2011/03/15 08:30 Elinor Ostrom, "Thinking About the Future: A Social-Ecological Systems Approach to Sustainability", Resilience 2011, Arizona State University

Resilience 2011 --  Resilience, Innovation and Sustainability:  Navigating the Complexities of Global Change -- Second International Science and Policy Conference -- March 11-16, 2011

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker's presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship, by David Ing.


  • Workshop in Political Theory, Indiana U.
  • Arizona State U.
  • Nobel for study of economic commons

[Elinor Ostrom]

Problem of tight disciplinary boundaries

  • Faced since graduate school
  • Can't continue to keep tight boundaries, need to overcome academic towers of Babble
  • Need to build a common framework, to build theories and models

Published the SES framework in PNAS 2007, and Science 2009

  • Colleagues here working since 2007

What's the difference between frameworks, theories and models

  • Frameworks: general, nested sets of variables and their potential relationship
    • Common language
    • Don't need to use all variables every time
  • Theories posit causal relationships amongs variations that generate broad predictions
  • Models are applications of a theory
    • Stimulates theory
    • Labs are models of a theory, can change one thing at a time

Institution analysis framework, have been working on this for more than 30 years

  • An internal action situation
  • Influenced by
    • Biophysical / material conditions
    • Attributes of community
    • Rules
  • Interactions
  • Outcomes
  • Evaluative criteria

Ecologists have focused on biophysical, it isn't enough

Have done many case studies in this way

  • Fisheries
  • SES
  • Policy Studies Journal (Feb. 2011) have a series of articles on the IAD
  • Internal structure helps us understand the micro settings

Internal structure of an action situation (adapted from E. Ostrom 2005:33)

  • Actions assigned to positions, that are assigned to actions

Developed a formal model

  • Game theoretic model predicted overharvesting:  ostrom, Gardner and Walker 1992
  • In the lab, even worse overharvesting that Nash equilibrium
  • With face to face communication, came closer to optimum
  • Sanctioning rules reduced harvesting but overused the opportunity to sanction others
  • Janssen et al. Science 2010 had more scenarios, punishment

Tested whether game theory itself was an universal behaviour

  • No
  • Can develop own rules
  • Not all field studies are conducive to self-organization and sustainability
  • Getting together as in lab and in field isn't sufficient
  • Are designing a large database, fisheries and forestry

Led to a broader framework

  • Many other variables in subsets
  • Remember work by Herbert Simon on nested systems:  simple systems are nice, but many systems in the world are composed of subsystems
  • Positing we can think of a focal ecological system (lake, forest, fishery) or many to understand differences (where differences have to be compared)
  • Focal systems are composed of 4 systems


  • Resource system
  • Resource units (e.g. fish)
  • Governance system
  • Actors
  • In original PNAS, had included action situations as interactions and outcomes implicitly, now made explicitly
  • All embedded in (i) social, economic and political systems, and (ii) ecosystems

SESs are complex nested systems

  • Broad second tier variables are important (but not necessary) in many potential action situations

Second tier variables

  • RS1: sector
  • RS3: size
  • RU1: resource unit mobility (since fish and animals move)
  • GS (at levels)
  • GS8:  Monitoring and sanctioning processes (by individuals, or institutions)

Starting to work with Protege as a tool to get variables under control

  • Will be doing definitions

How does this help us to understand SESs

  • Identify variables that affect Action Situations
  • Helps to study similar systems that share some variables while differing in others
  • Helps to diagnose why some systems do not organize, and why those than organize do survive

Research, need a good question

  • When will the users of a common pool resource self-organize?
  • Hardin said never
  • Many policies based on Hardin, as the truth as part of core so that government could make people coordinate
  • Now asking when they will organization, and when will they self-organize

Math is in appendix of 2009 article

  • Why will people change, they need some estimate of the benefits of future rules
  • Have to consider whether benefits to change are negative or positive (e.g. grabbing more fish)
  • If incentive to change is negative to everyone, they won't
  • If the perceived benefits versus the cost of changing (e.g. reducing cost of harvesting for 5 years) is seen by a large proportion of people, they'll change
  • Math theory is satisfying, but can't measure this
  • Can ask people in surveys about specific costs, can't do that, only low/medium/high

Variables posited to be related

  • Have identified a large number of studies
  • Important: size, etc. ...
  • A1* number of users
  • A5* leadership/entrepreneurship (people who are effective leaders that help people find solutions)
  • A8* importance of the resource (dependence) e.g. people living near a forest may revere the forest
  • RU1 resource unit mobility, operational rules

Don't have quantitative data, but can do good field work

  • Xavier Basurto, study of Gulf of California 2009
  • Puerto Penasco is way north in Gulf of California
  • Kino Bay is way south, with Seri village of Punta Chueca nearby of indigenous people
  • Subject of harvesting is Sessile Mollusk Sea Pen Shell
  • Don't know how many mollusks are inside, but once opened, the value is high (at $15 to $30)
  • Fishing is done in small boats, fisherman go deep sea diving
  • Took the framework, worked through field notes, and then compared variables
  • A1 number of actors: Kino is large but under rapid growth
  • A5 local leadership: Kino absent
  • A6 norms of trust and reciprocity: Kino lacking
  • A9 technology used: same for all
  • GS4 formal property rights: absent in Kino and Penasco, present in Seri due to government recognition of indigenous rights
  • Successfully self organized?  Kino no, Penasco yes, did not harvest at certain times of year, resulting in a success; Seri yes
  • Kino definitely differed, a dramatic difference in field research
  • Individual small scale studies is a way of getting in deep

