The ‘Ecology of Games Framework’ (EG) combines insights from many approaches to analyze ‘institutional complexity’ and ‘complex institutional systems’.
The focus is on actors learning how to secure ‘mutually beneficial outcomes’, cooperating to produce and deliver agreed solutions, and bargaining within a system over which no actor has control. Therefore, it is worth reading the posts on game theory, the IAD, and SES first (especially if, like me, you associated ‘game’ with tig, then Monopoly, then The Wire).
Insights from three key approaches
EG connects Norton’s ‘ecology of games’, the IAD, and insights from complexity theory to reinforce the idea that institutional arrangements are not simple and orderly.
In simple games, we need only analyse the interaction between a small number of actors with reference to one set of self-contained rules providing clear sanctions or payoffs. In real world policymaking, many different games take place at the same time in different venues.
Some policy games may be contained within a geographical area – such as California – but there are no self-contained collective action problems:
- Examples such as ‘biodiversity’, ‘ecology’ or ‘environmental’ policies command a collection of interdependent policies relating to issues like local planning, protected species, water management, air pollution, transport, energy use, and contributors to such policies or policy problems in other areas of government (such as public services).
- Each contributor to policy may come from different institutions associated with many policymaking venues spread across many levels and types of government.
Consequently, many games interact with each other. The same actor might participate in multiple games subject to different rules. Further, each game produces ‘externalities’ for the others; the ‘payoffs’ to each game are connected and complicated.
A focus on ‘complex adaptive systems’ suggests that central governments do not have the resources to control – or understand fully – interaction at this frequency and scale. Rather, policymaking influences are:
- Internal to the game, when actors (a) follow and shape the rules of each institution, and (b) learn through trial and error.
- External to the game, when physical resources change, or central levels of government change the resources of local actors.
Insights from the wider literature
The EG brings in wider insights – from theories in the 500 and 1000 Words series – to analyse this process. Examples include:
- Actors deal with bounded rationality primarily with reference to their ‘social tribal instincts’.
- They form coalitions with their allies to get what they want from different games
- They engage in ‘policy learning’ to update their policy knowledge and enhance their policymaking position.
Consequently, we have come a long way from simple assumptions about human behaviour outlined in our first post in this series.
As with the IAD, the EG emphasis is on (a) finding solutions to complex (largely environmental) policy problems, with reference to (b) initiatives consistent with self-organising systems such as ‘collaborative governance’. Like most posts in this series, it rejects a naïve attachment to a single powerful central government. Policymaking is multi-centric, and solutions to complex problems will emerge in that context.
Policy Concepts in 1000 Words: the Institutional Analysis and Development Framework (IAD) and Governing the Commons
Policy Concepts in 1000 Words: it’s time for some game theory
Policy in 500 Words: the Social-Ecological Systems Framework
Policy Concepts in 1000 Words: Rational Choice and the IAD (the older post for the 1st edition)
Policy Concepts in 1000 Words: Multi-centric Policymaking
How to Navigate Complex Policy Designs
How can governments better collaborate to address complex problems?