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Journal Articles

How do game design and players’ backgrounds affect extraction behavior in framed field experiments? Evidence from community forestry in India

Zhang, W., R.S. Meinzen-Dick, S. Valappanandi, R. Balakrishna, H. Reddy, M.A. Janssen, L. Thomas, P. Priyadarshini, S. Kandicuppa, R. Chaturvedi, and R. Ghate

2022 International Journal of the Commons 16(1), 341–359.


Framed field experiments (experimental games) are widely used to assess factors affecting cooperation in management of the commons. However, there is relatively little attention to how details of the games affect experimental results. This paper presents qualitative and quantitative results from a framed field experiment in which participants make decisions about extraction of a common-pool resource, a community forest. The experiment was conducted in 2017–2018 with 120 groups of resource users (split by gender) from 60 habitations in two Indian states, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan. We test whether within-subject treatments (non-communication, communication, and optional election of institutional arrangements (rules)), remuneration methods, and design of the game board affect harvest behavior and groups’ tendency to cooperate. We also examine how characteristics of the community and players affect players’ choices in the game, with special attention to gender differences. Results reveal participants harvested substantially less than the Nash prediction even in the absence of communication, with men extracting less than women in both states. For male groups in both states, both communication and optional rule election were associated with lower group harvest per round, as compared to the reference non-communication game. For female groups in both states communication itself did not significantly slow resource depletion; but introduction of optional rule election did reduce harvest amounts. For both men and women in Andhra Pradesh and men in Rajasthan, incentivized payments to individual participants significantly lowered group harvest, relative to community flat payment, suggesting such payments stimulated deliberation among game players. Findings have methodological and practical implications for designing behavioral intervention programs to improve common-pool resource governance.


Modelling feedbacks between human and natural processes in the land system

Robinson, D.R., Di Vittorio, A., P. Alexander, A. Arneth, C.M. Barton, D.G. Brown, A. Kettner, C. Lemmen, B. O’Neill, M.A. Janssen, T. Pugh, S.S. Rabin, M. Rounsevell, J. Syvitski, I. Ullah and P.H. Verburg,

2018 Earth System Dynamics 9: 895-914.


The unprecedented use of Earth’s resources by humans, in combination with increasing natural variability in natural processes over the past century, is affecting the evolution of the Earth system. To better understand natural processes and their potential future trajectories requires improved integration with and quantification of human processes. Similarly, to mitigate risk and facilitate socio-economic development requires a better understanding of how the natural system (e.g. climate variability and change, extreme weather events, and processes affecting soil fertility) affects human processes. Our understanding of these interactions and feedback between human and natural systems has been formalized through a variety of modelling approaches. However, a common conceptual framework or set of guidelines to model human–natural-system feedbacks is lacking. The presented research lays out a conceptual framework that includes representing model coupling configuration in combination with the frequency of interaction and coordination of communication between coupled models. Four different approaches used to couple representations of the human and natural system are presented in relation to this framework, which vary in the processes represented and in the scale of their application. From the development and experience associated with the four models of coupled human–natural systems, the following eight lessons were identified that if taken into account by future coupled human–natural-systems model developments may increase their success: (1) leverage the power of sensitivity analysis with models, (2) remember modelling is an iterative process, (3) create a common language, (4) make code open-access, (5) ensure consistency, (6) reconcile spatio-temporal mismatch, (7) construct homogeneous units, and (8) incorporating feedback increases non-linearity and variability. Following a discussion of feedbacks, a way forward to expedite model coupling and increase the longevity and interoperability of models is given, which suggests the use of a wrapper container software, a standardized applications programming interface (API), the incorporation of standard names, the mitigation of sunk costs by creating interfaces to multiple coupling frameworks, and the adoption of reproducible workflow environments to wire the pieces together.


Breaking the elected rules in field experiments on forestry resources

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

2013 Ecological Economics 90: 132-139.


Harvesting from common resources has been studied through experimental work in the laboratory and in the field. In this paper we report on a dynamic commons experiment, representing a forest, performed with different types of communities of resource users in Thailand and Colombia, as well as student participants. We find that all groups overharvest the resource in the first part of the experiment and that there is no statistical difference between the various types of groups. In the second part of the experiment, participants appropriate the common resource after one of three possible regulations is elected and implemented. There is less overharvesting after the rules are implemented, but there is a significant amount of rule breaking. The surprising finding is that Colombian villagers break the rules of the games more often than other groups, and even more so when they have more trust in members of the community. This observation can be explained by the distrust in externally proposed regulations due to the institutional and cultural context.

