Category Irrigation

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Journal Articles

Fragility of the provision of local public goods to private and collective risks

Cárdenas, J.C., M.A. Janssen, M. Ale, R. Bastakoti, A.M. Bernal, J. Chalermphol, Y. Gong, H.C. Shin, G. Shivakoti, Y. Wang, J.M. Anderies

2017 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 114(5): 921-925.


Small holder agricultural systems, strongly dependent on water resources and investments in shared infrastructure, make a significant contribution to food security in developing countries. These communities are increasingly integrated in the global economy and are exposed to new global climate-related risks that may affect their willingness to cooperate in community level collective action problems. We performed field experiments on public goods with private and collective risks in 118 small-scale rice producing communities in four countries. Our results indicate that increasing integration of those communities with the broader economic system is associated with lower investments in public goods when facing collective risks. These findings indicate that local public good provision may be negatively affected by collective risks especially if communities are more integrated with the market economy.


Games for Groundwater Governance: Field Experiments in Andhra Pradesh, India

Meinzen-Dick, R., R. Chaturvedi, L. Domenech, R. Ghate, M.A. Janssen, N. Rollins and K. Sandeep

2016 Ecology & Society 21(3):38.


Groundwater is a common-pool resource that is subject to depletion in many places around the world as a result of increased use of irrigation and water-demanding cash crops. Where state capacity to control groundwater use is limited, collective action is important to increase recharge and restrict highly water-consumptive crops. We present results of field experiments in hard rock areas of Andhra Pradesh, India, to examine factors affecting groundwater use. Two nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) ran the games in communities where they were working to improve watershed and water management. Results indicate that, when the links between crop choice and groundwater depletion is made explicit, farmers can act cooperatively to address this problem. Longer NGO involvement in the villages was associated with more cooperative outcomes in the games. Individuals with more education and higher perceived community social capital played more cooperatively, but neither gender nor method of payment had a significantly effect on individual behavior. When participants could repeat the game with communication, similar crop choice patterns were observed. The games provided an entry point for discussion on the understanding of communities of the interconnectedness of groundwater use and crop choice.


Food security in the face of climate change: Adaptive capacity of small-scale social-ecological systems to environmental variability

Perez, I., M.A. Janssen and J.M. Anderies

2016 Global Environmental Change 40: 82-91.


Improving the adaptive capacity of small-scale irrigation systems to the impacts of climate change is crucial for food security in Asia. This study analyzes the capacity of small-scale irrigation systems dependent on the Asian monsoon to adapt to variability in river discharge caused by climate change. Our study is motivated by the Pumpa irrigation system, a small-scale irrigation system located in Nepal that is a model for this type of system. We developed an agent-based model in which we simulated the decisions farmers make about the irrigation strategy to use according to available water flow. Given the uncertainty associated with how climate change may affect the Asian monsoon, we simulated the performance of the system under different projections of climate change in the region (increase and decrease in rainfall, reduction and expansion of the monsoon season, and changes in the timing of the onset of the monsoon). Accordingly to our simulations, farmers might need to adapt to rainfall intensification and a late onset in the monsoon season. The demands for collective action among farmers (e.g. infrastructure repair, meetings, decisions, etc.) might increase considerably due to climate change. Although our model suggests that investment in new infrastructure might increase the performance of the system under some climate change scenarios, the high inequality among farmers when water availability is reduced might hinder the efficiency of these measures due to a reduction of farmers’ willingness to cooperate. Our modeling exercise helps to hypothesize about the most sensitive climate change scenarios for smallscale irrigation farming in Nepal and helps to frame a discussion of some possible solutions and fundamental trade-offs in the process of adaptation to improve for food and water security under climate change.

Keywords: Adaptation; Agent-based model; Climate change; Common-pool resources; Irrigation systems; Resilience


Learning for resilience-based management: Generating hypotheses from a behavioral study

Yu, D.J., H.C. Shin, I. Pérez, J.M. Anderies and M.A. Janssen

2016 Global Environmental Change 37: 69-78.


Encouragement of learning is considered to be central to resilience of social–ecological systems (SESs) to unknown and unforeseeable shocks. However, despite the consensus on the centrality of learning, little research has been done on the details of how learning should be encouraged to enhance adaptive capacity for resilience. This study contributes to bridging this research gap by examining the existing data from a behavioral experiment on SES that involves learning. We generate new hypotheses regarding how learning should be encouraged by comparing the learning processes of human-subject groups that participated in the experiment. Our findings suggest that under environmental stability, groups may be able to perform well without frequent outer-loop (or double-loop) learning. They can still succeed as long as they tightly coordinate on shared strategies along with active monitoring of SESs and user participation in decision-making. However, such groups may be fragile under environmental variability. Only the groups that experience active outer-loop learning and monitoring of SESs are likely to remain resilient under environmental variability.

