Actor Resistance Influences Effectiveness of Ostrom’s Design Principles for Governing Contested Landscapes

Sivee Chawla, Tiffany H. Morrison, Graeme S. Cumming

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ostrom’s principles for the effective management of common pool resources emphasize the importance of local participation by affected actors in the design of rules. Principle 3 proposes that including local knowledge will facilitate the creation of effective rules that fit local social and ecological settings. However, the validity of the design principles is challenged in situations of high actor heterogeneity. We used a dynamic, spatially explicit simulation model to test Principle 3 in a simulated peri-urban area of a fast-growing city. In the model, urban actors appropriate land in a peri-urban social-ecological system. Urban appropriation fragments peri-urban ecosystems while reducing land availability for rural activities such as agriculture. We simulated the consequences of individual rural and urban actor decisions on emerging patterns of land-use types, using game theory to quantify competition for land, and metrics of landscape composition and configuration to quantify the impacts of rural resistance on landscape patterns. Landscape metrics relevant to ecosystem service provision (urban patch area, number of urban patches, clumping of urban patches and edge density of urban patches) had a non-linear response to resistance to urbanisation. Our results suggest that a small percentage of resisting rural actors can influence emerging landscape patterns; resistance as low as 10% of the rural population to urbanisation was sufficient to influence the degree of clumping of urban areas. The non-linear and varying response of emerging landscape patterns to conflict among actors, and the presence of tipping points for ecological processes that depend on connectivity or area, can create significant opportunities and challenges for the sustainable governance of land-use change in a spatially dynamic SES. We conclude that efforts to use Ostrom’s design principles to manage complex and dynamic landscapes such as peri-urban SESs must account for actor heterogeneity and the potential influence of actor resistance on landscape patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)351-368
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of the Commons
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Apr 2024


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