Analyzing decentralized resource regimes from a polycentric perspective

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The story of San Rafael is described in more detail in Andersson (2002).

  2. 2.

    For an early discussion of types of goods, see Ostrom and Ostrom (1977). For more recent discussions, see Aggarwal and Dupont (1999), Gibson et al. (2005a), Ostrom (2005), and Martin (1995).

  3. 3.

    This started to change in 2003 when the Government of Peru started to decentralize the governance responsibilities for various natural resources, including forests.

  4. 4.

    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.

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Acknowledgments

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.

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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

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Keywords

  • Developing countries
  • Decentralization
  • Local governance
  • Institutions
  • Natural resources management