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Sunday 31 August 2014

The more we control the less we control: key questions to ask

The Government of Nepal was worried about the conservation of the forests in the foothills of the Himalayas, so it took control of the forests away from local populations and land owners.

Stripped of their responsibility for the forests, the local people became less responsible in their use of forest resources. The forests quickly deteriorated, despite the power and control exerted by the Nepal Government. The Nepal Government eventually realised its error and gave responsibility for the conservation and use of the forests back to the local populations, implementing a system of community forestry. The forests began to flourish again.

By taking control, excluding local people and policing the use of the forests the Nepal Government became less effective in halting their degradation. When it lessened its control and shared responsibility with the local communities, it became more effective in conserving the forests and ensuring they were used sustainably. More control equalled less control, and less control equalled more control.

Key Questions:

  • Are we trying to keep control of something we cannot control or cannot control any longer? (The Nepalese Government could not single-handedly control the use of the forests they were seeking to protect; the more they tried to control forest use the less in control of it they became).
  • Are we modelling a responsible and caring approach to common pool resources, so encouraging others to do likewise, rather than merely trying to control them and limit people's access to them? (Local Nepalese people, once given back control of the forests they lived within, started to model responsible  behaviour towards forest use and preservation. This was in marked contrast to what happened when the Nepalese Government sort to control the forests through statute, rather than through encouraging and modelling responsible behaviour towards the forests' use and preservation.)    
  • Are we trying to exclude people from resources when it would be easier and more effective to involve people in their management and safeguarding? (It was certainly easier and more effective for the Nepalese Government to adopt a role supportive of local peoples' control, use, management and preservation of their forests, rather than having to spend valuable time and money on not only tending to the forests but also excluding the local people.)     
  • Are we thinking about and questioning where something might be best owned and managed and who would be best placed to do these things? (When the Nepalese Government took control of the use and preservation of the forests it clearly did not question its assumption that it was the agency best placed to do so. This proved costly in terms of increased forest degradation, which was only slowed and halted when local people took back responsibility for their forests.)    
  • Will our taking control of resources only encourage irresponsible and wasteful behaviour from others? (Ironically, it was local people who were primarily responsible for the increased degradation of the Nepalese forests during the period of direct Government control. Divested of control of the forests they felt and exhibited no responsibility for the forests. By taking total control the Government, albeit unwittingly, encouraged wasteful and irresponsible behaviour from the very people that depended on the forests the most.)

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For more about collaboration go to: Sleeping-with-the-Enemy-Achieving-Collaborative-Success-2nd-Edition.

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