Center for Behavior, Institutions and the Environment / CBIE Working Papers / An Agent-based Model Based on Field Experiments

An Agent-based Model Based on Field Experiments



This chapter describes the empirical calibration of a theoretical model based on data from field experiments. Field experiments on irrigation dilemmas were performed to understand how resource users overcome asymmetric collective action problems (Janssen et al., 2012). The fundamental problem facing irrigation systems is how to solve two related collective action problems: 1) the provision of the physical and ecological infrastructure necessary to utilize the resource (water), and 2) the irrigation dilemma where the relative positions of “head-enders” and “tail-enders” generate a sequential access to the resource itself (water). If the actors behave as rational, self-interested agents, it is difficult to understand how irrigation infrastructure could ever be constructed and maintained by the farmers who utilize the system as opposed to a government irrigation bureaucracy. Wittfogel (1957) argued that a centralized control was indispensable for the functioning of larger irrigation systems and hypothesized that some state-level societies have emerged as a necessary side-effect of solving problems associated with the use of large-scale irrigation. Even if the initial problem of providing the infrastructure were solved, water that is available to the head-enders may not necessarily be shared with the tail-enders, as long as the head-enders have a positive marginal return on the use of water. The vulnerability of irrigation system performance to the behavior of self-interested rational actors leads to the question of why so many self-organized irrigation systems exist and persist for so long (Hunt, 1988; Lansing, 1991; Ostrom, 1992).

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Published July 25, 2012

Marco Janssen, Arizona State University, School of Sustainability