Using the IGT and QCA to Evaluate the Institutional Structures of Water Quality Trading Programs

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"Payments for ecosystem services have emerged over the past two decades as a new approach to modifying behavior by natural resource users and for securing beneficial ecosystem processes that originate from private lands. The accepted definition of payments for ecosystem services—a voluntary, conditional transaction of a well-defined ecosystem service between at least one buyer and one seller—is seemingly simple. However, this definition implicates a complex set of rules, from how an ecosystem service is defined, to who can participate in a transaction as a buyer or a seller. Decisions about how to structure a PES program can have a significant impact on the eventual success or failure of the program to achieve its ecological, economic, and equity goals. Here, I apply the rules-based classification system developed by Lien et al. to systematically model the impacts of PES program design decisions on outcomes. The classification system is grounded in the Institutional Grammar Tool (IGT). The IGT enables detailed evaluation of the individual components of rules, laws, and regulations. Qualitative comparative analysis (QCA), a method for assessing differences in qualitative datasets, is used to identify similarities and differences in how rules structure interactions between actors involved in PES programs that seek to improve water quality in the United States. The results of this work highlight key program design elements held in common by effective programs, as well as design features that respond to the unique needs of individual communities. By identifying essential program design features and rules, the outcomes of this work provide valuable new information about what governance arrangements are commonly associated with effective implementation of PES programs and the critical gaps often present in stalled or ineffective programs."