CDP 7:4

Chapter 7: Complicating issues in institutional analysis

Incompatible interests within and among local communities
Complications arising from interests outside the community

Preceding chapters have used the case study in Garin Dan Djibo to illustrate the process of institutional analysis and villagers’ efforts to change rules that were causing community forestry problems. While the Garin case is typical of the kinds of questions that arise in institutional reform, in order to clarify the process the case study deliberately avoided entering into some of the more prickly issues that may surface in situations when there are many different interests competing over the same resources. This last chapter focuses on some of the issues, previously noted only in passing, that both complicate the analysis and make it more difficult to gain consensus on rules changes that promote more sustainable (or more equitable or more efficient) use of resources.

There are two major sets of factors that complicate institutional analysis. The first is the configuration of interests that are found within the community and more generally at the grassroots level. The second is the impact of rules and actions by various interests outside the community, notably different levels of government, donors and commercial interests. While these interests may in some cases support local initiatives, in many others they serve either to restrict or even undermine community efforts. This chapter addresses these two sets of complicating factors in turn.

Incompatible interests within and among local communities

Dominance by a few powerful individuals or interest groups
Exclusion of women or minority interests
Competing factions based on economic interests

The Garin Dan Djibo case study described two different stakeholders with divergent interests in the gawo trees on Maman’s field. Farmer Maman, on one hand, sought to stabilize or increase the productivity of his field by encouraging and protecting gawo trees. Transhumant pastoralists, on the other hand, wanted green forage for their herds during the dry season and felt that they had the right to harvest this forage from gawo trees on village lands generally and on Maman’s land specifically. In the end Garin Dan Djibo villagers found they could adjust these competing demands for trees in ways that created a stable, locally regulated system for tree production. But it is not always possible to find a compromise position that is agreeable to all the stakeholders. Among the factors that make consensus difficult are the following.

Dominance by a few powerful individuals or interest groups

Throughout the world there are communities that are dominated by a few powerful people or groups. Often these people control numerous resources in the community including land, employment and credit. People are likely to be very fearful of antagonizing these powerful people over a community forestry issue since that would jeopardize many other interactions that are important to the well-being of both potential challengers and of the community at large.

Exclusion of women or minority interests

Community forestry initiatives that attempt to strengthen or protect the interests of women or minorities may find that there are traditions based on local culture or religion that make it very difficult for people to come to an agreement that changes the status quo. Often the reluctance to include these ‘marginal’ groups is based on prejudice (“women/herders/poor people are the destroyers of the environment; we can’t let them participate in these decisions…”) and often it is based on the fact that people who have rights to resources do not want to share them and risk having their portion diminished accordingly.

Competing factions based on economic interests

Within communities there may be groups that pursue different livelihoods and have different needs for resources. While in some cases it may be possible to negotiate solutions that satisfy these diverse needs and also protect the environment, this may not always be the case. In some situations needs may be in direct conflict and one group would have to sacrifice an important economic interest in order to meet the needs of the larger community or the demands of the other group. When people’s economic interests are at stake they are likely to be fairly intransigent in agreeing to a compromise.

Other economic interests derive from benefits that people receive from a project or commercial interest. These may create factions in a community that attempt to protect different concerns. Competition for leadership positions or other project benefits may pit various factions within the village against one another, rendering collaboration in good faith difficult or impossible. Relationships within the community may deteriorate to the point where members would rather suffer setbacks themselves than watch rivals benefit (even if they could benefit at the same time). Families that receive even modest employment from a commercial forestry venture, for instance, may be loath to support efforts that attempt to control the logging practices of that business.

When these kinds of conflicts exist or erupt within a community it may be impossible to achieve a working coalition to address community forestry problems. The situation may reach an impasse in such a community and all kinds of operations dependent on collective action or common understanding may be stalemated. Under these circumstances, the outside professionals are advised to direct their efforts elsewhere and try to find a site where the conflicts are less intractable. Continuing work under such circumstances risks drawing the outsider into activities that are at best unpleasant and unproductive and at worst risky or dangerous. If the outsiders withdraw (but let people know that they are still interested in working with the community if they settle their internal differences) in at least some cases this may help catalyze the community into examining some of the conflictual issues on their own. If this happens the outsider can always resume the process.

