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Governing sustainable rural development – for or by the local population?

Research project Conflicts over natural resources management are common. In this project, we analyse to what extent public-private-partnerships contributes to the reduction of these conflicts but also their role in sustainable rural development.

Public-private-partnerships are increasingly used to govern natural resources such as forests, national parks, large carnivores, moose, or fish. The partnerships can be a part of the state administration but established through Leader-projects. We analyze the establishment of these partnerships, on whose terms they are established and what they contribute to in terms of conflict management and rural development. The project will generate new knowledge about methods for sustainable governance of natural resources.

Project overview

Project period

2013-11-04 2016-01-01

Research subject

Political science

Project description

There is, according to Formas research strategy on rural development, a special set of conditions characterizing rural areas in Sweden and elsewhere. One such condition is the physical environment, i.e. the natural resources which form the basis for social and economic activity in rural areas. However, the research in Sweden concerning natural resources, associated industries and “relations with the rural population and demands on production forms, supply of goods, and sometimes even the design of the landscape is poorly developed”. The overarching objective of this application is to, within the framework of environmental governance, somewhat remedy this research gap. The funding will be used to strengthen a newly established interdisciplinary research group situated at the department of political Science, Umeå University and the department of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies at SLU, Umeå, contributing to the development of national research skills and the internationalization of Swedish research on sustainable rural development.

Dilemmas in sustainable rural development and the “new rural paradigm”
Although the number of people working in traditional land based industries (agriculture, forestry, reindeer herding and fisheries) is declining, natural resources in a broad sense continue to form the social and economic basis for all activities in rural areas. The production of food, fuel and fibres in rural areas thus supports, not only rural livelihood, but also urban populations with basic human needs, which generates an important state of interdependence between rural and urban areas.
While producing food, fuel and fibre for the benefit of the whole country, the rural population is also supposed to protect the rural environment, to manage and conserve national resources, and develop local industries, e.g. tourism, but lately also local small-scale food industries, to profit from the resources available. The protection of natural resources is supposed to meet global as well as local needs of biodiversity, but also to provide urban populations with amenities and aesthetic landscapes during holidays.
The focus on both production and protection is just one example of the dilemmas characterizing rural policies, and also a reason why conflicts between actors at the local level but also between actors situated at different societal levels often occur. The national requirements to fulfill biodiversity conservation obligations are often perceived as a threat by local actors hampering rural development of in particular, traditional land based industries (centre vs periphery). The developments of alternative industries e.g. tourism are also often considered as a threat to traditional ways of living or even as activities undermining traditional economic activities since old and new economic activities often compete over the use of the same resources e.g. the use of forests or the mountain range. In addition, the complex property right situation, with a mix of private property rights, usufructuary rights by the indigenous population in the north – the Sami, open public access to land (allemansrätten) and the development of “moral ownership” to in particular forest land, contribute to the dispute over land use and land use change.
These dilemmas are reinforced by the urban-rural divide, the widening attitudinal gap between urban and rural populations on the use of natural resources (utilitarian vs mutualist values). A gap which cause tensions and even conflicts on how power over land use should be distributed vertically, between different levels and horizontally, between different actors and interests.
The Swedish government has recently adopted a strategy to address these dilemmas affecting rural development. The strategy include both changes in policy focus and adjustments to the governance structure, most notably; decentralization of policy administration and, within limits, policy design to regional and local levels; and increased use of ‘partnerships, between public, private and voluntary sectors in the development and implementation of natural resource policies. This type of ‘partnerships’ has come to dominate politics, at least rhetorically, in seeking solutions to complex problems in rural areas throughout the world. The partnership-based approach framed as, the new rural paradigm, is a response to the challenge of sustainable rural development but also part of the broader shift from government to governance [10]. The transition from government of rural areas towards processes of governance has brought about bottom-up approaches to development, which is supposed to empower rural populations in relation to disabling structures of top-down government control. This change has however opened up the rural arena for many other actors beyond the local level (e.g. NGOs, businesses) to influence the future of rural areas, thereby embedding rural populations within new formations of power relations. While a lot of efforts has been made to evaluate how mechanisms for participation of citizens and stakeholders have gained ground in different areas, less effort has been put on examining the output of such arrangements. To what extent has the involvement of local actors, in partnerships with government, created enough space to accommodate local interests and livelihood needs? Has the introduction of the ‘new rural paradigm’ been favorable for local people and contributed to sustainable rural development or is it just an example of traditional top down government control in a new disguise? In other words is the governance of sustainable rural development done for or by the people?

Research objectives
The aim of this project is to explore the causes and consequences of the emerging governance arrangements framed as the ‘new rural paradigm’ as a response to the challenge of sustainable rural development, but also as part of the broader shift from government to governance. The project thus moves beyond the questions of mechanisms of governance to the consideration of how this new kinds of power relations, vertically and horizontally, affect rural development. The project, which is based both on qualitative (interviews, focus group interviews) as well as quantitative (surveys) methods, addresses the following questions on the nature of power relations in rural governance;
i) how is partnerships between the government and rural populations realized within the different policy domains biodiversity, wildlife and water governance? (who is invited/uninvited)
ii) what are the effects of such partnerships on the design and delivery of rural policies? What types of conflicts arise between various actor groups, and how have different actors influenced outcomes (who gets what and why?)
iii) comparing across domains, what are the prospects for enhanced rural sustainable development within these three domains?

