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Journal Articles

Polycentric governance systems’ perceived impact on learning in north-central US lake and watershed organizations?

Whittaker, E, M.A. Janssen and C.T. Solomon

2023 Regional Environmental Change 23(9).


Adapting to social and environmental change requires learning and governance that span ecological levels, political jurisdictions, and management challenges. Governance of these challenges is often comprised of public and private sector actors with overlapping jurisdictions that work together—termed polycentric governance. Polycentric governance systems have been found to improve adaptability through learning. In this paper, we compare how local organizations perceive a governance systems’ function and structure to help them learn and adapt to change. In our interviews with organization leaders in three north-central US states, we used expert elicitation to compare the degree to which the organizations’ partners help them experiment and learn to adapt to challenges. The challenges most frequently identified included social challenges like sharing knowledge and funding as well as ecological issues related to the resource. The associated polycentric governance systems’ structures varied by state. Independence and jurisdictional overlap—measures of polycentricity—differed by partner type, while consideration of partners’ best practices was similar for all partner types. Most partners were said to provide helpful information and respond to queries facilitating learning, but government partners were not always encouraging innovation or flexible implying less space for experimentation. We found that in each of the three states there is a mixture of actors at multiple scales partnering with the lake organizations at different frequencies and modes of interaction. We conclude that polycentric governance is beneficial for learning and experimentation, and that different structures may be beneficial to adapting within different contexts or problems definitions. The challenge for these systems is controlling areas of risk while providing flexibility to experiment and adapt to changing conditions.


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.


An exploratory integrated model to assess management of lake eutrophication

Janssen, M.A.

2001 Ecological Modelling 140(1-2): 111-124..


Ecosystem management requires the explicit treatment of interactions between humans and ecosystems. An exploratory model for integrating social and ecological dynamics was introduced to study ecosystem management strategies. This paper focuses on the management of lake eutrophication. The model was developed to include the dynamics of the lake, the behaviour of agents using phosphorus for agricultural purposes, and the interactions between ecosystem and farmers. Analyses with the model showed that the dominating type of cognitive processing was a relevant factor in the response to uncertainty and policy measures. A higher target level for returns on the use of phosphorus was found to lead to a more intensive use of phosphorus and to higher levels of phosphorus in the lake. Simulated farmers used phosphorus more intensively in situations with high natural variability. A tax on phosphorus had little effect on the behaviour of the farmers when they felt uncertain and had low target levels for returns.

Keywords: Lake management; Social psychology; Resilience; Eutrophication; Multi-agent modelling; Integrated modeling.


Homo Oeconomicus und Homo Psychologicus zwischen Fisch und Gold (in German)

Jager, W. and M.A. Janssen

2001 Oekologisches Wirtschaften 2: 14-17.


Die Lenkung der gegenwärtigen konsum- und produktionsmuster in eine nach- haltigere richtung erfordert eine ausführliche studie des menschlichen Verhal- tens. um dessen komplexität angemessen zu berücksichtigen, wird hier ein multi-agenten-ansatz vorgeschlagen, der erkenntnisse der sozialpsychologie integriert. am Beispiel des Übergangs von einer fischerei- zu einer Bergbauge- sellschaft wird gezeigt, wie sich unterschiedliche Verhaltensannahmen auf die mensch-umwelt-Beziehungen auswirken.


Behaviour in commons dilemmas: Homo Economicus and Homo Psychologicus in an ecological-economic model

Jager W., M.A. Janssen, H.J.M. De Vries, J. De Greef and C.A.J. Vlek

2000 Ecological Economics 35(3): 357-380.


In mainstream economy, behaviour is often formalised following the rational actor-approach. However, in real life the behaviour of people is typified by multidimensional optimisation. To realise this, people engage in cognitive processes such as social comparison, imitation and repetitive behaviour (habits) so as to efficiently use their limited cognitive resources. A multi-agent simulation program is being developed to study how such micro-level processes affect macro-level outcomes. Sixteen agents are placed in a micro-world, consisting of a lake and a gold mine. Each agent’s task is to satisfy its personal needs by fishing and/or mining, whereby they find themselves in a commons dilemma facing the risk of resource depletion. Homo economicus and Homo psychologicus are formalised to study the effects of different cognitive processes on the agents’ behaviour. Results show that for the H. psychologicus the transition from a fishing to a mining society is more complete than for the H. economicus. Moreover, introducing diversity in agents’ abilities causes the H. economicus on the average to decrease its time spent working, whereas for the H. psychologicus we observe an increase in the time spent working. These results confirm that macro-level indicators of sustainability, such as pollution and fish-harvest, are strongly and predictably affected by behavioural processes at the micro-level. It is concluded that the incorporation of a micro-level perspective on human behaviour within integrated models of the environment yields a better understanding and eventual management of the processes involved in environmental degradation.

Keywords: Commons dilemma; Resource; Consumat; Simulation; Multi-agent; Dynamics; Psychology.


Managing the resilience of lakes: a multi-agent modeling approach

Janssen, M.A. and S.R. Carpenter

1999 Conservation Ecology 3(2): 15.


We demonstrate an approach for integrating social and ecological models to study ecosystem management strategies. We focus on the management of lake eutrophication. A model has been developed in which the dynamics of the lake, the learning dynamics of society, and the interactions between ecology and society are included. Analyses with the model show that active learning is important to retain the resilience of lakes. Although very low levels of phosphorus in the water will not be reached, active learning reduce the chance of catastrophic high phosphorus levels.

Keywords: active learning, eutrophication, integrated modeling, lake dynamics, lake management, multi-agent modeling, phosphorus, resilience, restoration, simulation.


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