The collective action dilemma or social dilemma is central to studies of public and social governance as well as to many social and other sciences such as: Political Science; Public Administration; Economics; Sociology; Business Management; Environmental Management.


April, 08 2019   |   Lihua Yang


The collective action dilemma or social dilemma is central to studies of public and social governance as well as to many social and other sciences such as: Political Science; Public Administration; Economics; Sociology; Business Management; Environmental Management. Various metaphors and models have been developed to describe this dilemma, for example, The Tragedy of the Commons, The Prisoner’s Dilemma, The Free Rider Problem, and externalities. Different models have also been applied to resolve this dilemma, including:: the Central Authority or Leviathan Model (which holds that governmental control and forceful actions should be the main method for resolving the dilemma); The Privatisation Model (which argues that privatisation is an essential way to combat the dilemmas); The Community Self-Governance Model (which argues that under certain conditions, community members can resolve dilemmas through self-governance). However, one common deficiency shared by all the three models is that they neglect the functions of knowledge, information, and experts and scholars’ participation in resolving the dilemma. Thus, unlike the above three classical, well-known models, our research (Yang, L. 2019. Knowledge-Driven Governance: The Role of Experts and Scholars in Combating Desertification and Other Dilemmas of Collective Action. Springer) explores ‘knowledge-driven governance’ or ‘expert and scholar-based-governance’ as an alternative model to resolve The Collective Action Dilemma or Social Dilemma. Experts and scholars are defined as those who have comparative advantages in knowledge and information over other social actors (such as herders and governments) and includes scholars, researchers, experts, technicians, intellectual elites, and other stakeholders who have learned knowledge.

By combining a series of game theoretical analyses and an empirical study, this work answers two research questions: (1) Do experts and scholars play an important role in resolving collective action dilemmas?; (2) If they do, what factors influence experts and scholars’ participation in resolving collective action dilemmas? A series of game theoretical analyses examine how expert and scholar-based-governance can help game players reach a stable equilibrium by changing the structure of incentives and resolving their collective action dilemma in a three-way (herder, government, and scholar) social-ecological system in certain situations. The game theoretical analyses also show that positive outcome of experts and scholars’ can be achieved mainly through their participation as information providers, government agents, expert and scholarly entrepreneurs, and pure game players. Moreover, the analysis of a three-party game can be extended to five-party games including firms and the fifth sector, composed of clans, religious groups, and various NGOs.

Under a product-institutional (PIA) framework, which is not only a roadmap for theoretically analysing expert and scholar-based-governance throughout study and a tool guiding data collection and analyses), we also conducted a two-step field study to further examine the validity of the findings from the game theoretical analyses. With global warming, climate change, and various human activities, desertification (land degradation in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid regions) is becoming one of the greatest environmental challenges of our times. Millions of dollars and a vast amount of human efforts have been invested to combat desertification but satisfactory solutions have yet to be found. Thus, in the first step, a field study including random-sampling surveys (with 1974 valid responses), interviews (with 78 interviewees), observations and document analyses in seven counties of North-Western China were carried out to gauge the significance of and roles played by experts and scholars’ in desertification control programmes from 1949 to 2008. In the second step, the research further investigated 43 cases in total to test how far the findings from the above seven counties are applicable to North-Western China. Another 23 global cases (8 from China and 15 from other countries including Australia, Israel, Pakistan, Spain, Turkmenistan, USA, Chile, India, Iran, Iraq, Niger, Tunisia, Uzbekistan) on desertification control were studied to test whether the causal relationship holds over variations in coverage, scales, and cultural contexts. A total of 20 cases (17 cases in China and 3 cases from India, South Korea, and Sri Lanka) were used to test whether the causal relationship holds over variations in fields, such as irrigation and rural development.

The empirical study found that experts and scholars do play an important role in combating various collective action dilemmas, and knowledge-driven governance is indeed an alternative model for resolving such dilemmas. The empirical study also indicated that the most important role played by experts and scholars was as providers of information to: governments; farmers; scholar-farming entrepreneurs; self-interest groups; government agents in the environmental governance field. Furthermore, the study identified seven working rules (or design principles) for successful knowledge-driven governance, concluding that the more strictly these rules are abided by, the more successful this model of governance becomes. The seven design principles were: (1) sustained participation of field-based experts and scholars; (2) federal organisational structure and specific, stratified organisational goals; (3) democratic and collaborative management with federal ‘carrot and stick’ measures; (4) steady local expert and scholar-entrepreneurship; (5) delivering expected benefits; (6) the experiment-extension method (people first do experiments in small experimental areas, and then extend them gradually to broader areas after gaining experience); (7) reliable external support (financial, technical, institutional, and spiritual). The first principle also includes six sub-principles. That is, in order to satisfy the first principle, experts and scholars should also satisfy the following six sub-principles: (1) relatively independent social identity and high social status; (2) the experts taking part should be both enthusiastic and highly capable; (3) enough, easily understood know-how; (4) high social capital; (5) great social responsibility and a spirit of practice; (6) respecting other social actors and local knowledge.

Lastly, this work examines the institutional performance of the successful and less successful cases and explores how institutional arrangements can be made more resilient, sustainable and robust through analysis of the three levels (individual, organisational, and constitutional) of knowledge-driven institutional change. Furthermore, the book shows that in addition to Lindblom’s observations on intellectually-guided society and preference-guided/volition-guided society, there is scope for a knowledge-driven society in which knowledge or intellect plays a greater role. If the model of an intellectually-guided society proposes a buoyant, optimistic, or confident, distinctive view of man using his intelligence in social organisation, the model of a preference-guided/volition-guided society gives us a more pessimistic or sceptical view of Man’s capabilities. The view enshrined in the model of a knowledge-driven society falls somewhere in the middle. Using Lindblom’s framework for analysing the role of knowledge in social organization, this research also found five working rules for robust expert and scholar-based institutional arrangements, or knowledge-driven institutional arrangements: (1) dispersed and specialized knowledge production; (2) dispersed and asymmetric knowledge possession; (3) knowledge or intellect-driven volitions or consensuses as the tests of knowledge; (4) satisfaction of diverse and heterogeneous individual needs; (5) multiple methods of knowledge application.

In conclusion, this work not only explores a new, alternative model addressing the central issue of environmental and other collective actions. It also provides a new tool for overcoming the Collective Action/Social Dilemma and for thus resolving many governance problems. Moreover, it furnishes specific instructions for: (1) achieving scholar-based/ knowledge-driven governance; (2) fostering participation by scholars and other experts in collective action projects; (3) making participation initiatives more successful; (4) designing new institutions for expert/scholarly resolution of Collective Action Dilemmas; (5) building a more resilient, sustainable, robust, and healthier society.

 


Lihua Yang is Professor of the School of Government at Peking University; Research Fellow of the Institute of State Governance at Peking University; and Professor (part-time) of the School of Public Administration at Beihang University.

 

References

Yang, L. 2019. Knowledge-Driven Governance: The Role of Experts and Scholars in Combating Desertification and Other Dilemmas of Collective Action. Springer, Singapore. See: https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-981-13-2910-4


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