Unpacking decentralization


K.P. Andersson; J. Bauer; P. Jagger; M. Luckert; R. Meinzen-Dick; E. Mwangi; E. Ostrom

Type of Document:
Research Report


SANREM CRSP, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Date of Publication:

Place of Publication:
Blacksburg, VA


The term “decentralization” is applied to a wide diversity of governance arrangements around the world and has achieved positive, negative, and no results in its application to natural resource management. Part of the reason that the results have been so mixed is that the term decentralization is used as the name of widely diverse policies including: (1) deconcentration of national administrative authority to regional or local offices, (2) shifting authority from national agencies to local agencies with varying degrees of autonomy, and (3) privatization of the ownership and/or management of natural resource system. Thus, the resulting formal governance arrangements may vary substantially from one decentralization effort to another dependant both on the policies that are adopted and on many other factors including the broader economy of a country and the region where decentralization is occurring, the set of legal rights that had been in existence prior to the new policy, and multiple economic processes. Consequently, the behavior or resource users, private firms, government officials at multiple levels will differ substantially. Thus, livelihood and sustainability outcomes will tend to differ substantially from one location to another.

High level changes in decentralization trickle down to local people through complex paths. Our primary interest is in understanding how benefits to local people change in the face of these complexities. Decentralization comes in numerous variants. Therefore, we need a framework that is sufficiently flexible and robust to encompass the many empirical situations.

If the concepts and processes of decentralization are not unpacked into meaningful concepts and coherent theories of these processes developed, empirical studies of impact can only tell the world that the outcomes are different. In our paper we will develop a framework in which we can then present the findings from our studies of decentralization in Bolivia, Kenya, Mexico, and Uganda.

This paper was written for presentation at the 2008 SANREM CRSP Annual Meeting, Los Banos, Philippines, May 26-28, 2008.

Additional Bibliographic Information

LTRA-1 Working Paper 08-7

Send us your questions or comments

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)


Please enter this text: