This article seeks to shed new light on the study of decentralized natural resource governance by applying institutional theories of polycentricity—the relationships among multiple authorities with overlapping jurisdictions. The emphasis on multi-level dynamics has not penetrated empirical studies of environmental policy reforms in non-industrial countries. On the contrary, many of today’s decentralization proponents seem to be infatuated with the local sphere, expecting that local actors are always able and willing to govern their natural resources effectively. Existing studies in this area often focus exclusively on characteristics and performance of local institutions. While we certainly do not deny the importance of local institutions, we argue that institutional arrangements operating at other governance scales—such as national government agencies, international organizations, NGOs at multiple scales, and private associations—also often have critical roles to play in natural resource governance regimes, including self-organized regimes.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
The story of San Rafael is described in more detail in Andersson (2002).
This started to change in 2003 when the Government of Peru started to decentralize the governance responsibilities for various natural resources, including forests.
The interview instruments for Peru were slightly different from those applied in Bolivia and Guatemala. The Peruvian interviews focused on natural resource governance more broadly, while in the other two countries, interviewers asked more specific questions about decisions and activities in the forestry sector. Notwithstanding, for the purposes of analyzing why local government actors would commit scarce resources to natural resource governance activities, the interview data from all three countries is compatible because of identical ways of measuring the variables of interest in this article.
Acheson, J. M. (2003). Capturing the commons: Devising institutions to manage the maine lobster industry. New Haven, CT: University Press of New England.
Ackerman, J. (2004). Co-governance for accountability: Beyond ‘Exit’ and ‘Voice’. World Development, 32, 447–463.
Acuna, C. H., & Tommasi, M. (2000). Some reflections on the institutional reforms required for Latin America. In Institutional reforms, growth and human development in Latin America (pp. 357–400). New Haven, CT: Yale Center for International and Area Studies.
Adamolekun, L. (1991). Promoting African decentralization. Public Administration and Development, 22, 285–286.
Aggarwal, V. K., & Dupont, C. (1999). Goods, games, and institutions. International Political Science Review, 20, 393–409.
Agrawal, A., & Ribot, J. C. (1999). Accountability in decentralization: A framework with South Asian and African cases. Journal of Developing Areas, 33, 473–502.
Alston, L. J., Libecap, G., & Mueller, B. (1999). Titles, conflict and land use: The development of property rights and land reform on the Brazilian frontier. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Andersson, K. (2002). Can decentralization save Bolivia’s forests? An institutional analysis of municipal forest governance. Dissertation, Indiana University.
Andersson, K. (2003). What motivates municipal governments? Uncovering the institutional incentives for municipal governance of forest resources in Bolivia. Journal of Environment and Development, 12, 5–27.
Andersson, K. (2004). Who talks with whom? The role of repeated interactions in decentralized forest governance. World Development, 32, 233–249.
Andersson, K., Gibson, C., & Lehoucq, F. (2006). Municipal politics and forest governance: Comparative analysis of decentralization in Bolivia and Guatemala. World Development, 34, 576–595.
Andersson, K., & van Laerhoven, F. (2007). From local strongman to facilitator: Institutional incentives for participatory municipal governance in Latin America. Comparative Political Studies, 40, 1085–1111.
Aoki, M. (2001). Toward a comparative institutional analysis. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Bahl, R. (1999). Fiscal decentralization as development policy. Public Budgeting and Finance, 19, 59–75.
Baker, M. (2005). The Kuhls of Kangra: Community-managed irrigation in the Western Himalaya. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.
Berkes, F. (2007). Community-based conservation in a globalized world. PNAS, 104(39), 15188–15193.
Berkes, F., & Folke, C. (1998). Linking social and ecological systems: Management practices for social mechanisms for building resilience. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Bickers, K., & Williams, J. T. (2001). Public policy analysis: A political economy approach. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Bird, R. M., & Vaillancourt, F. (Eds.). (1999). Fiscal decentralization in developing countries. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Blair, H. (2000). Participation and accountability at the periphery: Democratic local governance in six countries. World Development, 28, 21–39.
Cohen, J., & Rogers, J. (1995). Associations and democracy. London, UK: Verso.
Crook, R., & Manor, J. (1998). Democracy and decentralization in South Asia and West Africa. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Dietz, T., Ostrom, E., & Stern, P. (2003). The struggle to govern the commons. Science, 302, 1907–1912.
