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A Systematic Review of Key Factors of Effective Collaborative Governance of Social-Ecological Systems

A Systematic Review of Key Factors of Effective Collaborative Governance of Social-Ecological Systems” is the result of a mixed methods traditional and systematic literature review that we carried out with several colleagues from Arizona State University. The goal of this project was to collate various theories about success among collaborative efforts to govern social-ecological systems (including collaborative conservation efforts), and then to identify the most commonly described factors for success.

These factors are best described by a section from the article itself:

1. User rights: Users’ rights to access and use resources are clearly defined.

2. Clear resource boundaries: Resources with clearly defined boundaries (e.g. fish in a pond) are easier to monitor than a resource without clearly defined boundaries, (e.g. marine fishery).

3. Resource harvesting rules are congruent with ecology and culture: The rules governing resource use are environmentally sustainable and fit within the social context.

4. Equitable resource use (cost/benefit proportionality): The benefits of collaboration must outweigh the costs of participating.

5. Collective choice arrangements: Most individuals affected by the operational rules (the rules governing daily decision-making and action, e.g., when and where can I fish?) can participate in modifying these rules (e.g. fishers can participate in a fishing cooperative and vote on establishing fishing quotas and access to the fishery).

6. Monitoring resources & use: Monitoring of resource conditions and usage are essential for assessing their status.

7. Monitoring the monitors: Monitors are accountable to resource appropriators, are seen as credible by all parties, and ideally have a vested interest in sustaining the resource.

8. Graduated sanctions: A continuum of consequences exists for rule violations, ensuring that the punishment is proportional to the severity and frequency of the misconduct.

9. Conflict resolution mechanisms: Conflict resolution arenas are available at low cost to quickly resolve conflicts.

10. Recognition of rights to organize: Rights of collaborators to devise their own institutions are not challenged by authorities.

11. Nested enterprises: Governance activities in large-scale systems are polycentrically organized in multiple coordinated jurisdictional layers.

12. Institutional adaptability, flexibility, and/or variety: Progress is regularly reviewed, and rules and management activities are subject to revision based upon feedback and results. This is a form of flexibility in planning and establishing rules. It may be advantageous to apply a variety of types of rule systems (e.g., a mix of hierarchical and decentralized governance).

13. Long-term commitment & shared vision: There is a shared vision of goals, and long-term commitment of stakeholders/collaborators.

14. Leadership: An individual or team able to foster collective action can lead a group toward a common vision.

15. Social learning: Learning together, collectively, through inquiry or experimentation, and then using the new knowledge gained.

16. Capacity: Institutions are created and maintained through the skills and abilities of the stakeholders involved.

17. Building knowledge: Activities and processes are in place to gather (e.g., scientific studies) and disseminate knowledge (information sharing) throughout and beyond the group (e.g., publications, speaking events, public meetings etc.).

18. Prior Networks: Early networks established before a collaborative governance arrangement is formalized bring together key stakeholders and facilitate development of a common vision.

19. Trust & Social capital: These are necessary ingredients of collaboration. Trust is needed to work together and establish rules for resource governance. Social capital is built and drawn upon in the process.

20. Resource Dependence: The dependence of a community on a particular resource may have differing effects in different cases. (directionality unclear)

21. Group size: The number of active stakeholders/collaborators may affect the success of collaborative governance. (directionality unclear)

22. Group homogeneity/heterogeneity: Similarities and differences between the collaborators may affect the outcomes of collaboration. (directionality unclear)

For practitioners, this kind of information may be helpful for:

  • Planning purposes – assessing the context of a collaboration to gain a greater understanding for whether it will likely be supportive of successful outcomes.
  • Collaborative design – considering what elements of the collaborative effort can be controlled and how those elements can be set up to encourage success.
  • Monitoring and evaluation – identifying factors (particularly social factors) that could be monitored within the collaborative effort over time to check both the health of the collaboration and look for social outcomes.

Members of the team at Arizona State University, along with our staff member, Aireona, will be continuing their work on these factors through the ongoing use of a codebook and associated survey. These tools take the factors above and create a means for other researchers and collaborative leaders to describe and submit their work to the research group. If you’d like for your work to be included in the codebook (we would be so grateful!), you can either fill out the detailed survey on your own time, or email Aireona to ask about an interview (

One outcome of the gathering of collaborative case studies is another one of the CCC’s research papers – this one focused on “Sticky” or complex/difficult variables in collaborative efforts. More to come!