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Social-Ecological Systems Meta-Analysis Database: Studies

Barnes, Claire and van Laerhoven, Frank. 2014. Making it last? Analysing the role of NGO interventions in the development of institutions for durable collective action in Indian community forestry. Environmental Science & Policy, in press 

Abstract:Commons scholarship seems preoccupied with self-governance. It focuses on showing that common pool resource (CPR) appropriators do not always need outsider-assistance in order to stay clear of the tragedy of the commons. However, at the same time we observe the presence of a large number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that consider community organisation – i.e. the organisation of collective action in community institutions – their core business. In this research we firstly develop and apply a framework to analyse the activities of 20 NGOs in India and compare these to indicators for collective action in a community-led CPR governance context, derived from the commons literature. Secondly, we assess variation in NGOs’ approaches to institutional change, by developing and applying a typology that distinguishes between (i) perspectives that see institutional change as predominantly determined by structure (institutional design) or agency (institutional crafting), respectively, and between (ii) perspectives that perceive institutions as either subjective or objective to the institutional change agent, respectively. Our results show that NGOs do not get involved in activities aimed at influencing functioning collective action such as crafting or designing rules. They do involve themselves in activities aimed at strengthening durable collective action such as forest management trainings. Furthermore, all NGOs show a predominantly subjective approach to institutional change. Their long-term focus puts the communities themselves firmly in the institutional change agent position. The results along the design–crafting dimension show more diversity and dynamicity. Eight NGOs in our sample take a strong institutional crafting approach to their work, whereas only three focus predominantly on institutional design and nine show elements of both crafting and designing. The majority of the NGOs highlighted how their approach can change depending on the stage in the intervention. Our results highlight the dynamic and diverse institutional settings the NGOs operate in which both moderates their approach to institutional change and determines their choice of specific activities