Ellis, F., & Mdoe, N. (2003). Livelihoods and rural poverty reduction in Tanzania. World Development, 31, 1367–1384.
Epstein, R. A. (1997). Enforcing norms: When the law gets in the way. The Responsive Community, 7, 4–15.
FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). (1999). State of the World’s Forests 1999. Rome, Italy: FAO.
Feeny, D. (1988). Agricultural expansion and forest depletion in Thailand, 1900–1975. In J. F. Richards & R. P. Tucker (Eds.), World deforestation in the Twentieth Century (pp. 112–143). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Fiszbein, A. (1997). The emergence of local capacity: Lessons from Colombia. World Development, 25, 1029–1043.
Fitzpatrick, D. (2006). Evolution and chaos in property rights systems: The third world tragedy of contested access. Yale Law Review, 115, 996–1048.
Flores, G. (1998). Samaipata: Manejo de Cuencas y Manejo Forestal. In P. Pacheco & D. Kaimowitz (Eds.), Municipios y Gestión Forestal en el Trópico Boliviano (pp. 395–434). La Paz, Bolivia: CEDLA and CIFOR.
Fung, A., & Wright, E. O. (2001). Deepening democracy: Innovations in empowered participatory governance. Politics and Society, 29, 5–42.
Gibson, C. (1999). Politicians and poachers: The political economy of wildlife policy in Africa. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Gibson, C., Andersson, K., Ostrom, E., & Shivakumar, S. (2005a). The Samaritan’s dilemma: The political economy of development aid. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Gibson, C., Williams, J., Ostrom, E. (2005b). Local enforcement and better forests. World Development, 33, 273–284.
Gibson, C., & Lehoucq, F. (2003). The local politics of decentralized environmental policy in Guatemala. Journal of Environment and Development, 12, 28–49.
Gibson, C., McKean, M., & Ostrom, E. (Eds.). (2000). People and forests: Communities, institutions, and governance. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Goldfrank, B. (2002). The fragile flower of local democracy: A case study of decentralization and participation in Montevideo. Politics and Society, 30, 51–83.
Gow, D. D., & Morss, E. R. (1988). The notorious nine: Critical problems in project implementation. World Development, 16, 1399–1418.
Grainger, A. (1993). Controlling tropical deforestation. London, UK: Earthscan.
Hardee, K., Bronfman, M., Valenzuela, T., & McGreevey, W. (2000). Promoting partnerships and participation in the context of decentralization. POLICY Project Paper. Washington, DC: USAID.
Hayek, F. A. (1948). Individualism and economic order. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Herring, R. (2001). Authority and scale in political ecology: Some cautions on localism. In L. Buck, C. Geisle, J. Schelhas, & E. Wollenberg (Eds.), Biological diversity: Balancing interests through adaptive collaborative management (pp. 187–204). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
Higgs, R. (1996). Legally induced technical regress in the Washington salmon fishery. In L. J. Alston, T. Eggertsson, & D. C. North (Eds.), Empirical studies in institutional change: Political economy of institutions and decisions (pp. 247–279). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Hilton, R. (1992). Institutional incentives for resource mobilization: An analysis of irrigation schemes in Nepal. Journal of Theoretical Politics, 4, 283–308.
Hooghe, L., & Marks, G. (2003). Unraveling the central state, but how? Types of multi-level governance. American Political Science Review, 97, 233–243.
IDB (Inter-American Development Bank). (1994). Fiscal decentralization: The search for equity and efficiency. In Economic and social progress in Latin America. Washington, DC: IDB.
Johnson, C. (2001). Community formation and fisheries conservation in Southern Thailand. Development and Change, 32, 951–974.
Lam, W. F. (1998). Governing irrigation systems in Nepal: Institutions, infrastructure, and collective action. Oakland, CA: ICS Press.
Larson, A. M. (2002). Natural resources and decentralization in Nicaragua: Are local governments up to the job? World Development, 30, 17–31.
Lebel, L. (2006). The state, the firm, and the farmer: Community conservation and the use of land and water in upper tributary watersheds. Paper presented at the International Association for the Study of Common Property Biennial Meetings, Ubud, Bali, June 19–23.
Leighton, C. (1996). Strategies for achieving health financing reform in Africa. World Development, 24, 1511–1525.
Lewis, B. D. (2003). Local government borrowing and repayment in Indonesia: Does fiscal capacity matter? World Development, 31, 1047–1063.
