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Journal Articles

Channeling environmentalism into climate policy: An experimental study of Fridays for Future participants from Germany

Soliev, I., M.A. Janssen, I. Theesfeld, C. Pritchard, F. Pirscher, A. Lee

2021 Environmental Research Letters 16(11): 14035.


This study argues that scholars and policy-makers need to understand environmental activists better to bridge the gap between growing activism and policy. Conventional wisdom is that environmental activists generally support stronger climate policies. But there is still little understanding about diversity of views within activist groups when it comes to specific policies, and existing studies indicate that their views are not uniform, which can weaken their impact as a group. Activists might unite to demand change, but not necessarily agree on details of the desired change. Exploring the differences within the group, this paper focuses on how to nudge those who already share favorable attitudes towards policies that mitigate climate change. The motivation has been to see, in presence of general support for stronger environmental policies, whether this support could be channeled into more specific policies. We first take on a methodological challenge to construct an index of environmental predisposition. Then drawing from existing social-behavioral scholarship, we analyze results of an experimental survey with select treatments previously reported as promising. In November and December 2019, we collected responses from 119 participants at the Fridays for Future demonstrations in Germany. The results indicate that there are indeed important differences within the group, and nudging effects exist even in this rather strongly predisposed group, with participants assigned to the experimental group showing higher levels of support for the introduction of a carbon tax that is traditionally seen as a difficult policy to gain widespread public support. We find that those who score neither too high nor too low are more likely to respond to nudging. Yet, the effects vary for general outcomes such as policy support, behavioral intentions, and environmental citizenship. Overall, the findings show the value of understanding the heterogeneity of individual views within environmental movements better and directing interventions in large resource systems such as climate to specific issues and target groups for accelerating transformations towards sustainability.


Motivational Foundations of Communication, Voluntary Cooperation, and Self-Governance in a Common-Pool Resource Dilemma

DeCaro, D.A., M.A. Janssen and A. Lee

2021 Current Directions in Ecological and Social Psychology 2: 100016.


Conventional wisdom (rational choice theory) assumes that individuals are destined to collectively destroy vital ecological systems due to their narrow self-interest. In contrast, Humanistic Rational Choice Theory (HRCT) assumes individuals can cooperatively self-govern, devising effective conservation agreements and governance systems to constrain self-interest for mutual benefit. To test this assumption, we examined the motivational, perceptual, and cooperative outcomes of communication in a resource dilemma experiment. HRCT assumes that poorly managed dilemmas undermine people’s fundamental needs (e.g., procedural justice, security, equity), motivating them to self-govern. Groups that make decisions fairly (e.g., democratically) and enforce their agreements, should satisfy their collective needs better, ensuring better institutional acceptance and trust, thereby improving cooperation and sustainability. Small groups of four (N = 41 groups) harvested valuable resources from a shared pool without communication (Phase 1), with communication (Phase 2), and then without communication (Phase 3). Groups destroyed the resource and reported low need satisfaction during Phase 1. During Phase 2, most groups created governance systems, greatly improving their need satisfaction (ds1.32), trust (d = 2.30), cooperation and resource sustainability (η2=0.87). Democratically governed groups reported the greatest need satisfaction, intrinsic motivation (i.e., institutional internalization and acceptance), and trust, especially if they primarily used positive social sanctions (e.g., praise) to enforce their agreements. Negative sanctions (e.g., shaming, threats) backfired, unless used in democratic groups. These factors accounted for 47% of the variance in Phase 3 voluntary cooperation and resource sustainability. Groups self-governed to collectively satisfy their interdependent fundamental needs.


Taking the discourse seriously: Rational self-interest and resistance to mining in Kyrgyzstan

Ocakli, B., T. Krueger, M.A. Janssen and U. Kasymov

2021 Ecological Economics 189: 107177.


Faced with mounting resistance against mining, neoliberal governance resorts to polarising strategies that delegitimise the heterogenous positions people hold regarding mining. In this paper, we contrast and complicate these dichotomies with the lived experiences on the ground in Kyrgyzstan. We focus on the ‘Taldy-Bulak Levoberezhny’ gold mine near the town of Orlovka that has been lauded by the state and business community as a paragon of company-community ‘cooperation’. We question how the gold mine has come to be an exemplary case of cooperation in a conflict-rife sector. Based on behavioural experiments, surveys, and in-depth inquiry, we follow and unpack entanglements of valuations, discourses and practices that have repackaged Orlovka from a former Soviet mining town in depression into a putative model of progress. Our interdisciplinary account unravels the contradictory processes of re/making extractive frontiers and managing resistance to extractivist expansion that interweave neoliberal practices with nationalist discourses. Beneath the discourses praising Orlovka, we find a community that has never stopped resisting despite consenting to the gold mine. The extractive entanglements we unearth exemplify the diversity of exigencies and aspirations behind resisting, negotiating and/or allowing mining while attesting to the diversified portfolio of tactics that silence and delegitimise these life concerns.


