Organizational Designs for Achieving Sustainability: The Opportunities, Limitations, and Dangers of State-Local Collaboration for Common Property Management

From Introduction: "The emerging discourse of 'sustainable development' (SD) advances an organizational critique of past State-sponsored efforts to manage common-property resources. It simultaneously promotes new organizational designs through which State resources and expertise can be applied to the challenges of Sustainability. This organizational critique argues that 'top-down' planning and administration have proved insufficiently flexible and adaptive to the complex demands of program implementation at the local level. Proposed organizational alternatives focus on devolved organizational networks that could facilitate local participation in program planning and execution and institutionalize meaningful center-local dialogue. Invariably, these new designs involve the expanded participation of local non-government organizations (NGOs) in State-sponsored programs. Working in concert with State planners, local NGOs (it is argued) can effectively structure local participation in State programs, enforce accountability of central planners to local concerns, and greatly reduce the fiscal cost of fostering Sustainability. State-sponsored designs for the SD of Third World resource systems require, in other words, new liaisons between local NGOs and State bureaucracy. Or so the sustainable development literature implies. "On its face, the integration of local NGOs into State-sponsored programs is a plausible strategy for designing Sustainability on the commons in the rural Third World. Theorists and practitioners of rural development alike point out that collaboration provides an opportunity for organizations at different levels of hierarchy to offset weaknesses and combine strengths, all in the aim of enhancing the effectiveness of, up until now, often disappointing programs of rural resource management. Additionally, case studies abound documenting the ability of local organizations, usually working autonomously, to foster resource use patterns across village society generally accepted as sustainable. For reasons pragmatic, democratic and populist, innovative cooperative structures linking small, indigenous organizations to larger, expert-driven bureaucracies are touted as a preferred vehicle for refocusing and redirecting planned rural development in directions more supportive of the aims of sustainability. And hence they receive increasing attention in national and international policy arenas that intersect with issues of common property management. "Against this backdrop this paper argues that, although local NGOs can assist State planners and enhance the effectiveness of planned State programs, currently imagined systems of State-NGO partnership will prove counterproductive. NGO integration into State programs of the type now discussed in policy circles will most likely undercut rather than advance goals of local participation, block rather than intensify national accountability to local problems, and deter rather than encourage management of rural common-property resources consistent with tenets of sustainability. Furthermore, these outcomes will arise despite -- and perhaps even because -- of the rosy organizational recipes and predictions implicit in much of the SD literature. Thus, as presently conceived, small is not automatically beautiful; the introduction of local NGOs into Statesponsored programs will produce outcomes quite at odds with policy goals of sustainability."
IASC, sustainability, common pool resources, resource management, governance and politics