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Public Participation and Institutional Fit: A Social–Psychological Perspective

Daniel A. DeCaro, Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory & Policy Analysis, Indiana University; Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Louisville; Center for Land Use and Environmental Responsibility, University of Louisville
Michael K. Stokes, Western Kentucky University


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Public participation plays a role in the development and long-term maintenance of environmental institutions that are well-matched to local social–ecological conditions. However, the means by which public participation impacts such institutional fit remains unclear. We argue that one major reason for this lack of clarity is that analysts have not clearly outlined how humankind’s sense of agency, or self-determination, influences institutional outcomes. Moreover, the concept of institutional fit is ambiguous as to what constitutes a good fit and how such fit could be diagnosed or improved. This is especially true for “social fit,” or how well institutions match human expectations and local behavioral patterns. We develop an interdisciplinary framework based on principles of human agency and institutional analysis from social psychology to address these problems. Using the concept of “institutional acceptance” as an indicator of social fit, we show how analysts can define, diagnose, and improve social fit of participatory programs. We also show how such fit emerges and is sustained over time. This interdisciplinary perspective on fit and participation has important implications for participatory approaches to environmental management and the scientific study of institutional evolution.

Key words

autonomy-support; environmental management; institutional fit; procedural justice; psychology; public participation; self-determination; social acceptability; social–ecological systems; sustainable development

Copyright © 2013 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087