The problem of institutional fit: Uncovering patterns with boosted decision trees

Graham, Epstein, Apetrei, Cristina, Baggio, Jacopo, Chawla, Sivee, Cumming, Graeme, Gurney, Georgina, Morrison, Tiffany, Unnikrishnan, Hita, and Villamayor Tomas, Sergio (2024) The problem of institutional fit: Uncovering patterns with boosted decision trees. International Journal of the Commons, 18 (1). pp. 1-16.

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Complex social-ecological contexts play an important role in shaping the types of institutions that groups use to manage resources, and the effectiveness of those institutions in achieving social and environmental objectives. However, despite widespread acknowledgment that “context matters”, progress in generalising how complex contexts shape institutions and outcomes has been slow. This is partly because large numbers of potentially influential variables and non-linearities confound traditional statistical methods. Here we use boosted decision trees – one of a growing portfolio of machine learning tools – to examine relationships between contexts, institutions, and their performance. More specifically we draw upon data from the International Forest Resources and Institutions (IFRI) program to analyze (i) the contexts in which groups successfully self-organize to develop rules for the use of forest resources (local rulemaking), and (ii) the contexts in which local rulemaking is associated with successful ecological outcomes. The results reveal an unfortunate divergence between the contexts in which local rulemaking tends to be found and the contexts in which it contributes to successful outcomes. These findings and our overall approach present a potentially fruitful opportunity to further advance theories of institutional fit and inform the development of policies and practices tailored to different contexts and desired outcomes.

Item ID: 82361
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1875-0281
Keywords: Institutional fit; Collective action; Context; Community-based management; Environmental governance; Machine learning
Copyright Information: © 2024 The Author(s). This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See
Date Deposited: 25 Mar 2024 01:36
FoR Codes: 41 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 4104 Environmental management > 410404 Environmental management @ 50%
44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4410 Sociology > 441002 Environmental sociology @ 50%
SEO Codes: 19 ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY, CLIMATE CHANGE AND NATURAL HAZARDS > 1902 Environmental policy, legislation and standards > 190206 Institutional arrangements @ 80%
28 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 2801 Expanding knowledge > 280123 Expanding knowledge in human society @ 20%
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