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Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database: Theory

Participatory management

Variable relationship:

Ostrom (1990) argues that participatory governance mechanisms (Participation in Rulemaking) help to ensure that rules regarding the use of the commons are ecologically appropriate (Social-ecological Fit), and thus contribute to the effectiveness of policies and improved resource conditions (Commons Condition Trend).

This theory corresponds to Ostrom's (1990) design principle number 3: Ensure that those affected by the rules can participate in modifying the rules.

Scientific Field
Component Type(s)


VariableRoleRole ExplanationValue
Participation in rule makingProximate independent variableUsers who participate in the design of policies that affect their use of the resource gain ownership over those policies and therefore are more eager to follow the rules. The rules are also more likely to be legitimate and fit to local conditions, which increases their effectiveness.High
Social-ecological fitIntermediate outcomeThe participation of local commons users in rule-making helps to ensure that the resulting rules are fit to the local ecological context.High
Commons condition trendFinal outcomeCoordination and cooperation among resource users facilitates management of shared resourcesRemained the same or improved

Related Theories

TheoryRelationshipCharacterizing Variables
CBNRM design principlesnested
Polycentric comanagementnested
Social-ecological fit theorycontains
Crowding in and participationrelated

Related Studies


Ostrom, Elinor. 1990. Governing the Commons. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Sabatier, Paul A., Will Focht, Mark Lubell, Zev Trachtenberg, Arnold Vedlitz, and Marty Matlock. 2005. "Collaborative approaches to waterhsed management." In Swimming Upstream: Collaborative approaches to Watershed Management, edited by Paul A. Sabatier, Will Focht, Mark Lubell, Zev Trachtenberg, Arnold Vedlitz and Marty Matlock. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.


Lubell, M. 2004. "Collaborative Environmental Institutions: All Talk and No Action?"  Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 23 (3):25.


Hobley, Mary. 1996. Participatory forestry: the process of change in India and Nepal.


McCay, Bonnie J, and Svein Jentoft. 1996. "From the bottom up: participatory issues in fisheries management."  Society & Natural Resources 9 (3):237-250.