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How Do Groups Solve Local Commons Dilemmas? Lessons from Experimental Economics in the Field

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  • Juan-Camilo Cardenas

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Abstract

The use of experimental settings to observe human behaviour in a controlled environment of incentives, rules and institutions, has been widely used by the behavioural sciences for some time now, particularly by psychology and economics. In most cases the subjects are college students recruited from one to two hour decision making exercises in which, depending on their choices, they earn cash averaging US$ 20. In such exercises players face a set of feasible actions, rules and incentives (payoffs) involving different forms of social exchange with other people, and that in most cases involve some kind of externalities with incomplete contracts, such as in the case of common-pool resources situations. Depending on the ecological and institutional settings, the resource users face a set of feasible levels of extraction, a set of rules regarding the control or monitoring of individual use, and sometimes ways of imposing material or non-material costs or rewards to those breaking or following the rules. We brought the experimental lab to the field and invited about two hundred users of natural resources in three Columbian rural villages to participate in such decision making exercises and through these and other research instruments we learned about the ways they solve - or fail to - tragedies of the commons with different social institutions. Further, bringing the lab to the field allowed us to explore some of the limitations of existing models about human behavior and its consequences for designing policies for conserving ecosystems and improving social welfare.
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Suggested Citation

  • Juan-Camilo Cardenas, 2000. "How Do Groups Solve Local Commons Dilemmas? Lessons from Experimental Economics in the Field," Environment, Development and Sustainability: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Theory and Practice of Sustainable Development, Springer, vol. 2(3), pages 305-322, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:endesu:v:2:y:2000:i:3:p:305-322
    DOI: 10.1023/A:1011422313042
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Cardenas, Juan Camilo & Stranlund, John & Willis, Cleve, 2000. "Local Environmental Control and Institutional Crowding-Out," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 28(10), pages 1719-1733, October.
    2. Smith, Vernon L, 1982. "Microeconomic Systems as an Experimental Science," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 72(5), pages 923-955, December.
    3. Elinor Ostrom, 2000. "Collective Action and the Evolution of Social Norms," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(3), pages 137-158, Summer.
    4. Vernon L. Smith, 1994. "Economics in the Laboratory," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 8(1), pages 113-131, Winter.
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    1. repec:eee:resene:v:50:y:2017:i:c:p:91-104 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Steven M. Smith, 2017. "Economic Incentives and Conservation: Crowding-in Social Norms in a Groundwater Commons," Working Papers 2017-08, Colorado School of Mines, Division of Economics and Business.
    3. Midler, Estelle & Pascual, Unai & Drucker, Adam G. & Narloch, Ulf & Soto, José Luis, 2015. "Unraveling the effects of payments for ecosystem services on motivations for collective action," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 120(C), pages 394-405.
    4. Therese Lindahl & Anne-Sophie Crépin & Caroline Schill, 2016. "Potential Disasters can Turn the Tragedy into Success," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 65(3), pages 657-676, November.
    5. Ostrom, Elinor, 2006. "The value-added of laboratory experiments for the study of institutions and common-pool resources," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 61(2), pages 149-163, October.
    6. Otto, Ilona M. & Wechsung, Frank, 2014. "The effects of rules and communication in a behavioral irrigation experiment with power asymmetries carried out in North China," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 99(C), pages 10-20.
    7. Raja Timilsina & Koji Kotani & Yoshinori Nakagawa & Tatsuyoshi Saijo Saijo, 2017. "Can deliberative democracy resolve intergenerational sustainability dilemma?," Working Papers SDES-2017-20, Kochi University of Technology, School of Economics and Management, revised Oct 2017.
    8. Narloch, Ulf & Pascual, Unai & Drucker, Adam G., 2012. "Collective Action Dynamics under External Rewards: Experimental Insights from Andean Farming Communities," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 40(10), pages 2096-2107.
    9. d'Adda, Giovanna, 2011. "Motivation crowding in environmental protection: Evidence from an artefactual field experiment," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(11), pages 2083-2097, September.
    10. Elinor Ostrom, 2014. "Do institutions for collective action evolve?," Journal of Bioeconomics, Springer, vol. 16(1), pages 3-30, April.
    11. Handberg, Øyvind Nystad & Angelsen, Arild, 2015. "Experimental tests of tropical forest conservation measures," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 346-359.
    12. Juan-Camilo Cardenas, 2002. "Real wealth and experimental cooperation: Evidence from field experiments," Artefactual Field Experiments 00019, The Field Experiments Website.
    13. Ahn, T.K. & Ostrom, Elinor & Walker, James, 2010. "A common-pool resource experiment with postgraduate subjects from 41 countries," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(12), pages 2624-2633, October.
    14. Rahman, H.M. Tuihedur & Hickey, Gordon M. & Sarker, Swapan Kumar, 2012. "A framework for evaluating collective action and informal institutional dynamics under a resource management policy of decentralization," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(C), pages 32-41.
    15. Villena, Mauricio G. & Zecchetto, Franco, 2011. "Subject-specific performance information can worsen the tragedy of the commons: Experimental evidence," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 330-347, June.
    16. Ward, John & Tisdell, John G. & Whitten, Stuart M., 2006. "Experimentally Testing Institutions And Policy Instruments To Coordinate Groundwater Recharge in the Coleambally Irrigation Area," 2006 Conference (50th), February 8-10, 2006, Sydney, Australia 139923, Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society.

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