Groundwater as a Common Pool Resource: Modelling, Management and the Complicity Ethic in a Non-collective World

  • Juan Carlos Castilla-RhoEmail author
  • Cameron Holley
  • Juan Carlos Castilla
Part of the Ethics of Science and Technology Assessment book series (ETHICSSCI, volume 46)


Sustainable development of the natural resources that support our current standards of living is arguably one the biggest challenges of the Anthropocene. Institutions and policies alone however cannot guarantee that the right decisions are made. In this chapter, we argue that sound decisions must overcome the ethical dilemmas that experts face when encapsulating hypotheses of the real-world into numerical models. Using groundwater as an example, we show how the so-called complicity ethic may unfold during the process of designing management and policy interventions, and subsequently recommend eight guiding principles (a charter) that can be followed to reduce the likelihood that this complicity ethic takes place. We then introduce The Collaborative Pathway—a mediated modelling activity that synergistically blends the eight guiding principles of our ethics charter into a practical decision-making process. This approach is designed to foster community engagement, to improve the way sectoral risks and trade-offs are evaluated, and to help stakeholders understand what might drive a particular sector towards best- and worst-case outcomes. If done right and with the right tools and strategies, The Collaborative Pathway can become a useful framework to encode ethics, resilience, and sustainability in our decisions relating to the development and protection of any common-pool resource that maintains our humanity.


Groundwater Common pool resources Management Modelling Guiding principles Collaboration Complicity ethic 



J. C. Castilla-Rho acknowledges Peter Dupen from WaterNSW for his original ideas and interest in this work. Cameron Holley acknowledges financial support under the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Project funding scheme (project numbers DP170100281 DP190101584). J. C. Castilla acknowledges financial support from “Cátedra Arauco in Environmental Ethic” and Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas and the Centro Interdisciplinario de Cambio Global, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

Conflict of Interests

We declare to have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juan Carlos Castilla-Rho
    • 1
    Email author
  • Cameron Holley
    • 2
  • Juan Carlos Castilla
    • 3
  1. 1.School of Information, Systems and Modelling and PERSWADE CenterFaculty of Engineering and Information Technology, University of Technology Sydney (UTS)SydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Faculty of Law and Connected Waters Initiative Research CentreUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Ecology, Faculty of Biological Sciences, Center for Bioethics and Interdisciplinary Center for Global Change (CCG-UC)Pontificia Universidad Católica de ChileSantiagoChile

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