Flexible Governance and Perceived Fairness: Evidence from Farmer Managed Irrigation Systems in Nepal

22 Pages Posted: 3 Jul 2016

See all articles by Atul Pokharel

Atul Pokharel

Brown University - Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs; New York University (NYU) - Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service

Date Written: June 28, 2016

Abstract

What is the relationship between flexible governance and fairness? I examine this question in a new longitudinal dataset of irrigation canals in Nepal that were celebrated as paradigmatic cases of successful local governance. The prevalent explanation is that users have avoided knotty collective action problems by committing to rules and mutually monitoring compliance. These rules are understood to have been iteratively crafted over decades so as to render cooperative behavior reasonable. Embedded in a local context that is assumed to be common knowledge for users but ultimately impenetrable to outsiders, it is critical that locals discursively devise the rules and uniformly enforce them. Revisiting these cases three decades later, I first illustrate a distinction between two aspects of flexible governance: flexible rules and flexible enforcement. The former refers to changing rules over time, the latter to variations in enforcement. I document the predicted flexibility of the rules in these cases. I then show that a significant number of successes are associated with flexible enforcement. Whether flexible enforcement helps or hinders sustained collective action appears to depend on how fair users perceive the rules to be. Thus, discretionary enforcement may be related to the possibilities and limits of local governance in achieving fair outcomes, and not just for merely solving collective action problems.

Keywords: governance, irrigation, Nepal, canals

Suggested Citation

Pokharel, Atul, Flexible Governance and Perceived Fairness: Evidence from Farmer Managed Irrigation Systems in Nepal (June 28, 2016). Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs Research Paper No. 2016-34. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2802757 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2802757

Atul Pokharel (Contact Author)

Brown University - Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs ( email )

111 Thayer Street
Box 1970
Providence, RI 02912-1970
United States

New York University (NYU) - Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service ( email )

The Puck Building
295 Lafayette Street, Second Floor
New York, NY 10012
United States

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