Keywords: Loop learning; General resilience; Behavioral experiment; Adaptive management; Adaptive co-management; Adaptive governance


The effect of information in a behavioral irrigation experiment

Janssen, M.A., J.M. Anderies, I. Pérez and D.J. Yu

2015 Water Resources and Economics 12: 14-26.


When governing shared resources, the level and quality of information available to resource users on the actions of others and the state of the environment may have a critical effect on the performance of groups. In the work presented here, we find that lower availability of information does not affect the average performance of the group in terms of their capacity to provide public infrastructure and govern resource use, but it affects the distribution of earnings and the ability to cope with disturbances. We performed behavioral experiments that mimic irrigation dilemmas in which participants need to maintain infrastructure function in order to generate revenue from the use of water. In the experimental design, there is an upstream–downstream asymmetry of access to water that may lead to unequal access to water. We find that inequality of investment in irrigation infrastructure and water appropriation across players is more pronounced in experiments where resource users have limited information about the actions of others. We also find that inequality is linked to the ability of groups to cope with disturbances. Hence a reduced level of information indirectly reduces the adaptive capacity of groups.

Keywords: Public infrastructure; Experimental economics; Inequality; Communication; Asymmetric commons dilemma


Irrigation Experiments in the Lab: Trust, Environmental Variability, and Collective Action

Baggio, J.A., Rollins, N.D., I. Perez, and M.A. Janssen

2015 Ecology and Society 20 (4): 12.


Research on collective action and common-pool resources is extensive. However, little work has concentrated on the effect of variability in resource availability and collective action, especially in the context of asymmetric access to resources. Earlier works have demonstrated that environmental variability often leads to a reduction of collective action in the governance of shared resources. Here we assess how environmental variability may impact collective action. We performed a behavioral experiment involving an irrigation dilemma. In this dilemma participants invested first into a public fund that generated water resources for the group, which were subsequently appropriated by one participant at a time from head end to tail end. The amount of resource generated for the given investment level was determined by a payoff table and a stochastic event representing environmental variability, i.e., rainfall. Results show that that (1) upstream users’ behavior is by far the most important variable in determining the outcome of collective action; (2) environmental variability (i.e. risk level in investing in the resource) has little effect on individual investment and extraction levels; and (3) the action-reaction feedback is fundamental in determining the success or failure of communities.

Keywords: asymmetry; common-pool resources; feedbacks; laboratory experiments; trust; variability


Social roles and performance of social-ecological systems: evidence from behavioral lab experiments

Perez, I., D.J. Yu. M.A. Janssen and J.M. Anderies

2015 Ecology and Society 20(3): 23.


Social roles are thought to play an important role in determining the capacity for collective action in a community regarding the use of shared resources. Here we report on the results of a study using a behavioral experimental approach regarding the relationship between social roles and the performance of social-ecological systems. The computer-based irrigation experiment that was the basis of this study mimics the decisions faced by farmers in small-scale irrigation systems. In each of 20 rounds, which are analogous to growing seasons, participants face a two-stage commons dilemma. First they must decide how much to invest in the public infrastructure, e.g., canals and water diversion structures. Second, they must decide how much to extract from the water made available by that public infrastructure. Each round begins with a 60-second communication period before the players make their investment and extraction decisions. By analyzing the chat messages exchanged among participants during the communication stage of the experiment, we coded up to three roles per participant using the scheme of seven roles known to be important in the literature: leader, knowledge generator, connector, follower, moralist, enforcer, and observer. Our study supports the importance of certain social roles (e.g., connector) previously highlighted by several case study analyses. However, using qualitative comparative analysis we found that none of the individual roles was sufficient for groups to succeed, i.e., to reach a certain level of group production. Instead, we found that a combination of at least five roles was necessary for success. In addition, in the context of upstream-downstream asymmetry, we observed a pattern in which social roles assumed by participants tended to differ by their positions. Although our work generated some interesting insights, further research is needed to determine how robust our findings are to different action situations, such as biophysical context, social network, and resource uncertainty.

