The Synergy of the Commons: Learning and Collective Action in One Case Study Community
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Formation of voluntary collective action provides a synergy whereby communities can accomplish environmental management improvement. To study this formative process, I asked four research questions:. How does group learning happen and how is it distributed among individuals in a collective?. How does voluntary collective action form, particularly around environmental issues?. What is the relationship between these first two questions?. What themes emerge that might inform communities or environmental managers who wish to promote voluntary collective action in communities?To answer these questions, I conducted a five-year case study of one community during which I observed the teaching and learning process and the formation of voluntary collective action arrangements. Data include over 5000 emails, minutes from 135 community meetings, observations of meetings and community gatherings, documents (bylaws, policies, guidelines, covenants), and 46 personal interviews with community members. I describe the community learning process through four characteristics: a setting in everyday life; a shared and constructed perspective among learners; a context where process is more important than product; and roles that are non-hierarchal and flexible. I propose the term co-facilitated community learning for this learning process, and provide evidence that it played a critical role in the development of voluntary collective agreements. I describe the typical chronology whereby voluntary collective action arrangements were formed in the case study community, and list the major environmental collective action arrangements developed. Many arrangements negotiated and approved by the case study community address significant environmental problems that have proven intransigent to other forms of management such as regulation and financial markets.I name collective action competence as the link between collective awareness and collective behavior change, and define it as the readiness of a group of people to behave towards a common goal based on a collective awareness, and a collective set of skills and experiences.Four themes emerge that might inform those who wish to promote voluntary collective action in communities to improve environmental management: (1) use of consensus-type governance, (2) reducing costs of cooperation, (3) use of normative pressures, and (4) good information communication and reinforcement.
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