Published: Oct. 16, 2020

By: Krister Andersson, Kimberlee Chang, Adriana Molina-Garzon

Publication Date: October 2020


 Strong local institutions are important for the successful governance of common-pool resources (CPRs), but why do such institutions emerge in the first place and why do they sometimes not emerge at all? We argue that voluntary local leaders play an important role in the initiation of self-governance institutions because such leaders can directly affect local users’ perceived costs and benefits associated with self-rule. Drawing on recent work on leadership in organizational behavior, we propose that voluntary leaders can facilitate a cooperative process of local rule creation by exhibiting unselfish behavior and leading by example. We posit that such forms of leadership are particularly important when resource users are weakly motivated to act collectively, such as when confronted with “creeping” environmental problems. We test these ideas by using observations from a laboratory-in-the-field experiment with 128 users of forest commons in Bolivia and Uganda. We find that participants’ agreement to create new rules was significantly stronger in group rounds where voluntary, unselfish leaders were present. We show that unselfish leadership actions make the biggest difference for rule creation under high levels of uncertainty, such as when the resource is in subtle decline and intragroup communication sparse.

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Also, CU Today published a press release about the article that you can read here!