Analytical framework and project plan
Rural development is often defined as distinct from rural growth. While growth often means more of everything, development often include using existing resources in a different way. The concept of rural development, thus often entails more varied forms of land use e.g. multifunctionality of agriculture, landscapes, forests and other types of natural resources. Since multiple functions also involves multiple stakeholders, at multiple levels involving multiple sectors there is a need to balance the relationship and guide trade-offs between different functions which is to a large extent a matter of policy choice and the design of appropriate governance institutions.
Governance is however a challenge not just for any society but for all societies, involving “the body or rules, enforcement mechanisms and corresponding interactive processes that coordinate the activities of the involved persons with regard to a concerted outcome” . Both politics and the possibilities to influence government have become more complicated as a result of increasingly politicized and pluralized processes. This is in particular true when it comes to common pool resources, such as forests, watersheds or wildlife, since one person’s use depletes from the total amount of the resource available to others and it is difficult to exclude potential users. As mentioned initially the term ‘partnerships’ has come to dominate as solutions to these types of complex problems in rural areas throughout the world. The notion of partnerships leads us to the debate on public and private responsibilities, and to what extent partnerships bring about sustainable development within the liberal democratic order. While much focus has been paid to the mechanisms underlying these partnerships less effort has been paid to how these partnerships contribute to the restructuring and establishment of new social relationships to create sustainable rural development. Based on an analytical framework, developed by Pieter Glasbergen, this project will study partnership arrangements within three policy domains, biodiversity, wildlife and watershed governance, with the attention on how these partnerships enable sustainable rural development. In the literature the studies of partnerships is based on three perspectives which need to be combined to further the understanding of the role of partnerships;
i) partnerships are studied as single collaborative arrangements (what goes on within the partnerships, how are they established and developed?)
ii) in a second step attention is turned to the external effects of partnerships (focus on interactive structures and processes and the impacts of these activities on sustainability)
iii) in a third step, attention is focused on the consequences of partnerships becoming parts of the configuration of societal decision-making structures. (do they represent a shift in the pattern of governance and, and to what extent are they able to institutionalize a new sense of collective responsibility contributing to development?).

The Ladder of Partnership Activity, developed by Glasbergen, is based on the assumption that the establishment of partnerships is part of an interactive process in which actors contribute to the restructuring of and establishment of new social relationships which might lead to “collaborative social action” defined as “the process through which interested parties agree to implement more or less binded agreements intended to promote a more sustainable future”. The ladder consists of five core elements, exploratory (building trust), formation of partnership through the exploration of collaborative advantages, constituting a rule system, implementation of the rule system and finally changing the political order (as a deliberative outcome or the unintended societal consequence of the partnership). The Ladder also incorporates three dimensions; firstly, a shift in focus from internal to external interactions, secondly, changing methodology and thirdly, a shift from actor vs. structural impact (i.e. a more permanent impacts on the governance system). The ladder will be applied to all three policy domains, biodiversity, wildlife and fish governance, focusing in particular on governance but other relevant theories such as common pool resource, resilience or political ecology can be used to study the new rural paradigm.

Communication and dissemination
In the project, theoretical as well as empirical studies will be conducted in close collaboration with stakeholders. Expected results include new scientific knowledge, increased stakeholder awareness of issues and, most importantly, policy recommendations for improved rural sustainable development.
Scientific deliverables: The project is expected to publish at least 15 scientific papers, a PhD-thesis and a book. As described above, articles on the effects on partnerships in three policy domains will be produce within each and every one of the post-doc projects and a quantitative analysis will be conducted within the doctoral candidate- project. The book will provide a comparative approach across all three domains, complemented with international outlooks via invited contributions. An international workshop comparing new modes of governing rural sustainable development will be held during the preparation of the book.
Deliverables to users; Given previous experience in large applied programs, the outreach is organized as a two-way communication process with stakeholders through several channels. The project will draw heavily on the established links between research and stakeholders within the Future Forest programme ( After compilation of interviews and mail survey, 5 workshops for local and regional interested stakeholders will be offered where we interactively communicate results and consequences for rural sustainable. Executive summaries will be mailed to key stakeholders and distributed electronically through web sites and list-serves. A national-level workshop will be conducted for agencies, official bodies (Authorities, Counties,) and NGOs like Forest Companies, LRF, and organizations for hunters, fishers, the Sami and other rural actors.

Societal relevance
The project have a high relevance for society, and the project gives attention to new knowledge on rural sustainable development and how to deal with conflicts over land use an land use change in rural areas. As such it answers to the strategic tasks for rural development identified by the Swedish Government and Formas. New knowledge will contribute to the development of competence required to meet challenges within biodiversity, wildlife and water governance. The project is directly designed to assist the development of policies that provide sustainable rural development. In summary, the results will make a significant contribution to the research field, in particular on basic conditions for sustainable rural development; i.e. the governance of natural resources which form the basis for social and economic activity in rural areas.