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AAAS Leshner Fellow Dustin Garrick Launches the Uncommon Markets Book Project

Dustin Garrick speaking at the Foro de la Economía del Agua in 2019.
Dustin Garrick speaking at the Foro de la Economía del Agua in 2019.
Photo credit: Foro de la economía del agua

Dustin Garrick’s work addresses one of the enduring puzzles facing science and society: how and why people cooperate to resolve conflicts over shared land and water resources -- the commons -- and how to scale up innovative approaches. His current book project, Uncommon Markets: Collective Action and the Path to Prosperity, explores the role of cooperation in environmental markets for freshwater and fisheries. Such approaches, which use economic incentives to address resource scarcity, are spreading globally and billions of dollars are invested annually. This experimentation reveals that “uncommon” markets, shaped by communities and not just competition, are more common than we think. 

At the June 2018 orientation in Washington, DC for the AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute for Public Engagement, Garrick saw a perfect opportunity to launch the project. The AAAS Leshner Fellowship provided the mentorship to translate this idea into an ambitious proposal and plan for delivering it. Shortly thereafter, he was awarded the inaugural Philomathia Award, created to support breakthrough research in an area of global concern, with an express focus on supporting the book project and leveraging the Leshner fellowship. The award is supporting the project through a teaching release, a research assistant, and a series of workshops with leading scholars and practitioners working on markets and the commons.  

Garrick says, “The week at AAAS in DC in particular was so critical, giving me the opportunity to reflect on my goals and to chart a path for achieving them.” His book project is the culmination of almost two decades of research that explores the frontiers of resource conflict and cooperation in response to growing demand for water across sectors and scales. This work has led to projects and partnerships across the world, ranging from the southwestern United States to sub-Saharan Africa.

Garrick has collaborated with communities, policymakers and international organizations ranging from the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to The Nature Conservancy.  Through this work, he has become increasingly focused on incentives and the scope for innovative approaches that can bring historical foes together-- economic and environmental interests, cities and agriculture, and neighboring countries with shared watercourses. These experiences have convinced him that water problems are fundamentally human problems. Progress on these complex challenges will require nurturing promising modes of human cooperation – both ancient and new – that link behavior change and local collective action with structural transformations at the regional and global levels. Many efforts to create incentives to address water scarcity and depletion of fisheries have backfired because they failed to adequately consider the wide range of values and community interests, including the potential losers. In this context, Garrick says, Uncommon Markets will provide new insights about the ways communities and governments are using markets and incentives without being abused by them.

As the world seeks to transition to net zero carbon emissions and rein in resource pressures, there is growing interest in these kinds of innovations, and the need for new ideas and evidence is increasingly urgent. “Uncommon Markets will illuminate the hidden world of cooperation and conflict that shapes how environmental markets evolve and explains why they succeed or fail, and on what terms,” explains Garrick. He anticipates the book will have a broad audience and is developing strategies to engage specific segments of that audience. To reach policymakers, development organizations, the private sector, and communities, he’ll share messages from the book across multiple platforms, such as editorials in major newspapers and briefing papers at international forums. The engagement strategy will identify, cultivate, and engage thought leaders across a global network to mobilize action and investment.  

The AAAS Leshner Fellowship also emphasizes advocating for greater support for public engagement at the fellows’ home institutions. Garrick has taken steps to coordinate the already-substantial efforts underway at Oxford, where he is an associate professor of environmental management at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. He is currently convening a public seminar series on the Future of the Commons  at Green Templeton College, where he is a research fellow, to advance a global dialogue and connect the book project with frontiers of research and policy on markets and the commons.  Along with colleagues around the world, he has also established a new working group on markets and the commons with the International Association for the Study of Commons, and the project will feed into a new EU-funded consortium, Next Water Governance (NEWAVE), for which Garrick serves as Director of Research. Through forging such conversations, Garrick’s engagement strategy will leverage existing strategic initiatives of his key audiences, and respond to emerging developments such as the unanticipated, but inevitable, flashpoints of controversy related to cities running dry, disruptions to food systems, and the impacts of climate extremes.

The AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute was founded in 2015 and operates through philanthropic gifts in honor of CEO Emeritus Alan I. Leshner. Each year the Institute provides public engagement training and support to a cohort of mid-career scientists from an area of research at the nexus of science and society. Dustin Garrick is part of the 2018-19 food and water security cohort. The 2019-20 cohort is focused on human augmentation, and the 2020-21 cohort on artificial intelligence.