Environmental Science

Governance by the People

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Science  05 Jul 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6141, pp. 11
DOI: 10.1126/science.341.6141.11-a
CREDIT: © DLILLC/CORBIS

Real-world challenges in how to manage public resources have frequently been met by bottom-up collective action. One area in which researchers have yet to reach consensus is the relation of group size to collective action and resource outcomes. Yang et al. use data gathered over many years from the Wolong Nature Reserve in Sichuan Province, China. Within the reserve, the administrative bureau of the National Forest Conservation Program had assigned forest parcels to groups composed of 1 to 16 households. Each group decided on a strategy for monitoring illegal activity, such as logging, and the bureau conducted assessments of how much activity had occurred. Group size had a U-shaped relation to the monitoring efforts per household and on increasing forest cover. Intermediate group sizes of 8 or 9 households were optimal in balancing between two opposing factors: free-riding (the tendency to let others in the group do the work) and within-group enforcement. These findings, as well as the demonstration that stronger social relationships within the groups and with local leaders promoted collective action, suggest strategies for effective governance.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 110, 10.1073/pnas.1301733110 (2013).

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