Keywords: behavioral experiments; communication; irrigation systems; lab experiments; qualitative comparative analysis; social-ecological networks; social-ecological systems; social roles


A multi-method approach to study robustness of social-ecological systems: the case of small-scale irrigation systems

Janssen, M.A. and J.M. Anderies

2013 Journal of Institutional Economics 9(4): 427-447.


Elinor Ostrom was a leader in using multiple methods to perform institutional analysis. In this paper, we discuss how a multi-method approach she pioneered may be used to study the robustness of social–ecological systems. We synthesize lessons learned from a series of studies on small-scale irrigation systems in which we use case-study analysis, experimental methods in laboratory and field settings, and mathematical models. The accumulated insights show the importance of creating institutional arrangements that fit the human ecology within the biophysical constraints of the system. The examples of work based on multiple methods approaches presented here highlight several lessons. For example, experimental work helps us better understand the details of how the ability to maintain trust relationships, low levels of inequality, and low transaction costs of coordination are critical for success. Likewise, the integration of case-study analysis and modeling helps us better understand how systems that can leverage biophysical characteristics to help address challenges of monitoring, sanctioning, and coordination may be able to increase their chances of success.


Environmental variability and collective action: Experimental insights from an irrigation game

Anderies, J.M., M.A. Janssen, A. Lee and H. Wasserman

2013 Ecological Economics 93: 166-176.


Studies of collective action in commons dilemmas in social–ecological systems typically focus on scenarios in which actors all share symmetric (or similar) positions in relation to the common-pool resource. Many common social–ecological systems do not meet these criteria, most notably, irrigation systems. Participants in irrigation systems must solve two related collective action problems: 1) the provisioning of physical infrastructure necessary to utilize the resource (water), and 2) the asymmetric common-pool resource dilemma where the relative positions of “head-enders” and “tail-enders” generate asymmetric access to the resource itself (water). In times of scarcity, head-enders have an incentive to not share water with tail-enders. Likewise, tail-enders have an incentive to not provide labor to maintain the system if they do not receive water. These interdependent incentives may induce a cooperative outcome under favorable conditions. However, how robust is this system of interdependent incentives in the presence of environmental variability that generates uncertainty about water availability either through variation in the water supply itself or through shocks to infrastructure? This paper reports on results from laboratory experiments designed to address this question.

Keywords: Commons dilemmas; Uncertainty; Experiments; Collective action; Irrigation


Field Experiments of Irrigation Dilemmas

Janssen, M.A., F. Bousquet, J.C. Cardenas, D. Castillo, and K. Worrapimphong

2012 Agricultural Systems 109: 65-75.


It is often assumed that irrigation systems require a central authority to solve coordination problems due to the asymmetry in position and influence between those located at the head-end of a system and those located at the tail-end. However, many examples of complex irrigation systems exist that are self-organized without central coordination. Field experiments on asymmetric commons dilemmas are performed with villagers in rural Colombia and Thailand. Our experiments show that there is a dynamic interaction between equality in the use of the common resource, and the level of the contributions to the creation of a common resource. Inequality in the distribution of benefits in one round triggers lower levels of group contributions, reducing efficiency and triggering even more inequality in contributions and distribution of the resource among players.

The upstream players act as “stationary bandits”. They take more than an equal share of the common resource, but leave sufficient resources for the downstream players to stimulate them to continue their contributions to the public infrastructure.

After 10 rounds, players can vote on one of three allocation rules: equal quota, random and rotating access to appropriation of the resource. The rotating access is most often elected. The resource dynamics in the second part of the experiment depend on the rule elected. With the quota rule, the stationary bandit metaphor is less relevant since taking equal shares of the resource is enforced. With the rotation access rule, the players act strategically on the rotating position. They invest more when having the first access to the resource compared to less favorable access. And when they have first access they extract the main part of the common resource. The rotation rule led to a reduction of the performance of the groups. With the random access rule there is no such strategic investment behavior and participants remain investing equal and similar levels as in the first 10 rounds.

The experiments show that a necessary condition of irrigation systems to self-organize is the development of norms to allocate fair shares of the water in order to recruit sufficient labor to construct and maintain the physical infrastructure. The different allocation rules do not increase efficiency, but they did increase equality of the earnings.

Keywords: Field experiments; Irrigation; Common pool resources; Asymmetry; Trust


Evolution of Cooperation in Asymmetric Commons Dilemmas

Janssen, M.A. and N. Rollins

2012 Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organization 81(1): 220-229.