Complications arising from interests outside the community

Limitations on decision-making and enforcement at the local level
Bureaucratic imperatives: NGO and government staff

The case study of Garin Dan Djibo was deliberately simplified. It was presented as though the village existed largely in isolation. This was done to facilitate description and analysis of local-level factors, including local institutional arrangements that often influence the behaviour of forest users. In this simplified scenario, as long as it could work out problems internally or with outsiders operating at the same level (such as transhumant pastoralists), productive solutions would be possible. While some villages can operate in this highly autonomous way, for many others this is clearly an oversimplification. In some cases practically every community attempt to regulate resource access or use comes up against a constellation of outside forces and interests.

The case study solution as described in Chapter 5 suggests that Garin Dan Djibo villagers can, if they wish, make new rules that will apply to pastoralists if they can devise a way to get pastoralists to accept those rules as legitimate. But the problem may be even more difficult. Rules made by governments or other outside bodies may constrain the capacity of communities to create new rules and to enforce new and existing rules. Communities may legally be prevented even from entering into negotiations over new rules with the pastoralist population. The impact of external factors on community efforts to implement institutional changes are addressed in the section below.

Limitations on decision-making and enforcement at the local level

Forestry services in many developing countries have long operated under a national legislative mandate making them the official guardians and managers of the country’s forests as well as, frequently, its fisheries, water and soil resources. In many countries these conservation agencies have made administrative regulations that sharply restrict the capacity of communities to manage their own resources. Indeed in countries as diverse as Mali, Nepal and Madagascar, neither farmers nor others can legally cut trees on their own lands without permission from government foresters. Logging and fuelwood operations may be subject to restrictions that require entrepreneurs to purchase permits in order to move forest products to market legally. Such regulations may be well advised in some cases. In others they may simply increase the transactions costs involved in people’s efforts to deal with certain community forestry problems.

Another problem for communities that attempt to address forestry problems arises when villages are expressly forbidden from making their own rules restricting access to community forestry resources on their lands. Sometimes national regulations specify that foresters are the sole managers of forestry and fishery resources. Anyone else who attempts to regulate use of those resources is thus considered to be in violation of national rules. In such cases village efforts to enforce community rules may be treated as criminal activity by the authorities.

The preceding paragraph discussed a case in which forest resources are given special status in a country and local communities are prohibited from governing those resources, even if they are within what would otherwise be considered part of the village territory. A second case in which local efforts may be considered illegal occurs when governments do not recognize grassroots communities as autonomous jurisdictions. Therefore they are allocated no decision-making authority and are not allowed to make and enforce binding rules in any area. This includes, of course, community forestry. In such cases, before villagers can work on their own problems at the local level they may have to organize and invest great effort to get the national rules changed in a way that devolves decision-making authority to the village or community level. Or they may try to get a more specific type of legislation passed that authorizes communities to set up special purpose jurisdictions with specific authorities to govern particular resources such as community forests.

While such national legislative changes are not impossible they are far from easy to attain and are likely to take years, if not decades, to achieve. Under these circumstances villagers may conclude that the effort to obtain legislation recognizing communities as legitimate decision-making bodies is either impossibly expensive or more expensive than the benefits the community expects to receive from their efforts.

In some cases communities are allowed to make rules but are prohibited from enforcing them. The enforcement prerogative may be reserved for a specialized national police force, such as foresters, gendarmes or other forms of national police. Enforcement may have to follow certain prescribed court actions. Invoking and enforcing the rules in such cases is likely to involve costs, at least some of which will be borne by the person bringing the coin-plaint. If police are easily accessible, have adequate operating budgets and are paid decent salaries, are well supervised and well motivated and equipped, and if judges are neither overburdened nor subject to political pressure, enjoy a high degree of autonomy and reasonable remuneration, and are not too distant from where potential plaintiffs reside, then costs to those who seek police help or legal recourse will likely be manageable. Given the eleven conditions in the previous sentence, it is perhaps not surprising that it is a rare case in which all are present. In other cases local people or communities are likely to decide that the costs of enforcement are prohibitive and that complaints about violations of community forestry rules are not worth the time, effort or expense needed to make them.

The individual incident such as a tree limb lopped off, a tree illegally felled or livestock invading a newly reforested area to browse on and trample seedlings, may in itself be relatively minor. But such incidents accumulate. People may realize that their efforts to govern and manage community forestry resources are failing and are not sustainable. As the perception of inefficacy grows keener, more and more people will stop abiding by the rules, deciding that they may as well get some of the benefits before someone else gets them all. Soon, community forestry resources revert to open access status, and uncontrolled exploitation, the situation the rule was intended to suppress, again becomes the norm.