Libecap, G. D. (1989). Distributional issues in contracting for property rights. Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics, 145, 6–24.
Lutz, E., & Caldecott, J. (1997). Decentralization and biodiversity conservation. Washington, DC: The World Bank.
Martin, L. L. (1995). Heterogeneity, linkage and commons problems. In R. Keohane & E. Ostrom (Eds.), Local commons and global interdependence: Heterogeneity and cooperation in two domains (pp. 71–91). London, UK: Sage.
McGinnis, M. (Ed.). (1999a). Polycentric governance and development: Readings from the workshop in political theory and policy analysis. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
McGinnis, M. (Ed.). (1999b). Polycentricity and local public economies: Readings from the workshop in political theory and policy analysis. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
McGinnis, M. (Ed.). (2000). Polycentric games and institutions: Readings from the workshop in political theory and policy analysis. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
de Mello, L. R. (2000). Fiscal decentralization and intergovernmental fiscal relations: A cross-country analysis. World Development, 28, 365–380.
Meinzen-Dick, R. (2007). Beyond panaceas in water institutions. PNAS, 104(39), 15200–15205.
Murombedzi, J. (2001). Natural resource stewardship. In: D. Hulme & M. Murphree (Eds.), African wildlife and livelihoods (pp. 244–254). Oxford, UK: James Curry.
National Research Council. (1986). Proceedings of the Conference on Common Property Resource Management. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
National Research Council. (2002). The drama of the commons. Committee on the human dimensions of global change. E. Ostrom, T. Dietz, N. Dolšak, P. Stern, S. Stonich, & E. Weber (Eds.), Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Nickson, A. R. (1995). Local government in Latin America. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.
Nygren, A. (2005). Community-based forest management within the context of institutional decentralization in Honduras. World Development, 33, 639–655.
Oakerson, R. (1999). Governing local public economies: Creating the civic metropolis. Oakland, CA: ICS Press.
Oates, W. E. (1985). Searching for leviathan: An empirical study. The American Economic Review, 75, 748–757.
OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). (1997). Final report of the DAC ad hoc working group on participatory development and good governance, parts I and II. Paris: OECD.
de Oliveira, J. A. P. (2002). Implementing environmental policies in developing countries through decentralization: The case of protected areas in Bahia, Brazil. World Development, 30, 1713–1736.
Ostrom, E. (1990). Governing the commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Ostrom, V. (1991). The meaning of American federalism: Constituting a self-governing society. San Francisco, CA: ICS Press.
Ostrom, V. (1997). The meaning of democracy and the vulnerability of democracies: A response to Tocqueville’s challenge. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Ostrom, E. (1999). Coping with tragedies of the commons. Annual Review of Political Science, 2, 493–535.
Ostrom, E. (2001). Decentralization and development: The new panacea. In K. Dowding, J. Hughes & H. Margetts (Eds.), Challenges to democracy: Ideas, involvement and institutions (pp. 237–256). New York, NY: Palgrave.
Ostrom, E. (2005). Understanding institutional diversity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Ostrom, E. (2007). A diagnostic approach for going beyond panaceas. PNAS, 104(39), 15181–15187.
Ostrom, V. (2008). The political theory of a compound republic: Designing the American experiment (3rd ed). Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. First published in 1987.
Ostrom, E., & Nagendra, H. (2006). Insights on linking forests, trees, and people from the air, on the ground, and in the laboratory. PNAS, 103, 19224–19231.
Ostrom, E., Schroeder, L., & Wynne, S. (1993). Institutional incentives and sustainable development: Infrastructure policies in perspective. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Ostrom, V., & Ostrom, E. (1977). Public goods and public choices. In E. S. Savas (ed.), Alternatives for delivering public services: Toward improved performance (pp. 7–49). Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Reprinted in M. McGinnis (ed.). (1999) Polycentricity and local public economies: Readings from the workshop in political theory and policy analysis (pp. 75–103). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Ostrom, V., Tiebout, C., & Warren, R. (1961). The organization of government in metropolitan areas. American Political Science Review, 55, 831–842.
Pacheco, P. (2000). Avances y Desafíos en la Descentralización de la Gestión de los Recursos Forestales en Bolivia. La Paz: CIFOR-BOLFOR.
Pacheco, D. (2007). An institutional analysis of decentralization and indigenous timber management in common-property forests of Bolivia’s lowlands. Dissertation, Indiana University.
