Last updated August 2008

Section: Project > Action Research



Action Research

Conceptual background

We started from the theory of renewable resource management that views management as a decision process, which involves a number of stakeholders dealing with common resources (Ostrom 1990, Weber, 1993). We summarized this idea of management in the following figure, which shows three blocs: a context at year x (on right), a decision process, and implementation. It is a dynamic process which after implementation we return to the first bloc at time (x+n).

Fig LPF conceptual background of forest and renewable resource management
(Guizol 2000 after Ostrom 1990 and Weber 1993)

In order to gain a good understanding of the context of the negotiations, three areas need to be examined: first the dynamics of the resources; second, the institutions and rules at play and the state of the social capital, and finally, the interactions between the first two entities, the use of resources, rights, tenure, access and transfer, systems of resource sharing and control. These entities guided the baseline studies we did on the different sites.

We recognized that power issues appear at different levels. The most obvious power imbalances take place somewhere between global and local interests and in many cases, have impacts at the district or village level. Consequently, we work at district or village level according to the local context: looking at one level up at the district level if, for instance, we work at village level and, one level down at the different interest groups within the village if we work at the district level.

For example, a partnership between village people and a plantation company directly linked to a large pulp and Paper Company backed by banks, high level politicians clearly involves power imbalances. This raises a broader developmental issue: how can disadvantaged local people negotiate with globally powerful players? Power imbalances can also take place at lower levels, such as the district level or even within the village between the local elites and the grassroots people. In order to address these imbalances, we have developed some strategies that can help local people overcome these challenges:

  1. As power imbalances jeopardize fair negotiation, we found it important to ‘level the playing field’ by improving the capacity of local people, and enabling them to negotiate amongst themselves as well as with higher levels.
  2. Empowering people could lead to a faster destruction of forest resources. Therefore, something else in addition to capacity building is needed for the long term management of the resources: we refer to this as environmental mediation. This mediation should take into account the local and global demands regarding the utilization of the resources. The results desired from this mediation are a goal about forest resources that is common, long-term and environmentally friendly and a plan and structure to carry out this plan with some form of regulatory system or ‘sanction’.
  3. Sometimes, even a well designed plan can not implemented by the stakeholders for a variety of reasons; e.g. they do not have the financial capacities, or the external support that can re-enforce the internal cohesion of the community. Collective action also entails a cost that should be funded on a long-term. It is important for the local community to be able to link their project to some form of market, and wherever possible, to link the project to external players’ interests.

During the first methodological workshop, which took place in April 2004, we designed with our partner the broad, common, conceptual framework for LPF approach. The framework is shown below:

Fig LPF general early methodological approach

This general approach was modified later to include the reinforcement category.

Research questions

A number of research questions were elaborated with our partners from this framework:

1. How can long-term forest management goals, in a multi-stakeholder situation characterized by different interests, views and power, be achieved?

  • Can local livelihoods be improved through increased empowerment in forest management?
  • What is the impact of the project on forest management and local livelihoods?
  • What are the most appropriate mechanisms (multi-stakeholder forum, etc.) and tools (modeling, future scenario, etc.) that can most effectively facilitate negotiation among stakeholders?
  • Under what conditions will a multi-stakeholder approach be encouraged/discouraged for the management forests or other resources in sustainable way (market condition, collective action, policy framework, etc.)?

2. How can long-term forest management goals be achieved while most of the stakeholders have short-term pressing interests?


1) We hypothesize that the implementation of the LPF project approach of mediation will lead to collective action in the management of forest and associated lands resources and improved livelihoods and renewable resources management. In other words, the results we identified are sufficient to achieve the project purpose.

1.1 Underlying the stages and results themselves is a strong hypothesis on power imbalances. Power imbalances take place between local actors themselves and with district or external actors. Capacity building, development of micro-project, information sharing are project activities that are sufficient ‘to level the playing field’ and empower local people.

1.2 Stakeholders will find the resources to implement their plans.

Initial assumptions

We assume that stakeholders desire a negotiated solution and that the stakes are important enough for them to bear the negotiation cost. We are not in a situation of open conflict where one party thinks he has a good chance to win against the others.

Action Research

LPF used the overall principles of action research, which covers four general steps:

  1. baseline and reflection;
  2. planning;
  3. action (project intervention);
  4. monitoring (participatory assessment and comparison across sites) and modified action (improved environmental mediation process).

This LPF action research attempts to improve, generalize and formalize the lessons learnt about the mediation process which was tested during the project.

Loops of participatory action learning took place during the course of the project and on each site through, for instance, the micro-projects activities. This is not described in this section as they are less formal loops of learning even though they are important for local beneficiaries’ empowerment.

Expected research results

An improved mediation framework with a new set of hypothesis, research questions and a reflection on the theoretical foundations of this improved framework.





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