Field experiments with asymmetric commons dilemmas have shown that groups who are able to derive high social efficiency also had higher equity compared to groups who were not able to derive significant levels of social efficiency. These findings resemble the high productivity in long-lasting irrigation systems based on self-governance. We present an agent-based model based on cultural group selection that shows that the patterns observed in the field experiments can be evolved in cases where agents participate regularly in less challenging symmetric public good dilemmas. These results indicate that cooperation in asymmetric dilemmas can evolve and persist when the agents contend with other social dilemmas than the asymmetric dilemmas.

Keywords: Common pool resources; Equity; Asymmetry; Field experiments; Agent-based; Modeling


Coordination and Cooperation in Asymmetric Commons Dilemmas

Janssen, M.A., J.M. Anderies and S. Joshi

2011 Experimental Economics 14(4): 547-566.


In this paper we discuss laboratory experiments that address the problem of self-governance in an asymmetric commons dilemma. Small-scale irrigation systems that provide food for hundreds of millions of people around the world are probably the most common example of such dilemmas. Here, we formulate an abstract dilemma in which subjects make both a decision about investment in the provision of infrastructure associated with the use of a resource and about how much to extract from the common-pool resource made available by this infrastructure. The impact of inherent asymmetry in irrigation systems on the provision of a resource and the impact of communication on the capacity of the group to solve the two-level commons dilemma of cooperation and coordination based on the analysis of the experimental data are discussed.

Keywords: Common-pool resources; Asymmetry; Irrigation; Fairness; Real-time experiment


Head-enders as stationary bandits in asymmetric commons: Comparing irrigation experiments in the laboratory and the field

Janssen, M.A., J.M. Anderies and J.C. Cardenas

2011 Ecological Economics 70(9): 1590-1598.


The emergence of large-scale irrigation systems has puzzled generations of social scientists, since they are particularly vulnerable to selfish rational actors who might exploit inherent asymmetries in the system (e.g. simply being the head-ender) or who might free ride on the provision of public infrastructure. As part of two related research projects that focus on how subtle social and environmental contextual variables affect the evolution and performance of institutional rules, several sets of experiments have been performed in laboratory settings at Arizona State University and in field settings in rural villages in Thailand and Colombia. In these experiments, participants make both a decision about how much to invest in public infrastructure and how much to extract from the resources generated by that public infrastructure. With both studies we find that head-enders act as stationary bandits. They do take unequal shares of the common-pool resource but if their share is very large relative to downstream participants’ shares, the latter will revolt. Therefore for groups to be successful, head-enders must restrain themselves in their use of their privileged access to the common-pool resource. The comparative approach shows that this result is robust across different social and ecological contexts.

Keywords: Common pool resources; Experimental economics; Asymmetry; Irrigation


Coordination in irrigation systems: An analysis of the Lansing-Kremer model of Bali

Janssen, M.A.

2007 Agricultural Systems 93(1-3): 170-190.


Farmers within irrigation systems, such as those in Bali, solve complex coordination problems to allocate water and control pests. Lansing and Kremer’s [Lansing, J.S., Kremer, J.N., 1993. Emergent properties of Balinese water temples. American Anthropologist 95(1), 97–114] study of Balinese water temples showed that this coordination problem can be solved by assuming simple local rules for how individual communities make their decisions. Using the original Lansing–Kremer model, the robustness of their insights was analyzed and the ability of agents to self-organize was found to be sensitive to pest dynamics and assumptions of agent decision making.

Keywords: Irrigation; Coordination; Networks; Synchronization; Agent-based model


Book Chapters

Stylized Models to Analyze Robustness of Irrigation Systems

Janssen, M.A. and J.M. Anderies

2007 In The Model-based Archaeology of Socionatural Systems, edited by T.A. Kohler and S.E. van der Leeuw , pp. 157-173,  School for Advanced Research Press.


Cooperation in Asymmetric Commons Dilemmas

Perez, I, J. Baggio, N. Rollins and M.A. Janssen
2012 CSID Working paper #CSID_2012-012


This paper is a study of collective action in asymmetric access to a common resource. An example is an irrigation system with upstream and downstream resource users. While both contribute to the maintenance of the common infrastructure, the upstream participant has rst access to the resource. Results of our two-player asymmetric commons game show that privileged resource access player invest more than the downstream players. Investments by the downstream player into the common resource are rewarded by a higher share from the common resource by the upstream player. Decisions are mainly explained by the levels of trust and trustworthiness. Introducing uncertainty in the production function of the common resource did not aect the results in a signicant way.


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