Multi-level policies and adaptive social networks – a conceptual modeling study for maintaining a polycentric governance system

Author(s): Mathias, J-D., S.J. Lade, V. Galaz
In: International Journal of The Commons 11(1): 220-247
Year: 2017
Type: Journal / article
Theme affiliation: Complex Adaptive Systems
Link to centre authors: Galaz, Victor, Lade, Steven
Full reference: Mathias, J-D., S.J. Lade, V. Galaz. 2017. Multi-level policies and adaptive social networks - a conceptual modeling study for maintaining a polycentric governance system. International Journal of The Commons 11(1): 220-247.


Information and collaboration patterns embedded in social networks play key roles in multilevel and polycentric modes of governance. However, modeling the dynamics of such social networks in multilevel settings has been seldom addressed in the literature. Here we use an adaptive social network model to elaborate the interplay between a central and a local government in order to maintain a polycentric governance. More specifically, our analysis explores in what ways specific policy choices made by a central agent affect the features of an emerging social network composed of local organizations and local users. Using two types of stylized policies, adaptive co-management and adaptive one-level management, we focus on the benefits of multi-level adaptive cooperation for network management. Our analysis uses viability theory to explore and to quantify the ability of these policies to achieve specific network properties. Viability theory gives the family of policies that enables maintaining the polycentric governance unlike optimal control that gives a unique blueprint. We found that the viability of the policies can change dramatically depending on the goals and features of the social network. For some social networks, we also found a very large difference between the viability of the adaptive one-level management and adaptive co-management policies. However, results also show that adaptive co-management doesn’t always provide benefits. Hence, we argue that applying viability theory to governance networks can help policy design by analyzing the trade-off between the costs of adaptive co-management and the benefits associated with its ability to maintain desirable social network properties in a polycentric governance framework.

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