Bureaucratic imperatives: NGO and government staff

It is hardly necessary to note that influential outsiders, whether from donors NGOs or from the government, have a major impact on what happens at the village level. This impact may be good or bad; what is indisputable is that each of these outsiders has a personal and bureaucratic agenda that is independent of local community interests. These agendas may be motivated by a desire to do good things in local communities; they may be driven as well by the outsiders’ concern to increase their stature or economic security. The agencies for whom the individuals work also have their own agendas that are generated by a similar range of institutional self-interests. All of these interlocking agendas ultimately come to bear on the way the institution and its employees interact with the village and their orientation toward community forestry initiatives.

In spite of recent rhetoric about the need to take account of stakeholders’ interests in designing development activities, the donors are still in many cases more powerfully motivated by their need to disburse funds and show immediate and tangible benefits from the monies spent. Both of these motivations tend to work against community-led resource governance efforts, which are in many cases slow, not costly and not particularly flamboyant or-photogenic. Consider the example of Garin Dan Djibo, where aside from the salary of the facilitator none of the activities (including Maman’s initial protection of the gawo seedlings) required any spending of outside funds. When, as is often the case, outside monies dominate and propel the operation local people lose control of the activity and give up trying to see that funds and effort are expended wisely. Often the development workers feel obliged in such cases to show results even if that means pushing the process according to their own timetable or making decisions and implementing activities without the full agreement or participation of the local population.

Government bureaucrats tend to be motivated less by the need to show immediate results than by the exigencies of maintaining their own operating budgets. Governments of many developing countries are low on funds. Leaders often prefer to use most available budget funds to hire additional civil servants and technicians while skimping on operating budgets. Thus police forces may lack funds for vehicles, fuel and maintenance. Foresters may suffer the same lack of transportation and may have only very limited funds for nursery equipment, fencing and other materials. Resources for professional training may be limited. Other bureaucratic agencies suffer the same budgetary constraints. These circumstances help to explain why in so many countries government officials and civil servants are tempted to abuse their powers to exact bribes, manipulate political processes and do everything in their power both to retain their posts and to acquire additional income, either for personal ends or for acquiring the supplies they need to carry out their jobs. Some monies are skimmed off foreign assistance funds while others are obtained by threatening local people and exacting bribes or payments for real or imaginary services.

Each of these factors contributes to a situation in which there are powerful incentives to continue to centralize control over resources, to limit citizens’ and community organization, and to prevent people from understanding or influencing government activity. Bureaucrats and project personnel who benefit from the status quo are unlikely to facilitate changes that will reduce their power, authority and ability to control resources. These issues pose considerable constraints to communities’ abilities to effect reforms of institutional arrangements in order to better govern local forest resources.

What can be done about this situation? Sometimes nothing. And usually not very much in the short term. But not very much is better than nothing, especially if each year things improve a little. In such cases the most successful community forestry activities are often the small, incremental improvements that do not attract a great deal of attention and that focus first on those changes that will be the least threatening to outside forces. One reason for undertaking an institutional analysis is precisely to identify those situations where there are likely to be conflicts of interest with the authorities and to take steps either to avoid getting into such situations or to approach them in a knowledgeable and informed manner.

One mechanism that communities have used with considerable success to increase their own governance authority while avoiding conflicts with the authorities is to focus their activities in the non-formal domain. Such communities also generally attempt to use local means of conflict resolution and avoid entering into the formal system as much as possible. This has certain limitations and is generally most effective in governing resource use by local people. Outside interests such as commercial loggers are often unwilling to submit to such non-formal measures. Nevertheless, there are many issues that can be dealt with in this manner and it is often a good starting point if there is reason to believe that the authorities will not devolve formal decision-making authority to the local community.

Over time, as the evidence mounts that communities are indeed capable of wisely managing the resources in their territory, pressure will grow to entrust them with greater responsibilities. There will be pressure to modify the way larger political systems function and to create legislative frameworks that enable rather than repress local community forestry initiatives. Identifying the existing blockages in the system through careful and systematic institutional analysis is a first step in this process.


