Category Comparative Analysis

Sort Publications By:


Working Together: Collective Action, the Commons and Multiple Methods in Practice

Poteete, A.R., M.A. Janssen and E. Ostrom 2010
Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ


Journal Articles

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.


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.


How do resource mobility and group size affect institutional arrangements for rule enforcement? A qualitative comparative analysis of fishing groups in South Korea

Shin, H.C., D.J. Yu, S. Park, J.M. Anderies, J. Abbott, M.A. Janssen, T.K. Ahn

2020 Ecological Economics 174,106657;


Two social feedbacks critical for redressing decline in organizational performance are exit (changing membership to a better performing organization) and voice (members’ expression of discontent). In self-governing organizations of common-pool resources (CPRs) experiencing decline from poor rule conformance, the exit option is often unavailable due to a closed membership policy. Thus, members should rely on the voice option to reverse the trend. However, it is poorly understood under what set of conditions members can successfully use the voice option to govern their CPRs. We analyzed 30 self-governing fishing groups in South Korea to generate configurations of institutional and social-ecological conditions linked to the successful voice option. We considered Ostrom’s Design Principles for rule enforcement as institutional conditions and resource mobility and group size as social-ecological factors affecting institutional fit. We find that if the informal mechanism for conflict resolution is absent, fishing groups will be unsuccessful; even if rules for monitoring and graduated sanctions are not in use, groups can be successful when they harvest only stationary resources and the informal conflict-resolution is present; and groups managing mobile resources need graduated sanctions to be successful, while those appropriating only stationary resources can achieve the same outcome without such sanctions.


An iterative approach to case study analysis: insights from qualitative analysis of quantitative inconsistencies

Barnett, A.J., J.A. Baggio, H.C. Shin, D.J. Yu, I. Perez-Ibarra, C.A. Rubinos, U. Brady, E. Ratajczyk, N. Rollins, R. Aggarwal, J.M. Anderies, M.A. Janssen

2016 International Journal of the Commons 10(2): 467–494.


Large-N comparative studies have helped common pool resource scholars gain general insights into the factors that influence collective action and governance outcomes. However, these studies are often limited by missing data, and suffer from the methodological limitation that important information is lost when we reduce textual information to quantitative data. This study was motivated by nine case studies that appeared to be inconsistent with the expectation that the presence of Ostrom’s Design Principles increases the likelihood of successful common pool resource governance. These cases highlight the limitations of coding and analysing Large-N case studies. We examine two issues: 1) the challenge of missing data and 2) potential approaches that rely on context (which is often lost in the coding process) to address inconsistencies between empirical observations theoretical predictions.  For the latter, we conduct a post-hoc qualitative analysis of a large-N comparative study to explore 2 types of inconsistencies: 1) cases where evidence for nearly all design principles was found, but available evidence led to the assessment that the CPR system was unsuccessful and 2) cases where the CPR system was deemed successful despite finding limited or no evidence for design principles.  We describe inherent challenges to large-N comparative analysis to coding complex and dynamically changing common pool resource systems for the presence or absence of design principles and the determination of “success”.  Finally, we illustrate how, in some cases, our qualitative analysis revealed that the identity of absent design principles explained inconsistencies hence de-facto reconciling such apparent inconsistencies with theoretical predictions.  This analysis demonstrates the value of combining quantitative and qualitative analysis, and using mixed-methods approaches iteratively to build comprehensive methodological and theoretical approaches to understanding common pool resource governance in a dynamically changing context.


Challenges and opportunities in coding the commons: problems, procedures, and potential solutions in large-N comparative case studies

Ratajczyk, E., U. Brady, J. Baggio, A. Barnett, I. Perez-Ibarra, N. Rollins, C. Rubiños, H.C. Shin, D.J. Yu, R. Aggarwal, J.M. Anderies, M.A. Janssen

2016 International Journal of the Commons 10(2): 440-466.


On-going efforts to understand the dynamics of coupled social-ecological (or more broadly, coupled infrastructure) systems and common pool resources have led to the generation of numerous datasets based on a large number of case studies. This data has facilitated the identification of important factors and fundamental principles which increase our understanding of such complex systems. However, the data at our disposal are often not easily comparable, have limited scope and scale, and are based on disparate underlying frameworks inhibiting synthesis, meta-analysis, and the validation of findings. Research efforts are further hampered when case inclusion criteria, variable definitions, coding schema, and inter-coder reliability testing are not made explicit in the presentation of research and shared among the research community. This paper first outlines challenges experienced by researchers engaged in a large-scale coding project; then highlights valuable lessons learned; and finally discusses opportunities for further research on comparative case study analysis focusing on social-ecological systems and common pool resources.


Explaining Success and Failures in the Commons: The configural nature of Ostrom’s Institutional Design Principles

Baggio J.A., A. Barnett, I. Perez-Ibarra, E. Ratajczyk, U. Brady, C. Rubinos, H. Shin, D.J. Yu, N. Rollins, R. Aggarwal, J.M. Anderies, M.A. Janssen

2016 International Journal of the Commons 10(2): 417–439.


Governing common pool resources (CPR) in the face of disturbances such as globalization and climate change is challenging. The outcome of any CPR governance regime is the influenced by local combinations of social, institutional, and biophysical factors, as well as cross-scale interdependencies. In this study, we take a step towards understanding multiple-causation of CPR outcomes by analyzing 1) the co-occurrence of Destign Principles (DP) by activity (irrigation, fishery and forestry), and 2) the combination(s) of DPs leading to social and ecological success. We analyzed 69 cases pertaining to three different activities: irrigation, fishery, and forestry. We find that the importance of the design principles is dependent upon the natural and hard human made infrastructure (i.e. canals, equipment, vessels etc.). For example, clearly defined social bounduaries are important when the natural infrastructure is highly mobile (i.e. tuna fish), while monitoring is more important when the natural infrastructure is more static (i.e. forests or water contained within an irrigation system). However, we also find that congruence between local conditions and rules and proportionality between investment and extraction are key for CPR success independent from the natural and human hard made infrastructure. We further provide new visualization techniques for co-occurrence patterns and add to qualitative comparative analysis by introducing a reliability metric to deal with a large meta-analysis dataset on secondary data where information is missing or uncertain.