Keywords: Common pool resources; Dynamic games; Forestry; Field experiments; Rule compliance


Synchronized deforestation induced by social learning under uncertainty of forest-use value

Satake, A., M.A. Janssen, S.A. Levin, and Y. Iwasa

2007 Ecological Economics 63(2-3): 452-462.


Deforestation often has been studied in terms of land-use models, in which natural processes such as ecological succession, physical disturbance and human decision-making are combined. In many land-use models, landowners are assumed to make decisions that maximize their utilities. However, since human understanding of ecological and social dynamics is clouded by uncertainty, landowners may not know true utility values, and may learn these values from their experiences. We develop a decision model for forest use under social learning to explore whether social learning is efficient to improve landowners’ decisions and can lead to effective forest management. We assume that a forest is composed of a number of land parcels that are individually managed; landowners choose whether or not to cut trees by comparing the expected utilities of forest conservation and deforestation; landowners learn utility values not only from their own experiences, but also by exchanging and sharing information with others in a society. By analyzing the equilibrium and stability of the landscape dynamics, we observed four possible outcomes: a stationary-forested landscape, a stationary-deforested landscape, an unstable landscape fluctuating near an equilibrium, and a cyclic-forested landscape induced by synchronized deforestation. Synchronized deforestation, which resulted in a resource shortage in a society, was likely to occur when landowners employed a stochastic decision and a short-term memory about past experiences. Social welfare under a cyclic-forested landscape can be significantly lower than that of a stationary-forested landscape. This implies that learning and remembering past experiences are crucial to prevent overexploitation of forest resources and degradation of social welfare.

Keywords: Decision-making; Expected utility; Slow regeneration; Memory; Markov chain; Stochastic decision


Economic valuation of the Leuser National Park on Sumatra, Indonesia

Van Beukering, P.J.M., H. Cesar and M.A. Janssen

2003 Ecological Economics 44(1): 43-62.


The Leuser Ecosystem in Northern Sumatra is officially protected by its status as an Indonesian national park. Nevertheless, it remains under severe threat of deforestation. Rainforest destruction has already caused a decline in ecological functions and services. Besides, it is affecting numerous economic activities in and around the Leuser National Park. The objectives of this study are twofold: firstly, to determine the total economic value (TEV) of the Leuser Ecosystem through a systems dynamic model. And secondly, to evaluate the economic consequences of deforestation versus conservation, disaggregating the economic value for the main stakeholders and regions involved. Using a dynamic simulation model, economic valuation is applied to evaluate the TEV of the Leuser National Park over the period 2000–2030. Three scenarios are considered: ‘conservation’, ‘deforestation’ and, ‘selective use’. The results are presented in terms of (1) the type of benefits, (2) the allocation of these benefits among stakeholders, and (3) the regional distribution of benefits. The economic benefits considered include: water supply, fisheries, flood and drought prevention, agriculture and plantations, hydro-electricity, tourism, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, fire prevention, non-timber forest products, and timber. The stakeholders include: local community members, the local government, the logging and plantation industry, the national government, and the international community. The regions considered cover the 11 districts involved in the management of the Leuser Ecosystem. With a 4% discount rate, the accumulated TEV for the ecosystem over the 30-year period is: US $7.0 billion under the ‘deforestation scenario’, US $9.5 billion under the ‘conservation scenario’ and US $9.1 billion under the ‘selective utilisation scenario’. The main contributors in the conservation and selective use scenarios are water supply, flood prevention, tourism and agriculture. Timber revenues play an important role in the deforestation scenario. Compared to deforestation, conservation of the Leuser Ecosystem benefits all categories of stakeholders, except for the elite logging and plantation industry.

Keywords: Natural resource valuation; Conservation; Deforestation; Indonesia


Valuation of the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra

Beukering, P.J.H. van, H.S.J. Cesar and M.A. Janssen

2002 Asean Biodiversity 2(2): 17-20.

Book Chapters

Dynamics of Rules and Resources: Three New Field Experiments on Water, Forests and Fisheries

Cardenas, J.C, M.A. Janssen, and F. Bousquet

2013 In Handbook on Experimental Economics and the Environment, edited by John List and Michael Price, pp. 319-345, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham.

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