Together with technical considerations institutional issues are central to the success of community forestry projects. Just as the technician needs to be concerned about how rainfall will affect the growth of trees so the field worker needs, in close collaboration with the community, to analyse the incentives people face to manage their forest resources in a more or less sustainable fashion. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 of this manual have described some of the conceptual issues involved in identifying incentives related to the resources themselves, the community in which the activities are to take place and the rules systems that govern resource use. Chapter 6 discussed some of the practical considerations of working with a community to formulate a plan using this information. The case study gave one example of how these issues interacted in a particular village that was concerned with improving its management of resources. Chapter 7 has focused on some of the complications that may arise in trying to implement governance changes in order to promote behaviour that results in more sustainable resource management.

With this framework for analysis, outside professionals can hone their skills to work more effectively with communities on forest and tree management issues. The framework is a tool for examining options so that on the one hand people increase the chances that their investment in forest resources will be more profitable and on the other hand they avoid wasting time, effort, money and materials and risking their reputation on less promising options. In particular, the community forester will be better positioned to help the community focus on those institutional issues that (1) are likely to prove the most problematic if they are not addressed and (2) are likely to provide the most advantages (in terms of making project activities successful) if they are addressed. Because such projects are time- and effort-consuming, it is critical that both outsiders and community members focus their energies where they are likely to result in the greatest benefits.

Community forestry projects by definition require a significant engagement by local people. This usually involves an investment of their time and effort (watering trees, guarding a plantation or natural forest, constructing fences) as well as their knowledge and experience. While institutional issues may not require daily watering, they do put significant demands on the local community. The analysis and implementation of institutional reform require an investment of time and, especially, mental energy on the part of both community members and the outside professionals who work with them. In planning projects this investment (as well as all other local contributions) should be taken into serious consideration to ensure that people are capable of providing the inputs that are required. Once the institutional demands are defined the community may decide to implement a project more slowly in order to ensure that both technical and institutional issues can be addressed systematically and properly at every stage of the project.

This approach has benefits at many levels. Project activities that are implemented with the required institutional reforms are much more likely to succeed than those that ignore such issues. For their part, foresters will be able to take pride in their role in promoting more successful community forestry activities. And in communities that successfully follow this approach people will reap the benefits of a healthier natural resource base, providing them and their children with the kind and quantity of forest products that are so essential to their well-being.


Access rules. The rules governing terms and conditions under which individuals and groups enjoy access to a good such as any type of renewable resource.

Collective decision-making rules. The rules by which collectivizes (villages, nations, special purpose jurisdictions, etc.) make decisions that are binding upon their members.

Common pool goods. A good (or resource) from which it is difficult to exclude potential consumers and that is subject to subtractive and potentially rivalries consumption. Many products of community forests (firewood nuts, medicinal products) tall in the category of common pool goods.

Common property resources. Renewable natural resources such as tree products pastures and fisheries that have the characteristics of common pool resources but to which access is controlled in some fashion: typically some constraints on harvesting are also enforced by the group or unit that governs and manages the resource,

Constitution. The fundamental rules of any institution that exercises governmental powers (rule-making, applying and enforcing rules dispute resolution, etc.). The different kinds of governance bodies that may have constitutions include nations village communities and regions: water-use, pasture and forest governance groups: cooperatives: and religious and ritual organizations. To be affective constitutions do not necessarily need to be written or approved by some state governing body.

Constitutional rules. The fundamental rules of any institution that exercises governmental powers (rule-making and application and enforcement power dispute resolution etc.), including but not limited to tile nation: village communities, regions, water user, pasture and woodstock governance groups, as well as cooperatives, religious and ritual organizations, etc.,. all have constitutions in this sense. Constitutional rules need not necessarily lie written nor need they be approved by some overlapping; government, i.e. the State, to be effective.

Controlled access. Describes a situation in which access to a particular renew able resource e.g. a village woodlot is effectively controlled so that those responsible for managing the woodlot know who can have access to it when and under what conditions.

Feasibility of exclusion. The ease or difficulty of preventing others from getting access to renewable resources such as pastures, fisheries, forests or irrigated agricultural land. Ease or difficulty are a function of the location of the resource physical possibilities of access, availability and affordability of fencing, etc.

Formal rules. Those which are typically made by an officially recognized unit or agency of government. Usually such rules are written down and legitimated through some formal process of decision-making.

Governance. The way power is used to make and implement collective decisions, enforce rules and resolve conflicts. All these activities clearly allocate values (power, control over resources, etc.) that people consider important.