Resource intruders and robustness of social-ecological systems: An irrigation system of Southeast Spain, a case study

Pérez, I., M.A. Janssen, A. Tenza, A. Giménez, A. Pedreño and M. Giménez

2011 International Journal of the Commons 5(2): 410-432.


Globalization increases the vulnerability of traditional social-ecological systems (SES) to the incursion of new resource appropriators, i.e. intruders. New external disturbances that increase the physical and socio-political accessibility of SES (e.g. construction of a new road) and weak points in institutional SES of valuable common-pool resources are some of the main factors that enhance the encroachment of intruders. The irrigation system of the northwest Murcia Region (Spain) is an example used in this article of the changes in the structure and robustness of a traditional SES as a result of intruders. In this case study, farmers have traditionally used water from springs to irrigate their lands but, in recent decades, large agrarian companies have settled in this region, using groundwater to irrigate new lands. This intrusion had caused the levels of this resource to drop sharply. In an attempt to adapt, local communities are intensifying the use of resources and are constructing new physical infrastructures; consequently, new vulnerabilities are emerging. This situation seems to be heading toward the inevitably collapse of this traditional SES. From an institutional viewpoint, some recommendations are offered to enhance the robustness of SES in order to mitigate the consequences of intruders.

Keywords: Adaptability, common-pool resources, globalization, groundwater, institutions, resilience, water management


Robustness-tradeoffs for social-ecological systems

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

2007 International Journal of the Commons 1(1): 77-99.


The governance of common-pool resources can be meaningfully examined from the somewhat broader perspective of the governance of social-ecological systems (SESs). Governance of SESs invariably involves trade-offs; trade-offs between different stakeholder objectives, trade-offs between risk and productivity, and trade-offs between short-term and long-term goals. This is especially true in the case of robustness in social-ecological systems – i.e. the capacity to continue to meet a performance objective in the face of uncertainty and shocks. In this paper we suggest that effective governance under uncertainty must include the ongoing analysis of trade-offs between robustness and performance, and between investments in robustness to different types of perturbations. The nature of such trade-offs will depend on society’s perception of risk, the dynamics of the underlying resource, and the governance regime. Specifically, we argue that it is impossible to define robustness in absolute terms. The choice for society is not only whether to invest in becoming robust to a particular disturbance, but rather, what suit of disturbances to address and what set of associated vulnerabilities is it willing to accept as a necessary consequence.

Keywords: resilience, robustness, social-ecological system, common-pool resources, trade-offs, irrigation


Robustness of Social-Ecological Systems to Spatial and Temporal Variability

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

2007 Society and Natural Resources 20(4): 307-322.


Some social-ecological systems (SESs) have persisted for hundreds of years, remaining in particular configurations that have withstood a variety of natural and social disturbances. Many of these long-lived SESs have adapted their institutions to the particular pattern of variability they have experienced over time as well as to the broader economic, political, and social system in which they are located. Such adaptations alter resource use patterns in time and/or space to maintain the configuration of the SESs. Even well-adapted SESs, however, can become vulnerable to new types of disturbances. Through the analysis of a series of case studies, we begin to characterize different types of adaptations to particular types of variability and explore vulnerabilities that may emerge as a result of this adaptive process. Understanding such vulnerabilities may be critical if our interest is to contribute to the future adaptations of SESs as the more rapid processes of globalization unfold.

Keywords: disturbances, institutions, resilience, robustness, social-ecological system, variability


Historical institutional analysis of social-ecological systems

Janssen, M.A. (Editorial)

2006 Journal of Institutional Economics 2(2): 127-131.


Institutions, the rules that govern interactions between people, evolve over time. This special issue presents a number of detailed case studies of human–environment interactions during a significant historical period. With social-ecological systems we mean a set of people, their natural and human-made resources, and the relationships among them (Anderies et al., 2004, Janssen et al., 2005).


Diversity of incentives for private forest landowners: an assessment of programs in Indiana, USA

York, A.M., M.A. Janssen and L.A. Carlson

2006 Land Use Policy 23(4): 542-550.


Many government and private programs provide incentives for non-industrial private forest (NIPF) owners. Due to the complexity of this web of programs, the incentives of the programs are unclear. We focus on four specific programs that represent different rule structures—a federal cost-share program, a state tax incentive program, a nationwide private stewardship program, and a local private conservation organization. We perform institutional analysis of the formal and informal rules of the programs based on literature review, discussions with officers, and formal guidelines of the programs. We classify different types of rule structures, and explain them in relation to goals and organizational structures of the programs.

Keywords: Forest; Government programs; Non-governmental organizations; Institutions


Book Chapters

Incentives affecting decisions of nonindustrial private forest landowners about using their land

York, A.M., M.A. Janssen and E. Ostrom

2005 In Handbook of Environmental Politics, edited by P. Dauverge, pp. 233-248,  Edward Elgar Publishers, Cheltenham, UK.

Sort Publications: