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Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database: Theory

Past collaboration and social capital

Variable relationship:

As pointed out by Adger (2003), past collaborative experiences (Past Collaboration) add confidence among participants about the benefits of cooperative management of shared resources, as well as trust in the behavior that others will also cooperate (Actor Group Trust). Such trust increases the likelihood that actors will be willing to participate in future collective ventures (i.e., to collectively respond to disturbances to management regimes).

This theory is rooted in the understanding that cooperation is a dynamic social process fundamentally affected by learning processes (Ostrom 1998). As pointed by Ostrom (1998), there is a fundamental relationship between reciprocity (a form of cooperation), trust, and reputation that facilitates cooperation and thus sustainable management (Commons Condition Trend) of common pool resource contexts.


Scientific Field
Component Type(s)


VariableRoleRole ExplanationValue
Past collaborationUnderlying independent variablePast collaboration is a form of social capital that contributes to current collaborationHigh
Actor group trustProximate independent variableTrust is a form of social capital that contributes to the emergence of new cooperative ventures and the strength of existing ones.High
Collective actionIntermediate outcomeAs a result of high levels of trust, users, who are understood to act as conditional cooperators, are more willing to contribute to public goods and cooperate towards the sustainable management and use of a commons.High
Commons condition trendFinal outcomeHigh levels of collective-action help to sustain the commons that is being managed.Remained the same or Improved

Related Theories

TheoryRelationshipCharacterizing Variables
Conditions for general resiliencenested
Collective action and the commonscontains
Communication and collective actionrelated
Decentralization and local capacityrelated

Related Studies


Adger, W Neil. 2010. “Social Capital, Collective Action, and Adaptation to Climate Change.” In Der Klimawandel, 327–345. Springer.


Ostrom, Elinor. 1998. "A Behavioral Approach to the Rational Choice Theory of Collective Action: Presidential Address, American Political Science Association, 1997."  The American Political Science Review 92 (1):1-22.