecological Economics 11:111-120.


In this paper, we build on common-pool research and adaptive management to increase our understanding on if and how communication between resource users affects their joint ability to learn about and manage complex ecological resources. More specifically we 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 designed a laboratory experiment where we tested the effect of user communication over time in a setup with two interdependent resources, and where resource access is asymmetrical: one resource is shared and the other is private. Our results indicate that communication, through its interaction with experi- mental learning is more multifaceted than what previous experimental studies on commons dilemmas suggest. We show for example that in communicating groups the likelihood of successful resource management increases, but this effect is mostly dominant in earlier periods, when resource dynamics are unknown. We hypothesize however, that communication stimulates continual improvements by fine-tuning of management through experimental learning and coordinated resource extraction. Furthermore, we hypothesize that in communicating groups, the need to quickly gain a basic understanding of the dynamics overshadows not only the devotion to improve management of the private resource but also the potential tensions brought by the asymmetry in resource access.

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Keywords: Common pool resources, Resource interdependencies, Asymmetries, Laboratory experiments, Adaptive management, Experimental learning

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