29 Apr 2022
29 Apr 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal ESD.

Governing Change: A Dynamical Systems Approach to Understanding the Stability of Environmental Governance

Nusrat Molla1, John DeIonno2, Thilo Gross3, and Jonathan Herman2 Nusrat Molla et al.
  • 1Land, Air, and Water Resources, University of California, Davis
  • 2Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Davis
  • 3Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biology, University of Oldenburg

Abstract. The ability to adapt to social and environmental change is an increasingly critical feature of environmental governance. Yet, an understanding of how specific features of governance systems influence how they respond to change is still limited. Here we focus on how system features like diversity, heterogeneity and connectedness impact stability, which indicates the system’s capacity to recover from perturbations. Through a framework that combines agent-based modeling with "generalized" dynamical systems modeling, we model the stability of thousands of governance structures consisting of groups of resource users and non-government organizations interacting strategically with the decision centers that mediate their access to a shared resource. Stabilizing factors include greater effort dedicated to venue shopping, and a greater fraction of non-government organizations in the system. Destabilizing factors include greater heterogeneity among actors, a greater diversity of decision centers, and greater interdependence between actors. The results suggest that while complexity tends to be destabilizing, there are mitigating factors that may help balance adaptivity and stability in complex governance. This study demonstrates the potential in applying the insights of complex systems theory to managing complex and highly uncertain human-natural systems in the face of rapid social and environmental change.

Nusrat Molla et al.

Status: open (extended)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on esd-2022-16', Anonymous Referee #1, 17 Jun 2022 reply

Nusrat Molla et al.

Nusrat Molla et al.


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Short summary
How the structure of resource governance systems affects how they respond to change is not yet well understood. We model the stability of thousands of different governance systems, revealing that greater diversity and interdependence among actors is destabilizing, while venue shopping and advocacy organizations are stabilizing. This study suggests that complexity in governance corresponds to responsiveness to change, while providing insight into managing them to balance adaptivity and stability.