Equitable governance of common goods

Long-standing IIASA work on how to facilitate cooperation has acquired additional strength through a cross-cutting initiative aiming to compare, combine, and integrate approaches from different disciplines. Formal and informal institutions for overcoming social dilemmas and the tragedy of the commons are at the center of this research.

© Andres Rodriguez | Dreamstime

© Andres Rodriguez | Dreamstime

This collaboration between the Evolution and Ecology Program (EEP) and the Risk, Policy and Vulnerability Program (RPV), uses a broad range of approaches to bridge the gap between real-world case studies and game-theoretical models, with experimental economics and agent-based models as intermediary stepping stones.

  • The work has found that a well-calibrated combination of positive and negative incentives (“first carrot, then stick”) can overcome the threat of exploitation of joint enterprises and bolster cooperation more effectively and efficiently than positive or negative incentives alone [1].
  • A new model of corruption extended earlier studies of social commitment and costly punishment [2] (Figure 1). Corruption poses a widespread threat to the governance of the commons, and the EEP analysis was motivated by the illegal logging prevailing in many countries.
  • Many of the basic ideas in game theory go back to John Nash, a legendary mathematician who won both the Nobel Prize and the Abel Prize. After his tragic death in 2015, EEP took the lead in publishing a review that reflected on his seminal work [3].
  • The well-known iterated prisoner’s dilemma game is the workhorse of cooperation theory. Using a newly developed technique of so-called zero-determinant strategies, a recent EEP study determined when strategic interactions develop patterns of partnership or rivalry, respectively [4].
  • A groundbreaking book by Sergio Rinaldi and colleagues reviewed the social dynamics of the couple—arguably the most fundamental social unit—and illustrated their new approach with case studies of famous historical couples [5].
  • Temporary bluffing can sometimes promote a beneficial transition from bad to good social states by setting in motion a spiral of positive feedback [6]. The ubiquity of bluffing and posturing in animal societies is related to the cultural phenomenon of fashion in human societies, and new mathematical models were developed by EEP researchers to describe the role of fashion as a means of social diversification [7].
  • EEP researchers investigated the effectiveness of taking advice regarding social judgment and decision making, and showed that weighting advice is often preferable to averaging or choosing advice [8].

Figure 1. A new game-theoretical model of corruption shows how difficult it is to escape the corruption trap: once defecting agents and corrupt enforcers have taken root in a society (orange trajectories), the transition to cooperating agents and honest enforcers (green trajectories) requires a massive perturbation [2].


[1] Chen X, Sasaki T, Brännström Å & Dieckmann U (2015). First carrot, then stick: How the adaptive hybridization of incentives promotes cooperation. Journal of the Royal Society Interface 12: 20140935.

[2] Lee JH, Sigmund K, Dieckmann U & Iwasa Y (2015). Games of corruption: How to suppress illegal logging. Journal of Theoretical Biology 367: 1–13.

[3] Sigmund K & Michor P (2015). John Forbes Nash Jr. 1928–2015. International Mathematical News 69: 1–12.

[4] Hilbe C, Traulsen A & Sigmund K (2015). Partners or rivals? Strategies for the iterated prisoner’s dilemma. Games and Economic Behavior 92: 41–52.

[5] Rinaldi S, Della Rossa F, Dercole F, Gragnani A & Landi P (2016). Modelling Love Dynamics. World Scientific Series on Nonlinear Science, Series A, Singapore.

[6] Rinaldi S, Landi P & Della Rossa F (2015). Temporary bluffing can be rewarding in social systems: The case of romantic relationships. Journal of Mathematical Sociology 39: 203–220.

[7] Landi P & Dercole F (2016). The social diversification of fashion. Journal of Mathematical Sociology, in press.

[8] Bednarik P & Schultze T (2015). The effectiveness of imperfect weighting in advice taking. Judgment and Decision Making 10: 265–276.

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Last edited: 07 April 2016

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