Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Resource Economics

Analytical framework

Ecological and social systems find themselves in a permanent process of co-evolution. Each system is dependent on the other; their existence, thus, depends on their reciprocal ability to adapt. In order to assure such a “co-adaptation”, “Institutions of Sustainability” are required. These are sets of rules that, through linkages to the appropriate organisational forms, make felt their co-ordinating effects. They either emerge from processes of institutional change or are explicitly created. Institutions of Sustainability, thus, take over a co-ordinating function between social and ecological systems and order their reciprocal influences. The relationship between humans and nature is, thus, seen as socially constructed, in which the emergence or creation of new institutions or institutional change is always a question of reasons or drivers, most of which are of a very practical nature. They result from, for example, the desire to economise on transaction costs or conflict resolution between actors.

The research orienting concept used in the Division of Resource Economics, the analytical framework “Institutions of Sustainability (IoS)” provides a heuristic concept facilitating research on these relationships. The framework deals with systems of rules and governance structures which emerge in concrete action arenas and action situations in order to co-ordinate the co-evolution between ecological and social systems. Institutional innovation and institutional performance in Social-Ecological Systems (SES) are considered as the result of four key elements: transactions, actors, institutions and governance structures. According to the IoS-Framework, the properties of the respective transactions and the characteristics of the involved actors determine which institutions (sets of rules) develop and through which governance structures (organisational forms) these institutions will in practice be implemented.

A graph illustrating „Institutions of Sustainability“ please find here: IoS Outline.

From the application of this conceptual design, the following research orientations have resulted:

  • The objects of research are nature-related analyses of institutions and governance structures relevant for individual and collective action related to natural resources and environment as well as the connected questions of social and economic development.
  • The investigation of processes of institutional and organisational change with an emphasis on the rules and organisation of the use and protection of natural resources such as soil, water, air, energy, climate, biodiversity, genetic resources, vegetation and animal populations, ecosystem and natural common-property goods such as fish, forest, game and rangeland resources.
  • These manifestations and questions of resource scarcity and degradation are in direct relation to global food problems and energy scarcity and are exacerbated by competition between food production and energy production.
  • The objects of research involve systems of resource use including phenomena of resource degradation and thus imply the explanation of problem situations as well as the formation of institutional and organisational solutions in resource and environmental protection.
  • These are closely connected with questions of rural development, which, in developing countries, are often linked to structural and land use change in rural and peri-urban areas and economies.

The research projects of the Division of Resource Economics exhibit extensive practical relevance and political importance for environmental, agricultural, and development policy. The projects take place at multiple governance levels in both Germany and the European Union as well as in transition and developing countries, for example, in the area of regional self-organisation or international co-ordination. One principle focal point is institutional change in post-socialist transition countries. Questions of institutional change in developing countries and growing urban regions present a further research area. In the development of an institutional resource and environmental economics, the Berlin-based Division of Resource Economics is working together with similarly oriented institutes, for example, with the Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis and the Institute of Cooperative Studies at the Humboldt University Berlin. The Division is home to a series of individual projects and many international joint research projects, and maintains a Book Series edited by Volker Beckmann and Konrad Hagedorn and a Discussion Paper Series entitled: “Institutional Change in Agriculture and Natural Resources (ICAR)”.

A short description of the analytical framework „Institutions of Sustainability” can be found in this IOS outline.
More information on the topic „Institutions of Sustainability” can be found in the following paper:

Hagedorn, K.; Arzt, K.; Peters, U. (2002): Institutional Arrangements for Environmental Co-operatives: a Conceptual Framework. In: Hagedorn, K. (ed.): Environmental Cooperation and Institutional Change: Theories and Policies for European Agriculture. New Horizons in Environmental Economics. Cheltenham, UK, and Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar: 3-25