Collective action and social contagion: Community gardens as a case study

Michal Shur-Ofry*, Ofer Malcai

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Institutions for collective action (ICAs), comprising individuals that informally organize to manage collective resources, have gained recognition as a significant means of informal governance of common resources alongside the more formal schemes of privatization and top-down regulation. Using the case study of community gardens, this article locates ICAs within the broader phenomenon of self-organization in complex systems, and inquires whether ICAs exhibit dynamics of social contagion and diffuse in accordance with patterns that prevail in self-organized complex systems. Applying quantitative methods derived from the field of complexity, we measure the temporal, spatial, and spatiotemporal diffusion of community gardens in the city of Jerusalem. The results suggest that the spread of community gardens in the urban space displays patterns of self-organization and social contagion. More generally, these findings suggest that ICAs may scale from the micro to the macro level in a bottom-up, self-expanding manner, while maintaining the advantages of local, commons-based arrangements. This perspective carries significant policy implications, and highlights the potential use of ICAs as a means for the governance of public resources, not only on a local, micro scale but also on a more global scale.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)63-81
Number of pages19
JournalRegulation and Governance
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the Barak Center for Interdisciplinary Legal Research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. For valuable comments and discussions, we thank Reuven Cohen, Daphna Lewinsohn-Zamir, Shelly Kreiczer-Levy, Keren Weinshall, Eyal Zamir, as well as the anonymous reviewers of this journal, and the participants of the Law and Networks Conference at Bar-Ilan University (January, 28, 2018), Law and Big Data Conference at Bar-Ilan University (May 14-15, 2018), and the 9th International Conference on Complex Systems (Cambridge, July 22-27, 2018). We are also grateful to Ariela Zweikel, Gadi Varshewsky, and Amanda Lind of the Jerusalem City Municipality for their invaluable cooperation, and to Daniel Shapira for his assistance in performing the numerical analyses. Shira Wultz-Green, Shira Geldman, Ari Ben-Dror, and Eyal Eliav provided excellent research assistance.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd


  • community gardens
  • complexity
  • governance of common resources
  • institutions for collective action
  • self organization
  • urban areas


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