Pacheco, P., & Kaimowitz, D. (1998). Municipios y Gestión Forestal en el Trópico Boliviano. La Paz: CIFOR, CEDLA, Fundación TIERRA, BOLFOR.
Palsson, G. (1998). Learning by fishing: Practical engagement and environmental concerns. In F. Berkes & C. Folke (Eds.), Linking social and ecological systems: Management practices and social mechanisms for building resilience (pp. 48–66). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Parry, T. R. (1997). Achieving balance in decentralization: A case study of education decentralization in Chile. World Development, 25, 211–225.
Platteau, J. P. (2004). Monitoring elite capture in community-driven development. Development and Change, 35, 223–246.
Platteau, J. P., & Gaspart, F. (2003). The risk of resource misappropriation in community-driven development. World Development, 31, 1687–1703.
Prud’homme, R. (1994). On the dangers of decentralization. World bank policy research working paper no. 1252. Washington, DC: The World Bank.
Rabesahala Horning, N. (2005). The cost of ignoring rules: Forest conservation and rural livelihood outcomes in Madagascar. Forests, Trees and Livelihoods, 15, 149–166.
Ribot, J. C. (1999). Decentralization, participation and accountability in Sahelian forestry: Legal instruments of political-administrative control. Africa, 69, 23–64.
Ribot, J. C. (2002). Democratic decentralization of natural resources: Institutionalizing popular participation. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute.
Sayer, J., & Campbell, B. (2004). The science of sustainable development: Local livelihoods and the global environment. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Shivakumar, S. (2005). The constitution of development: Crafting capabilities for self-governance. New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan.
Smoke, P. (2003). Decentralisation in Africa: Goals, dimensions, myths and challenges. Public Administration and Development, 23, 7–16.
Smoke, P., & Lewis, B. D. (1996). Fiscal decentralization in Indonesia: A new approach to an old idea. World Development, 24, 1281–1299.
Sproule-Jones, M. (1993). Governments at work: Canadian parliamentary federalism and its public policy effects. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Tang, S. Y. (1992). Institutions and collective action: Self-governance in irrigation. San Francisco, CA: ICS Press.
Tang, S. Y. (1994). Institutions and performance in irrigation systems. In E. Ostrom, R. Gardner, & J. Walker (Eds.), Rules, games, and common-pool resources (pp. 225–245). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). (1998). Capacity 21 program, 1998 annual report. New York, NY: UNDP.
UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). (2002). Human development report 2002. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Warren, D. M., & Issachar, J. D. (1983). Strategies for understanding and changing local revenue policies and practices in Ghana’s decentralization programme. World Development, 11, 835–844.
Wilson, J. A. (1990). Fishing for knowledge. Land Economics, 66, 12–29.
Wilson, J. A. (2002). Scientific uncertainty, complex systems, and the design of common-pool institutions. In National Research Council, Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change, E. Ostrom, T. Dietz, N. Dolšak, P. C. Stern, S. Stonich, & E. Weber (eds.), The drama of the commons (pp. 327–359). Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Wirtshafter, R. M., & Shih, E. (1990). Decentralization of China’s electricity sector: Is small beautiful? World Development, 18, 505–512.
World Bank. (1988). World development report 1988. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
World Bank. (1997). The world development report 1997: The state in a changing world. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
WRI (World Resources Institute). (2003). World resources: 2002–2004. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute.
Zaz Friz Burga, J. (2001). El Sueño Obcecabo. La Descentralización Política en la América Latina. Lima, Peru: Fondo Editorial Del Congreso de Perú.
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Midwest Political Science Association meetings, Chicago, IL, April 20, 2006, and the International Society of New Institutional Economics meetings, Boulder, CO, September 23, 2006. The authors received helpful suggestions from Tomas Larsson, David Gerard, Martin Dimitrov, and Esther Mwangi and excellent editing from Patty Lezotte. Financial support from the MacArthur Foundation, the National Science Foundation (0648447), Ford Foundation and USAID’s Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Management Collaborative Research Support Program (SANREM CRSP) is gratefully acknowledged.
About this article
Cite this article
Andersson, K.P., Ostrom, E. Analyzing decentralized resource regimes from a polycentric perspective. Policy Sci 41, 71–93 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11077-007-9055-6
- Developing countries
- Local governance
- Natural resources management