Abstract: The resource management and environmental policy literature focuses on devising regulations and incentive structures to achieve desirable goals. It often presumes the existence of public infrastructure that actualizes these incentives and regulations through a process loosely referred to as ‘governance.’ In many cases, it is not clear if and how such governance infrastructure can be created and supported. Here, we take a complex systems view in which ‘governance’ is an emergent phenomenon generated by interactions between social, economic, and environmental (both built and natural) factors. We present a framework and formal stylized model to explore under what circumstances stable governance structures may emerge endogenously in coupled infrastructure systems comprising shared natural, social, and built infrastructures of which social-ecological systems are specific examples. The model allows us to derive general conditions for a sustainable coupled infrastructure system in which critical infrastructure (e.g., canals) is provided by a governing entity that enables resource users (e.g., farmers) to produce outputs from natural infrastructure (e.g., water) to meet their needs while supporting the governing entity. Plain Language Summary: To understand how successful and robust governance may arise in coupled infrastructure systems comprising shared natural, social, and built infrastructure, we develop a stylized model based on a widely used conceptual framework that focuses on robustness of social-ecological systems. Analysis of the model results in conditions for sustainability of such systems that are expressed as clear relationships between biophysical and social factors. The results lay groundwork for more rigorous studies of robustness and resilience of these complex systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)865-876
Number of pages12
JournalEarth's Future
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2017


  • coupled infrastructure systems
  • dynamical models
  • governance
  • resilience
  • robustness
  • social-ecological systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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