Tools for Assessing Incentive Mechanisms

Ensuring that common goods and open-access resources—everything from clean air and the global climate to the internet and civil security—are equitably and fairly available to everyone requires incentive mechanisms.

© moopixel | Shutterstock

© moopixel | Shutterstock

This is also true for living resources with shared ownership, such as stocks of fish and game. In a limited world, common goods and open-access resources that are used without incentives promoting cooperation often suffer from over-exploitation and may collapse through a “tragedy of the commons.” Incentives to prevent these problems can emerge bottom-up, through interactions of and agreements among stakeholders, or be imposed top-down by governing agencies. Social institutions and individual agents thus often use negative incentives (rewards) and positive incentives (penalties) to promote cooperation. Since providing incentives tends to be costly, models are required to identify policies for their effective and efficient use. Several models are available as tools for this purpose.


Chen X, Gross T, & Dieckmann U (2013). Shared rewarding overcomes defection traps in generalized volunteer’s dilemmas. Journal of Theoretical Biology 335: 13-21.

Chen X, Sasaki T, Brännström Å, & Dieckmann U (2015). First carrot, then stick: How the adaptive hybridization of incentives promotes cooperation. Journal of the Royal Society Interface 12: 20140935.

Kun Á & Dieckmann U (2013). Resource heterogeneity can facilitate cooperation. Nature Communications 4: 2453.

Nakamaru M & Dieckmann U (2009). Runaway selection for cooperation and strict-and-severe punishment. Journal of Theoretical Biology 257: 1-8.

Sasaki T, Brännström Å, Dieckmann U &, Sigmund K (2012). The take-it-or-leave-it option allows small penalties to overcome social dilemmas. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 109: 1165-1169.

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Last edited: 19 April 2018


Ulf Dieckmann

Program Director

Evolution and Ecology


Capacity Building and Academic Training

T +43(0) 2236 807 386

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
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