Coupled Infrastructure
Systems Initiative

Natural infrastructure
— Nature works
Social infrastructure
— Together we are strong
Human Infrastructure
— Train your brain
Soft infrastructure
— The software of society
Hard infrastructure
— Brick and mortar
Coupled Infrastructure System
— The interplay of infrastructures

Renting the American Dream

Homeownership has long been seen as an essential feature  of the American Dream, in which equality of opportunity is available to any American. The current housing crisis is long in the making and illustrates how external events expose the fragility of the American Dream.  The 2008 housing bubble caused a …

Work and human development – a clash of institutions?

A popular saying is “it takes a village to raise a child”.   While certainly true, raising a child this way is difficult to scale up.  As a result, in modern times,  we have created a formal educational system that serves an industrial economic model of a standard 9-to-5 work …

Making the provision of highways more participatory

Highways are an iconic example of infrastructure. There are also a lot of complaints about the capacity (causing traffic jams) and quality (e.g. pot holes) of highways and other road types. An article where we analyzed highways as a coupled infrastructure system was just published in the journal Sustainable and …

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Coupled Infrastructure Systems Initiative

On this website, we share our ongoing work on the coupled infrastructure systems framework and aim to provide examples of diverse existing and potential applications. The coupled infrastructure system framework is an interdisciplinary approach rooted in the study of the governance of shared resources (Elinor Ostrom), systems resilience (C.S. Holling), and robust control (John Doyle).

With infrastructure, we refer to collective structures that enable systems to produce certain outcomes. Basic examples include roads, bridges, and electricity distribution systems, as well as internet communication protocols, computer software, and educational curricula. A basic aspect of infrastructure is that it requires (collective) investment to create and maintain. In the case of public infrastructure (roads, dams, electrical grid, electromagnetic spectrum) that is shared, society must invest collectively to create and maintain the infrastructure. Who pays and who can use the infrastructure are critical collective choice questions.

The notion of infrastructure has emerged as a useful transdisciplinary concept to capture dynamics in environmental, technical, and social domains. There are different types of infrastructure, and we need this coupling of infrastructure to derive desired outcomes. Just having a high-speed internet connection without the knowledge to utilize it or the institutional arrangements to regulate it, will make the physical infrastructure of little use.

The figure above shows the interactions between different types of infrastructure. The resource users interact with the resource (freshwater, fish, forest, etc), a natural infrastructure, by using social and human infrastructure (skills, tools, experience). Public infrastructure providers, those who create the rules and regulations, use their social and human infrastructure to create public infrastructure. Public infrastructure facilitates the appropriation of resources, and consists of human-made infrastructure such as irrigation systems, boat ramps, and policing. The particular system depicted in Figure 1 is exposed to influences from other scales, and we consider them as exogenous drivers. For example, public Infrastructure Providers can be impacted by new regulations they have to take into account, and the productivity of a resource could be influenced by extreme weather events.

Key Publications

Anderies, J. M., M. A. Janssen, and E. Ostrom (2004). A framework to analyze the robustness of social-ecological systems from an institutional perspective. Ecology and Society 9(1): 18. [online]

Anderies, J. M (2015). Understanding the Dynamics of Sustainable Social-Ecological Systems: Human Behavior, Institutions, and Regulatory Feedback Networks. Bulletin of mathematical biology 77(2): 259–280. [online]

Anderies, J. M., M.A. Janssen, and E. Schlager (2016). Institutions and the performance of coupled infrastructure systems. International Journal of the Commons, 10(2), 495–516. [online]

About Us

Marcus A. Janssen

I am a Professor in the School of Sustainability, the School of Complex Adaptive Systems, and the Director of the Center for Behavior, Institutions and the Environment at Arizona State University.

I want to understand how people can solve collective problems related to sustainability at different scales and levels of organization. Our society is experiencing unprecedented challenges to govern the world we live in for current and future generations at a scale we have never experienced before. How can farmers in developing countries cope with the challenges caused by globalization and climate change? How can we develop urban infrastructure to produce clean fresh water and energy and distribute water, water, energy, people, and information in a sustainable way?

To address these questions I combine behavioral experiments, agent-based modeling, and case study analysis. For more information on my research, visit my website.

John M. Anderies

I am a Professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, the School of Sustainability, and the School of Complex Adaptive Systems at Arizona State University.

My research focuses on understanding how the robustness and vulnerability of social-ecological systems are affected by ecological, behavioral, social and institutional factors. My research program combines qualitative insights from present-day, historical, and archaeological case studies of social-ecological systems with formal mathematical modeling and experiments with human subjects.


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