Why Listen to the Local Guy?

policymaking during comanagement in Mongolia, rcinet.ca

Two of Ostrom’s (1990) institutional design principles emphasize the role of the local –rules must be adapted to local conditions and resource users must participate in the rulemaking process. These principles were determined empirically through cross-site analysis, but a large body of research from science studies supports these finding theoretically as well. The most clear example of including the community in management is through comanagement, which works at the collective level to shift how and where rules are made (Jentoft, McCay et al. 1998). The comanagement process also highlights the importance of different types of knowledge to the policy process by providing a more complete base of information on which to make decisions.

The supporting theory reaches back to early studies in game theory that determined the fairness of a rule was one of the critical factors in determining if cooperation would emerge (Axelrod 1984). Fairness does not necessarily mean that every citizen benefits equally, but instead that people are punished according to their transgressions and benefit according to their contributions. However, the perception of fairness matters more than actual fairness when people evaluate a policy. That perception depends on transparency of the policymaking process. Gusterson goes so far as to say “instead of seeking a definitive technical judgment, then, we should ask about the processes by which judgments come to be considered definitive and their authors authoritative” (Nader 1996). People are more likely to consider a policy fair if they consider the process fair. One way, arguably the best way, to make the process transparent and therefore fair is to involve citizens in that process. Read More

State of the Field: Policy is not just for policymakers anymore

Even the Governator believes in public participation, thanks cdcr.ca.gov

Continuing this series’ recent theme of ways to make policy work, let’s consider a broader view of what policy is and therefore who gets to create policy. It’s not just the elected officials with legislation in their job description. For one, those people are accountable to the people who elected them. Second, formal written policy is not the only kind that is effective – informal rules, community traditions, and other forms of policy are often best. Plus, these types of policy offer the general public a change to be involved in creation and implementation.

There is a large literature on the value of participation in policymaking, especially in fisheries (Silver and Campbell 2005). Here I will focus on three particularly important aspects of participation to management at the scale of an estuary, where I work: a) additional knowledge creation, b) community buy-in, and c) tighter feedback loops. These are important for relatively large-scale systems with several communities and many variables that could affect management. Read More