This study adopts Ostrom’s Social-Ecological Systems (SES) framework in empirical fieldwork to explain how local forestry institutions affect forest ecosystems and social equity in the community of Mawlyngbna in North-East India. Data was collected through 26 semi-structured interviews, participatory timeline development, policy documents, direct observation, periodicals, transect walks, and a concurrent forest-ecological study in the village. Results show that Mawlyngbna’s forests provide important sources of livelihood benefits for the villagers. However, ecological disturbance and diversity vary among the different forest property types and forest-based livelihood benefits are inequitably distributed. Based on a behavioural rational choice approach, our analysis proposes a set of causal mechanisms that trace these observed social-ecological outcomes to the attributes of the resource system, resource units, actors and governance system. We analyse opportunities and constraints of interactions between the village, regional, and state levels. We discuss how Ostrom’s design principles for community-based resource governance inform the explanation of robustness but have a blind spot in explaining social equity. We report experiences made using the SES framework in empirical fieldwork. We conclude that mapping cross-level interactions in the SES framework needs conceptual refinement and that explaining social equity of forest governance needs theoretical advances. © content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Oberlack, C., Walter, P. L. H., Schmerbeck, J., & Tiwari, B. K. (2015). Institutions for sustainable forest governance: Robustness, equity, and cross-level interactions in Mawlyngbna, Meghalaya, India. International Journal of the Commons, 9(2), 670–697. https://doi.org/10.18352/ijc.538