Archive for November, 2013

What do we mean by Common-Pool Resource Theory?

I have frequently seen people use the term common-pool resource (CPR) theory, and I’ve often been  confused by what they mean beyond that they are concerned with the tragedy of the commons and related ideas.  However, some add in a great deal of collective action theory, concepts from resilience, and ideas about social-ecological systems.  In this text, I won’t try to defend a particular set of hypotheses, theories, or other constructs about what should be counted and what shouldn’t.  Instead, I’d like to talk about a nice public good regarding our understanding of CPRs that springs from the Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database (SESMAD) project that I’ve written about before.

At the end of October, ASU hosted the most recent SESMAD meeting.  We met to put the culminating touches on a coding manual for the project database, an attempt to make sure that all project contributors would take a similar approach to diagnosing and coding a case for the database (and appeasing our concerns with inter-coder reliability).



Our first thought was that this would be a painful (soul-sucking, perhaps) but necessary activity that would help further the project and improve the internal validity of the project.  We began with all project members taking on a sub-set of the 200+ variables in the database and defining them, discuss their importance in the CPR literature, and providing relevant citations and sources.  The database, itself, could then be used to provide examples of how we coded these variables across a number of cases.  We then used our time together in Arizona to edit these variable write-ups and create our coding manual.  It turned out to be much more enjoyable than we initially thought.

This brings me to the creation of a public good.  I have personally always struggled with the idea of a single coherent and unifying theory of CPRs. However, this manual represents a nearly exhaustive listing of the variables seen to influence the sustainable governance of CPRs according to the current literature.  As our database goes online in January, scholars will have access to a thorough list of key CPR variables with definitions, an understanding of their importance, with relevant examples and citations.  This can serve as a one-stop source for students and scholars in the study of the commons.  It lacks the structure of a theory, but it enables the construction of a multitude of well-defined hypotheses and theories and provides clarity and consistency for its users.  I hope that its use goes far beyond our project.

New Transboundary Conservation Guidelines

A few weeks ago a group of transboundary conservation specialists met in Thayatal National Park in Northern Austria.  Thayatal National Park, on the Thaya River along the old Iron Curtain, is part of a transboundary protected area with its neighbor, Podyji National Park, in the Czech Republic. We gathered to craft a new IUCN (World Conservation Union) Best Practice Guideline on transboundary conservation in the 21st Century.  Our mission included revising prior recommendations last revised in 2001 as well as begin to take a more holistic view of transboundary conservation and extend this beyond past notions of conservation = national park-style protected areas.

The project brings together a nice blend of scholars, NGO representatives,  conservation practitioners and park officials from around the globe.  We had 20 participants from 17 different countries discussing a range of issues from management and governance to diverse types/styles of transboundary conservation (formal protected areas, mixed land use types, informal collaborations at international and sub-national scales, etc).  Participants gave talks on case studies covering transboundary conservation projects from around the globe.  We also managed to hammer out a first draft of key terms in the field.  In the coming months we will draft a book on that builds on state of the art knowledge on the subject for a launch at the World Parks Congress next year in Sydney.  I will follow up with a post on developments as the guidelines get closer to approval.

The final day included a nice excursion of rafting along the Thaya River and hiking back through the park.

Czech Castle near Thayatal NP

Czech Castle near Thayatal NP

The Thaya River
The Thaya River