Co-management, or the joint management of the commons, is often formulated in terms of some arrangement of power sharing between the State and a community of resource users. In reality, there often are multiple local interests and multiple government agencies at play, and co-management can hardly be understood as the interaction of a unitary State and a homogeneous community. An approach focusing on the legal aspects of co-management, and emphasizing the formal structure of arrangements (how governance is configured) runs the risk of neglecting the functional side of co-management. An alternative approach is to start from the assumption that co-management is a continuous problem-solving process, rather than a fixed state, involving extensive deliberation, negotiation and joint learning within problem-solving networks. This presumption implies that co-management research should preferably focus on how different management tasks are organized and distributed concentrating on the function, rather than the structure, of the system. Such an approach has the effect of highlighting that power sharing is the result, and not the starting point, of the process. This kind of research approach might employ the steps of (1) defining the social-ecological system under focus; (2) mapping the essential management tasks and problems to be solved; (3) clarifying the participants in the problem-solving processes; (4) analyzing linkages in the system, in particular across levels of organization and across geographical space; (5) evaluating capacity-building needs for enhancing the skills and capabilities of people and institutions at various levels; and (6) prescribing ways to improve policy making and problem-solving.