Working Together: Collective Action, the Commons, and Multiple Methods in Practice

Working Together: Collective Action, the Commons, and Multiple Methods in Practice

Working Together: Collective Action, the Commons, and Multiple Methods in Practice

Working Together: Collective Action, the Commons, and Multiple Methods in Practice


Advances in the social sciences have emerged through a variety of research methods: field-based research, laboratory and field experiments, and agent-based models. However, which research method or approach is best suited to a particular inquiry is frequently debated and discussed. Working Together examines how different methods have promoted various theoretical developments related to collective action and the commons, and demonstrates the importance of cross-fertilization involving multimethod research across traditional boundaries. The authors look at why cross-fertilization is difficult to achieve, and they show ways to overcome these challenges through collaboration.

The authors provide numerous examples of collaborative, multimethod research related to collective action and the commons. They examine the pros and cons of case studies, meta-analyses, large-N field research, experiments and modeling, and empirically grounded agent-based models, and they consider how these methods contribute to research on collective action for the management of natural resources. Using their findings, the authors outline a revised theory of collective action that includes three elements: individual decision making, microsituational conditions, and features of the broader social-ecological context.

Acknowledging the academic incentives that influence and constrain how research is conducted, Working Together reworks the theory of collective action and offers practical solutions for researchers and students across a spectrum of disciplines.


As IS INCREASINGLY RECOGNIZED, reliance on one or two methods hinders theoretical development and the accumulation of knowledge within a research program. Calls for the use of multiple methods have proliferated, and mixed-methods research is now considered to be the best practice. For the most part, methodological choices are presented as a matter of matching theoretical and methodological assumptions. Methodological debates largely ignore how mundane considerations influence methodological practices.

This volume focuses on methods in practice. It reflects our experiences, both positive and negative, with a variety of research methods, with multimethod research, and with collaborative research related to collective action and the commons. This stream of research encompasses a variety of important contemporary challenges, including the management of ocean fisheries, protection of forests and wildlife, and efforts to ameliorate climate change. The challenges in conducting research on collective action related to common-pool natural resources are typical of research on topics for which reliable data are not readily available. We highlight four themes: (1) the interlinking of methodological debates with theoretical development, (2) the advantages and limitations of multimethod and collaborative research, (3) practical constraints on methodological choices, and (4) the often problematic influence of career incentives on methodological practice.

This volume discusses a variety of particular methods: case study research, meta-analysis, collaborative field-based research programs, laboratory experiments, agent-based models, and studies that combine agent-based models with experiments. We are not covering all relevant methods, but we are drawing upon those methods with which we are most familiar from our own experiences. Two of us (Poteete and Ostrom) began with qualitative case study research. The third (Janssen) comes from applied mathematics. All three of us have learned a variety of new methods in response to theoretical and empirical puzzles. We have also engaged in collaborative research with scholars who brought different methodological skills and disciplinary perspectives to our projects. These methods reflect a range of approaches actually used in research on collective action and the commons—and more widely in the social sciences.

We have seen the tremendous value to be gained from multiple methods and collaboration. Several important theoretical breakthroughs have . . .

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