One field in which much thinking has been done about making social science knowledge useful is international relations. The following conclusions, drawn from that field (George, 1993; National Research Council, 2000), are also applicable to the field of common-pool resource management research.5

Practitioners always need many kinds of knowledge to achieve their objectives. Some types of essential knowledge are highly situation-specific and can come only from examining current features of particular situations—the forces in a particular location that are affecting a resource and resource users, and so forth. This can be called “time and place information” (Hayek, 1945). Other kinds of essential knowledge apply across situations. These forms of scientific knowledge tell scholars and practititoners what to expect with certain kinds of groups, in certain kinds of countries, or with certain resources. These kinds of knowledge are generic, that is, cross-situational, and therefore subject to improvement by systematic empirical studies.

The specific, contextually grounded problems practitioners must deal with are usually instantiations of generic problems of resource management. Although occurring in different contexts, these situations are encountered repeatedly. Examples include monitoring resources, enforcing rules, mediating disputes, and achieving cooperation. Practitioners typically consider several specific policy instruments and strategies for dealing with each of these generic problems. In this process they can benefit from the multiple types of knowledge about them.

First, general conceptual models identify the critical variables for dealing effectively with the phenomenon in question and the general logic associated with successful use of strategies or techniques to address a type of problem. For example, the theory of optimal allocation provides a general conceptual model for managing common-pool resources by creating institutions that help individuals clearly know their rights and duties and how these relate to sustainable management. A conceptual model provides a starting point for constructing a strategy for dealing with a particular situation. It assures that the practitioner is attentive to key dimensions of an issue and to the full range of institutional structures that might be brought to bear.

Second, practitioners need conditional generalizations about what favors the success of specific strategies under consideration. This kind of knowledge, as already noted, normally takes the form of statements of conditionality or contingency—that a strategy is effective under certain conditions but not others. Although conditional generalizations are not sufficient to determine which action to take, they are useful for diagnostic purposes. A practitioner can examine a situation to see whether favorable conditions exist or can be created for using a particular strategy or management approach. Good conditional generalizations enable a practitioner to increase the chances of making a good choice about whether and when to use a particular strategic intervention.

Third, practitioners need knowledge about causal processes and mechanisms that link the use of each strategy to outcomes. The effectiveness of pricing mecha-



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement