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

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In counterpoint to this intellectual fashion, Herbert Simon pointed out during the s that being rational in real life would typically entail satisficing rather than optimizing — being satisfied with enough rather than trying for as large a profit as possible. Imagine going to the supermarket to buy your visiting Aunt Maud a box of breakfast cereal.

Confronted by shelves with a hundred different kinds of cereal, an optimising agent would study each kind in order to evaluate which one is the very best value for money.

Working together : collective action, the commons, and multiple methods in practice

The satisficing agent would typically be home pouring milk into the bowl of cereal for a grateful Aunt Maud while the optimising agent was still standing in front of the shelves obsessively scribbling notes and trying to decide whether more vitamin K is better than more zinc. Consider the problem of managing a shared resource. Case studies spanning the globe from Mexico to Tanzania have tested this prediction, in some cases corroborating it but in literally hundreds of cases providing counterexamples in the form of local users who self-organised to collectively manage commonpool resources in a successful manner.

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The research reported in Working Together addresses such questions as: What are the variables that distinguish the success or failure of such collective action? Why is one forest in Southern Indiana successfully managed by the local community while a nearby forest is over-exploited and the source of serious conflict between members of the community who wish to use forest products as a source of income? It seems clear that co-operation is facilitated by the ideal of satisficing rather than maximising.

Two agents sharing a common resource such as firewood can either be content to share or fight it out so that the winner takes all. How does the former option enter into game theory?

Working together: Collective action, the commons, and multiple methods in practice

One way to think about successful co-operation among individuals managing a common resource is that they have played a game that allows a winwin solution, rather than the zero-sum games with which game theory originated. We are to imagine two individuals who are held as prisoners in separate cells, unable to communicate, and accused of being partners in a crime.

An agent would gain the maximum pay-off say, five tokens by defecting while the other agent loyally co-operated and for this loyalty received zero tokens. On the other hand, if both agents co-operated, they would achieve a win-win outcome in which each got three tokens. Finally, if both agents simultaneously defected, each would gain a single token.

The win-win outcome would be sufficient for a satisficing agent, whereas an optimising agent would play for a maximum gain. Indeed, according to rational choice theory each player should defect, hypnotised by the prospect of gaining a maximal payoff if the other agent turned out to be a sucker, and in reality gaining one token because all the agents are equally selfish or so the theory supposes.


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The winning program was that submitted by none other than Anatol Rapoport, and it did not cynically defect at every opportunity. Instead the program implemented a simple tit-for-tat strategy, which began by attempting to co-operate and thereafter mimicked the decision made by the opponent in the previous round. If the tit-for-tat strategy is pitted against an opponent who begins by co-operating, it continues to co-operate in the next round. If it plays against an opponent who defects, it defects in the next round, and continues to do so until the opponent co-operates.

The winning strategy, therefore, was not the greedy strategy of maximising personal gain but a strategy that was prepared to co-operate as long as the other agent also co-operated and that punished a failure to co-operate. The tit-for-tat strategy may be viewed as an agent content to satisfice but not content to be a sucker.

In a game played with an inveterate defector, both tit-for-tat and the defecting agent come off poorly. It is only when a population has enough agents willing to co-operate, at least provisionally, that the benefits of satisficing and co-operation can be felt. This invites the question: How can we improve the agent model to represent agents that are prepared to co-operate? It seems to me that one could with some justice describe the avaricious agent model that has for so long dominated economic theory as autistic.

Those teaching and studying economics themselves realised the need for change a decade ago. Their action was soon followed by a similar petition from their professors.

In Working Together Poteete et al. In the lab, once subjects are enabled to talk about their puzzle in a face-to-face group, most develop joint strategies as well as the trust and reciprocity needed to carry out these strategies, contrary to the conventional theory. Within a few rounds, they reduce overharvesting substantially and improve their individual and joint outcomes.

These findings echo behavior in the field where Attempts to improve the agent model have focused on the learning of norms and have implemented this in a fairly simple-minded way. In countries that hold elections, electoral considerations inevitably influence political interests in decentralization. Central government incumbents may view decentralization as a way to keep voters happy by improving access to and quality of public services, as a form of political insurance, or as strengthening rivals.

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Whether incumbents and challengers view decentralization as a threat or an opportunity depends on not only the form of decentralization under consideration, but also their estimations of their competitiveness in elections at various levels national, regional, local and the interaction between the spatial distribution of electoral support and the electoral system.

Electoral dynamics and considerations also influence the implementation and consequences of decentralization, perhaps especially when political rivals control different levels of government. Whether decentralization promotes democracy and development hinges on not only the form of decentralization, but also how broader political dynamics condition decentralization in practice. Save to Library Edit. Poteete, Amy R.

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Tyler Dickovick and James Wunsch, eds. The article is provocative but not definitive in that it does not demonstrate that evolution is more than a metaphor for institutional change and that institutions actually evolve. This commentary unpacks the concept of evolutionary change and evaluates how well various aspects of institutional change fit within this model of change. The commentary highlights the need for further conceptual and theoretical development to delineate various forms and processes of institutional change, distinguish between evolutionary and non-evolutionary change, and draw out the consequences of various forms of change.

Political clientelism is generally seen as an obstacle to democratic governance and inclusive dev The politics of access to Senegalese fisheries suggest a more nuanced relationship between elections, clientelism, responsiveness, and inclusion. Even where clientelism is pervasive, it takes different forms and interacts with electoral competition to influence the direction and form of political responsiveness.

When elections are highly uncompetitive or when electoral turnover is highly likely, elections do little to constrain incumbents or discourage elite resource-grabbing.


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When electoral competition renders outcomes uncertain, however, politicians face incentives to court potentially influential blocks of voters with promises of decentralized clientelism. It argues that, while electoral competition may not reduce the prevalence of clientelism, it can influence whether national elites or ordinary voters are the main beneficiaries.

Election note: Botswana's parliamentary elections. This note provides an overview of Botswana's elections. The politics of presidential succession influenced the elections.

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Save to Library Download Edit. Natural Resource Policy: Institutional Aspects. Levels, scales, linkages, and other 'multiples' affecting natural resources. International Journal of the Commons , Aug Given the complexity of these systems, a narrow frame of analysis increases the risk that critical issues will be overlooked. Page They also join a substantial body of evidence that demonstrates the importance Others agree that mineral and Others agree that mineral and wildlife resources should be treated in a parallel fashion, but would like to see CBNRM Calls for mineral royalties to be paid to mining communities just as wildlife revenues are paid to wildlife