A generalized knowledge of social-ecological relationships is needed to address current environmental challenges. Broadly comparative and synthetic research is a key method for establishing this type of knowledge. To date, however, most work on social-ecological systems has applied idiosyncratic methods to specific systems. Several projects, each based on the frameworks developed by Elinor Ostrom and colleagues, stand out for their application of consistent methods across a broad range of cases. In this paper we compare seven of these projects and draw conclusions regarding their potential benefits and the challenges that scholars can expect in conducting this type of research. The two main challenges that we identified are (1) the collective-action dilemmas that collaborators face in producing and maintaining the social and technical infrastructure that is needed for such projects; and (2) balancing complexity and comparability in the structure of the databases used and the associated methods for characterizing complex social-ecological cases. We discuss approaches for meeting these challenges, and present a guiding checklist of questions for project design and implementation to provide guidance for future broadly comparative research.
Article published in Ecology and Society.