Kino Bay remained open access

  • Lots of boats out into bay

Seri village on a normal day has 5 boats out, and rarely more than that

  • Careful about who is fishing and when

Two SESs self organized

  • Self organization by itself is NOT sufficient
  • Getting self organized is an outcome in on action situation
  • Following rules is an operational action situation
  • Seri fishery is sustainable, but not Penasco
  • Reserve set up in Penasco was so successful, that they attracted fishers from miles away and overfished:  they weren't supposed to be there, and the Mexican government didn't tell them to go away
  • So then Penasco fisherman would go out with spears
  • Design principles absent

Design principles absent

  • Minimal recognition of rights by coverment
  • Conflict reoslution mechanism

Cox, Arnold and Villamayor, a Review and Reassessemnt of Design Principles for Community-Based Natural Resource Management", Ecology and Society 2010

  • Review 90+ studies
  • Suggeted better reframing, e.g. boundaries of people A1 and situation A2

Next steps

  • Need to do more research in multiple sites, to get a sense of the configuration of variables
  • See early Herbert Simon
  • Right now, focused on small and medium, want to get to bigger
  • Forestry, fisheries

Overview of some important findings on forestry

  • In forestry, it's monitoring of local users of other people's harvesting strategies, about whether new products and regeneration happens or goes down
  • Have studied subgroups
  • Colement and Steed in Ecol Econ show similar

Studying 100 forests in 14 countries

  • Colemand and Steed find that if local uses have the right to harvest, they are more likely to engage in monitoring and sanctions -- counter to normal thinking
  • If just into beauty, don't have the same stake
  • There are many products that people can use in a forest that isn't timber
  • Even timber can be harvested sustainably
  • If you have a sense of the future, you don't want people coming in to harvest illegal
  • Size of bribes given to local people by big companies is huge (i.e. half a year of income), so if no interest, why not take a bribe?

Chhatre and Agrawal PNAS

  • Tradeoffs in 80 forests between carbon storage in forests and contributions to livelihoods
  • Larger forests more effective
  • Keeping local people out is not the answer

Plans for future work

  • Working with colleagues in Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden and IU
  • Will be different in 5 years, trying to do this slowly
  • Trying to get better definitions: how do we get a common language
  • In the lab, doing agent-based modeling

Big conference:  Planet Under Pressure: new knowledge towards solutions, London 26-29 March 2012

  • Looking for more panels


Sanctions that local communities can use? Monitoring is good, but sanctioning for overharvesting.

  • Tie a bow on a lobster pot
  • Jim Wilson:  they almost destroyed fisheries in 1930s and 1940s
  • Lobsters are stationary, so by bay
  • Once established locations for pots, they tied a bow on it
  • The second time they found a bow, they destroyed the pot
  • Then, would gang up and destroy a boat
  • Graduated sanctioning
  • First, "Joe, what are you doing"? so that people know they're being watched
  • If a lot of people doing what they're not supposed to do, then they join the crowd
  • "We agreed we weren't supposed to fish this week.  Did you forget?"  Shaming

Culture and religion

  • Working with David Sloan-Wilson
  • Have recorded in CPR database the religious affiliation of groups, but haven't analyzed
  • Don't know enough about this
  • If people know articles, point them out
  • If have two different groups, know about that
  • Shaming?

Politics, history.  Conference focused on Eastern European countries.  Collective action has a specific colour/sense.  Cases in Eastern countries?  History of use isn't starred as important.

  • Importance might change
  • Forestry studies, have some colleagues in Romania
  • Have case studies

Changes in mobility of managers?  Trends towards urbanized settlements, and the way community is described, less place-based and more networked?

  • Not yet, it's an important question
  • Related to type of sanctions that would be used in a network
  • If send a message to 100 people about what's going on, it's a way of using the network effectively
  • Haven't had this before

Case study in Mongolia, pastoral community.   Self-organized.  How sustainable.  Along river basin on three small river streams.  Would like to demonstrate something that makes postiive change

  • Examples are important
  • SESs may find some variables important in different cases
  • Simple multiple regression is useful in some cases, but when have variables changing, different approach

Governance, in property rights.  Mexico government didn't support local fishermen.  Differences in the level or scale of governance, whether regional government or national government, or international.  Does level of governmance matter?

  • It matters, but don't have a universal better
  • Depends on the scale of the problem
  • Local fisheries in Mexico, getting rules crafted locally is better than having someone write 200 miles away
  • If there's no backup, then need higher
  • An elite that comes in and sets up, may get their interests, need oversight
  • Very discouraged about ocean fisheries
  • Polycentric approaches may be used in climate change, people living near each other may use shaming