Sunday, 1 March 2009

Local Governance for Rural Development Course

From 9-20 February I co-ordinated the 'local governance for rural development' course in Wageningen. This was a 2-week course, which Wageningen International has organised with the Royal Tropical Institute in French for several years. This year we organised the course in English for the first time, with an audience of 27 participants from 11 countries.

Focus of the course is governance as multi-stakeholder processes for institutional strengthening. The past decade has seen a growing interest in the role of governance in stimulating development and poverty reduction. Private sector organisations are increasingly addressing issues of governance internally and in their relations with other actors. Within the public administration it results in institutional reforms, such as decentralisation, and the outsourcing of public services.

Thinking about the relationships between government, the private sector and civil society has changed considerably. Instead of being perceived as passive beneficiaries, rural populations are increasingly seen as citizens who have the right to participate and who demand good local governance. The role of governments is shifting towards creating an enabling environment and to facilitating development rather than steering it. The private sector is engaging in partnerships for pro-poor development. A new institutional playing field is emerging between civil society, government and private parties in the quest for socio-economic and rural development.

This has led to the understanding that local governance for rural development should be addressed as a multi-stakeholder process with interactions taking place at different levels amongst actors with different ambitions or perceptions. Particularly, the role of local governments is growing with their success being measured in terms of responsiveness and accountability to citizens; improved service delivery; its leadership in promoting pro-poor economic development; and its capacity to negotiate with the private sector, NGOs, local authorities and central government. These changes challenge the actors involved to develop new “institutions” – formal and informal norms, procedures and practices, accountability relations – in order to adjust to new functions and challenges in society.

The course included sessions on defining good local governance; exploring institutional trends such as new public management, decentralisation and the implications for local governance; multi-stakeholder and institutional analysis and change processes; local governance planning; the role of civil society; performance measurement and accountability; participatory budgeting; negotiation, power and conflict. The course also included a mini-seminar on pro-poor local economic development. It very much focused on actual situation participants worked in: their countries and the institutional context of governance, challenges of governance they face etc. Participants also developed action plans to apply the learning in their organisations. The course was very well received and participants have started an active yahoo-group to keep each other informed about the different things happening after the course.

Another course on local governance and rural development is scheduled in February 2010.