uncertainty and controversy and for accommodating diverse perspectives on resource management issues.
Institutional learning. Ostrom (1990) advised institutional designers to build in procedures for changing rules, on the grounds that success in resource management often depends on the ability of institutions to learn (also see Wilson, Chapter 10). Learning depends on responsiveness to many kinds of information: information from monitoring resource bases and users’ behavior, changes in basic scientific understanding of the resource, and the information and cognitive frameworks of the resource users. Wilson’s chapter illustrates the dangers of failure to learn and of failure to take relevant sources of insight into account.
Although learning is essential, limited empirical research examines how resource management institutions learn. Therefore, little empirical basis exists for advice on how to design institutions for learning. Several lines of research may offer useful starting points, however. Wilson notes the relevance of research on adaptive management (Holling, 1994). Theory and research on deliberative and participatory processes, already mentioned, also offer insights. Also relevant are growing bodies of theory and research on organizational adaptation to environments (e.g., Aldrich and Marsden, 1988) and on learning in policy systems (Sabatier, 1999). Researchers and practitioners interested in making institutions more adaptable may be able to take useful concepts off the shelf rather than starting from scratch. Finally, there is the matter of monitoring the learning process. One of the lessons of decades of program evaluation research has been that policies (i.e., systems of rules) are best instituted as experiments (e.g., Campbell, 1969). They are unlikely to work perfectly when first tried, but they can be refined and improved if their effects are monitored and they are revised accordingly. The program evaluation literature is full of suggested methods that managers and participants in policies and programs can use for evaluating and readjusting them (e.g., Cook and Campbell, 1979; Chen and Rossi, 1992; Weiss, 1998).
Conflict management. The need for low-cost methods of conflict management has long been recognized in the resource management context (e.g., Ostrom, 1990), but little research attention has been given to this aspect of institutional design (but see Blomquist, 1992). Challenges of conflict management are probably most severe when institutions govern people with heterogeneous values, interests, and objectives and when knowledge is contested about how the resource and the resource users will be affected by management decisions. How can such challenges be met? Researchers and practitioners of resource management probably can gain useful insights from a voluminous literature on conflict management, particularly literature that deals with intergroup conflict and with conflict management involving institutions at different levels of organization (e.g., Deutsch and Coleman, 2000; Fisher, 1997; National Research Council, 2000).