Posts Tagged ‘collective action’

Ozone under a Social-Ecological Systems Lens

With my colleagues Graham Epstein, Chanda Meek, and Irene Perez-Ibarra, we have a manuscript coming out in the International Journal of the Commons this month, “Governing the Invisible Commons: Ozone Regulation and the Montreal Protocol”.  We are very excited to see this in print for a number of reasons.

We wanted to highlight both how the SES framework and, as an extension, the SES Meta-Analysis Database could be used for pollution cases, and we wanted to show the insights gained by such an analysis in general.  This goes against some commonly held beliefs on the generalizability of case studies.  We believe that the manuscript makes important independent contributions related to the relevance of CPR theory and the SES framework to large-scale pollution cases.  As the analysis shows several factors associated with CPR theory such as proportionality, political participation, and nested governance are associated with substantial reductions in ODS emissions.   This suggests that common-pool resources and scale may not act as a boundary for CPR theory which may apply to a wider range of goods and environmental problems.  Second, the SESMAD approach draws attention to the complexity of social-ecological systems which is often lost in narrow theoretical accounts.  Many past studies apply a  a single theoretical lens to analyze the Montreal Protocol, and focus on one or a few variables.  Given well-known problems with applying singular models to cases, we believe that our approach which draws attention to some of the real-world complexity of the case is, at a minimum, a useful complement to other studies and at best draws attention to the multiplicity of factors whose interactions led to its success.  Given the general failure of a Montreal Protocol type approach to resolve problems associated with climate change, it would seem that such considerations possess both theoretical and policy-relevant value.

We think that the greatest strength of the case study utilizing the framework is its development of a systematic approach to perform within-case analysis using snapshots over time.  This allowed us to identify important changes that may have contributed to the general success of the Montreal Protocol.  However, we acknowledge weaknesses in reducing the level of measurement associated with some variables, the loss of dimensionality of others, and the averaging over heterogeneity in some as well.

(Thanks to my co-authors for their brilliant insights.)

Ozone Layer from 1979-2008 from NASA

Ozone Layer from 1979-2008 from NASA

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.