The Virtual Commons

building extensible software for collective action research


All of our software is licensed under the GPL v3 and can be downloaded from our project page at BitBucket. You may freely use or adapt the software to perform experiments at your own institution as long as any changes you make are compatible with the GPL; work is ongoing to customize the software for use in educational / classroom settings.

There are currently two main areas of development:

  1. Real-time dynamic and interactive experiments with 10-30 simultaneous clients can be built using the csidex framework. These experiments are implemented as typical client-server applications, with rich clients deployed via Java WebStart communicating with a server also implemented in Java. Results from running these experiments at Arizona State University and Indiana University are described in our Science paper, Lab Experiments for the Study of Social-Ecological Systems.
  2. A framework for web-based collective action experiments is under active development using the Django web framework.

We have developed three concrete experiments so far:

  • foraging
    foraging screenshot The foraging 2D experiment places participants in an abstract 2D environment and allows them to collect abstract tokens that carry an exchange rate for cash. The tokens represent a configurable, spatially explicit dynamic resource (e.g., forests, fisheries, or herds of wild animals could be represented) with configurable regrowth characteristics (e.g., varying birth rates, density-dependent regrowth, dispersion, etc.). Highly customizable with various configuration parameters allowing participants to chat before a round begins, sanction each other via costly sanctioning or time-based sanctioning, etc.
  • foraging 3D
    Similarly configurable resource dynamics as the foraging experiment with the exception that a given resource on a cell can age in discrete intervals, for example, transforming from young trees to fully grown fruit bearing trees that can be harvested for fruit instead of lumber. The 3D engine allows for customization of the information made available for the participants, including replacing visually recognizable objects with abstract artifacts (e.g., trees cut down with an axe vs pac-man like dot consumption).
  • irrigation
    The irrigation experiment places participants in an information and power asymmetric situation (upstream to downstream) typical of small-scale irrigation systems. In each round, a majority of the participants is needed to invest in the creation and maintenance of a common infrastructure that benefits them all, but the upstream participants have the ability to take an inequitable share of the water.