The pitfalls associated with more intensive engagement in collaborative forums: The role of behavioral spillovers and cognitive load

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Jack Mewhirter
Danielle M. McLaughlin


Polycentric governance, Behavioral spillovers, Cognitive load, Ecology of Games, Behavioral game theory


Polycentric governance systems feature numerous decision-making venues (“forums”) where policy actors repeatedly interact to address a subset of policy problems. Previous studies find that forums where actors dedicate greater time and cognitive resources tend to be perceived as more effective. Drawing on behavioral game theory and the Ecology of Games, we argue that the improvements afforded to any one forum vis-à-vis more intensive participation may come at a cost: lower levels of perceived effectiveness in linked forums. We use survey data collected in the Tampa Bay (FL) and California Delta (CA) water governance systems to examine our contention. Using a series of spatial Durbin models, we find that perceived effectiveness of a given forum is directly impacted by the intensiveness by which actors participate in that forum (positive association). However, there are also behavioral spillovers: the intensity with which actors participate in other forums in the system has indirect negative consequences for perceived forum effectiveness.