Incentive. Any source of positive or negative motivation that influences someone’s behaviour. Economic incentives tend to be calculated in terms of prices or time; legal incentives are incorporated in rules that authorize, compel or prohibit certain kinds of behaviour.

Institution. The rules that govern a specific activity of a group or organization, as well as the behaviour of people in that activity. A forestry school, an operating tree nursery, or policing of a forested area are examples of forestry institutions.

Institutional analysis. The examination of a set of rules, or institutional arrangements, typically with the goal of identifying rule-based incentives that encourage various actors to behave in ways that create problems for others, e.g. when foresters systematically fail to apply existing forestry legislation and administrative rules.

Institutional arrangements. Combinations of rules (whether operational, collective decision-making or constitutional rules) that establish a set of legal permissions (liberties), authorizations (rights) and commands specifying certain acts or behaviour that individuals must or must not carry out (duties). Forestry legislation, a forestry code, or non-formal taboos that affect how people use forest resources are all examples of institutional arrangements within the forestry sector.

Joint consumption. Consumption of a good or service that does not reduce the amount available to others who might want to use the same good or service; i.e. the product does not get ‘used up’ as it is consumed.

Non-formal rules. Those which are not officially recognized, frequently not written down (although there are many exceptions) and usually produced by people through a decision-making process that, again, is not officially recognized. ‘Traditional’, ‘customary’, and ‘indigenous’ institutional arrangements regulating access to and use of forested areas and their products are typically non-formal rules.

Non-working rules. Those which are not applied and enforced, so that they do not create incentives for behaviour. Such rules may be either formal in origin, e.g. laws produced by governments that end up as dead letters’, or non-formal rules that have fallen into disuse and are no longer applied and enforced.

Open access resource. A resource over which no controls on access are applied. In such cases, any one can get to the resource at any time and do anything the individual pleases.

Operational rules. The rules that determine what individuals are authorized and required to do and what they are prohibited from doing in a given situation.

Private goods. Goods (and services) from which is it easy to exclude potential consumers. Consumption is subtractive (what one person consumes is no longer available for others) and potentially rivalrous.

Public goods. Goods (and services) from which it is difficult to exclude potential consumers. Consumption is joint and non-rivalrous.

Rules systems. Sets of rules, or institutional arrangements, that are meant to affect behaviour. One might find in a country, for example, several formal national rules systems intended to regulate access to and use of forest, fishery and pastoral resources; non-formal rule systems might also affect behaviour concerning these resources. Such systems may contradict and sometimes conflict with each other; which are working rules and which are non-working rules is an empirical question that can be answered only by observing people and asking why they do what they do.

Stakeholders. Individuals, groups or institutions that have an interest in an area or activity. Farmers who have trees on their lands, woodcutters, foresters and pastoralists who feed their herds in part with leafy forage might all be stakeholders in a decision to change the terms and conditions on which these various groups have access to trees on farmers’ fields.

Subtractive consumption. Consumption of a good that prevents another person from using the same good; i.e. the person ‘uses up’ the resource – or subtracts from the total available – by consuming it.

Toll goods. Goods (and services) from which is it easy to exclude potential consumers. Consumption is joint and non-rivalrous.

Transactions costs. The time, effort and monetary costs involved in obtaining a decision. If, for example, disputes over infractions of forestry rules can be resolved in the community where they occur, the transactions costs are likely to be minimal. If on the other hand such conflicts can only be resolved by foresters, before whom plaintiffs and defendants must assemble (often in a location far from the community where the alleged infraction occurred), then transactions costs of resolving the dispute are likely to be considerably higher.

Working rules. Those which are applied and enforced, so that they effectively create incentives for or against specific kinds of behaviour. The term was introduced by John R. Commons.

CDP 7:4

Published by: Eaugrads

Evangelical Alumni Foundation seeks to fulfill "The Great Commandment and The Great Commission" to GOD's great economy. Each of us has great purpose as Sons of God. We are many in one body. Together, we are firmly planted by streams of water to bear fruits in all seasons. We shall not lack no good thing. Deuteronomy 1:11 God's Spiritual Billionaire's! Brief about our founder of Eaugrads: "JESUS"... "His pursuit of us is Relentless, His desire to Fight on our behalf is never ending; Despite the day to day distractions, designed to stop us from reaching our destinies, we can be sure of this... what God starts; He Finishes." Amen! Ministered By Tanya Harris, LLD

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