The influence of many factors on ecological success in common pool resource management is still unclear. This may be due to methodological issues. These include causal complexity, a lack of large-N-studies, and non-linear relationships between factors. We address all three issues with a new methodological approach, artificial neural networks, which is discussed in detail. It allows us to develop a model with comparably high predictive power. In addition, two success factors are analyzed: legal security and institutional fairness. Both factors show a positive impact on success in irrigation and fisheries supporting the view that there are sector-independent success factors. (C) 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.