Social-Ecological Institutional Fit in Volunteer-Based Organizations: A Study of Lake Management Organizations in Vilas County, Wisconsin, U.S.A

Whittaker, D., A. Crippen, C. Johnson and M.A. Janssen

2021 International Journal of the Commons 15(1): 181-194.


How do the social and ecological attributes of social-ecological systems enable outcomes of those systems? The high concentration of lake organizations in northern USA enables us to study social, institutional, and ecological attributes that correlate with performance of common pool resource governance—institutional fit. In the summer of 2019, we performed an in-depth comparative study of thirty-one lake organizations in Vilas County, Wisconsin using data collected through semi-structured interviews, websites, and agency databases. We systematically compared the cases using crisp-set qualitative comparative analysis, specifically analyzing how the eight Ostrom institutional design principles lead to different outcomes for the lake social-ecological systems. The Ostrom institutional design principles played an important role in SES governance outcomes where there was low-resource dependence. We found that different combinations of design principles, social, and ecological conditions led to the same lake SES outcomes—equifinality. Although we expected that there were no panaceas for lake governance, we were surprised by the high diversity in organizational goals and the relative low diversity of rules in use.


Investing in the commons: transient welfare creates incentives despite open access

Ziegler, J.P., S.L. Jardine, S.E. Jones, B.T. van Poorten, M.A. Janssen and C.T. Solomon

2021 Ecology & Society 26(2).


Local users may invest in managing common pool resources, thereby promoting social and ecological resilience. Institutional or economic limits on access are regarded as essential preconditions for incentivizing local investments, but we show that investment incentives can exist even under open access. We modeled a recreational harvest fishery in which local or centralized managers invest in fish stocking to maximize social welfare. Although classic open access dissipation of rents occurs at equilibrium, the sluggish response of fishing effort to changing conditions allows welfare to accrue in transition to equilibrium. This transient welfare creates persistent incentives to invest. Empirical observations showed that stocking by local collective action groups occurred at rates similar to model-predicted optima, while centralized stocking occurred at rates greater than predicted optima. Our results emphasize the potential benefits of local involvement in managing the commons, even under conditions that were previously thought to preclude effective collective action.


The role of institutional entrepreneurs and informal land transactions in Mexico City’s urban expansion

Tellman, E., H. Eakin, B.L. Turner II, M.A. Janssen and F. de Alba

2021 World Development 140,105374.


Informal urban expansion, or conversion of land to urban land uses, outpaces formal urbanization in the developing world. Understanding why this informality exists and persists is essential to counteract characterizations that it is chaotic and ungovernable. This research examines who shapes the informal arrangements developed to meet unmet housing needs that expand the urban footprint, from social housing projects to concentrated squatting in Mexico City metropolis from 2000 to 2016. Institutional analysis elucidates the distribution of payoffs in the “action situation” where decisions about urban land are made, and among “institutional entrepreneurs”, actors that repeatedly evade or alter formal rules or create new rules of urban land regulation. We use interview data regarding the distribution of costs and benefits among 54 actors involved in recent informal urban expansion to provide low- and middle-income housing (2000–2016) to identify potential leverage points for institutional change. We describe four types of informal urban land transactions: i) urbanizing individual plots of land, ii) flipping or subdividing land into multiple parcels, iii) invading land, and iv) manipulating social and public housing developments. We find institutional entrepreneurs—intermediaries, developers, and politicians—disproportionately benefit from and reinforce unplanned urban expansion. These entrepreneurs provide housing for the urban poor, but with social and environmental costs, including exploitation of informal settlers and urbanization of conservation land and loss of environmental services. Disaggregating informality into its component pervasive institutions and analyzing the distribution of payoffs in and beyond Mexico City provides insights about governance for urban sustainability.


Book Chapters


Janssen, M.A.

2021 In Reimagining Leadership on the Commons: Shifting the Paradigm for a More Ethical, Equitable, and Just World , edited by DP Singh, RJ Thompson, and KA Curran , xix-xxi, Emerald Publishing Limited.

Controlled Behavioral Experiments

Lindahl, T., M.A. Janssen and C. Schill

2021 In Routledge Handbook of Research Methods for Social-Ecological Systems, edited by R. Biggs, A. de Vos, R. Preiser, H. Clements, K. Maciejewski and M. Schlüter , 295-306, Routledge.


Chapter 21 focuses on controlled behavioural experiments, methods that randomly divide participants into different groups (treatments), controlling conditions across these treatments and allowing only the variable of interest to vary. Controlled behavioural experiments are used to test the conditions under which we can expect collective action to emerge. The chapter discusses controlled behavioural experiments in the form of common-pool resource games and public good games. It goes on to discuss the types of social-ecological systems (SES) problems and research questions commonly addressed by this set of methods, as well as their limitations, resource implications and new emerging research directions. The chapter also includes an in-depth case study showcasing the application of controlled behavioural experiments, and suggested further readings on these methods.


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