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Community groups are taking initiatives to adapt to a changing climate. These organizations differ from businesses and governments by being non-profit, often informal, resource limited, and reliant on volunteer labor. How these organizations facilitate collective action is not well known, especially since they do not necessarily solve common pool resource governance, but rather improve common pool resources through collective action. In fact, at first glance, community groups seem to not have the means for solving collective action problems used routinely in industry and government, such as paying people for cooperation or punishing them for lack of it.

This article investigates how community groups solve collective action problems though data gathered across 25 organizations in three sites – Sitka, Alaska, USA; Toco, Trinidad; and a global site of distributed citizen science organizations. We found that community groups used positive reinforcement methods common to industry and used little punishment. Groups also engaged in mechanisms for collective action, such as relying on altruistic contributions by few individuals, that generally are not considered commonplace in businesses and governments. We conclude by discussing implications from this study for collective action theory and for how policymakers might learn from community groups to address climate change.