Designing Policy Research on Local Organizations in Natural Resource Management

As policy research on natural resource management (NRM) evolves, new priorities are emerging related to the strategy, design and implementation of policies to support local organizations (LOs) as managers of natural resources. However, research on policies affecting LOs is at a very early stage, with no accepted body of indicators, methodologies and conceptual approaches, and little documentation or critique of the research methods that have been used. To address this gap, and to lay the basis for a future program of comparative research, IFPRI, CIFOR and ODI co-sponsored an international workshop in October 1994, with experts from different disciplines and different resource domains. This synthesis paper highlights and further explores the discussions and recommendations of that workshop. The main policy factors which affect LOs are economic, legal and institutional, and political. Key policy research questions are to estimate or predict the level or type of impact of particular policies on LOs and their management of natural resources; to identify the "leverage" points through which policy does or might influence LOs and policy design features which influence effectiveness; and to understand or influence the process of policy formulation. LOs have an interest in the results of policy research, both to influence policy and to improve their own support programs. Indeed, one of the principal challenges for the design of policy research in this area is to link research and action agendas. Having LOs as partners in research brings both advantages and challenges for research design. As researchers struggle to design of policy research on local organizations in NRM, they must choose carefully their specific policy questions, resaerch tools, indicators and research methodologies. It can be difficult to define actual policies and policy objectives related to LOs and NRM, as well as the degree and nature of policy implementation. Different disciplines offer a wide and complementary range of instruments for collection of data on policy action, effects on LOs, change in natural resource management, and final effects on social, economic and natural resource conditions. Comparative analysis between case studies requires that researchers regularly collect and report information about contextual factors which are proven or hypothesized to influence local organizations. Participants identified key variables of group structure and function and of resource management outcomes and identified key issues to be addressed in selecting indicators for these variables. Further work is needed to prioritize variables and indicators and to develop standard measurement techniques including the use of indicators based on local people's criteria of evaluation. The choice of appropriate analytical tools to explore or test hypotheses linking policies and LO behavior remains controversial. Game theory and simulation models seem useful, at this time, mainly for theoretical work. More empirically-driven econometric models permit some testing of hypotheses about policy impact, but were critiqued as tending to be overly deterministic, in an arena which some argued was highly contextspecific and/or path-dependent. In-depth case studies used for process or action research were seen by some as more reliable guides to understanding the actual relationships between policies, LOs and NRM, but important questions of sampling and extrapolation were raised. Some tentative approaches to reconcile comparative and location-specific research and different disciplinary perspectives were suggested. Clearly, this field needs further methodology development, which draws upon and integrates different disciplines and perspectives. The new CGIAR Inter-Center Initiative on Property Rights and Collective Action in Natural Resource Management offers a promising forum to discuss and test alternative approaches with a range of research partners, and to develop standard data protocols which will facilitate comparison of results across studies.

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 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2018-01-22

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