The original Scope of Work, “Regional Variations in Local Governance Traditions,” was expanded to look at aspects of public choice in regional contexts. This paper opens a discussion about the effect of regional differences on decentralization and local governance from the perspective of public choice theory and parallel governance. Public choice theory posits that social and political universals override culture in determining the success of decentralized democratic governance.3 Parallel governance explains that communities, often culturally-defined, which do not receive the public goods they seek from formal government, turn to parallel governance structures.
Following an introductory overview, Section One presents key insights derived from public choice theory and notions of parallel governance, focusing on the universality of conflicts about the specification, allocation, operations, and use of public goods and services and the need to resolve those conflicts within any sustainable societies. Section Two presents regional variations in local governance traditions and decentralization structures and practices within and between the four main regions of the world (as classified by USAID). Various reasons for those variations are identified: (i) external influences (colonial experience/historic imperialism, and the effect of contemporary foreign assistance); (ii) internal influences (notably political culture and values); and (iii) the organization and behavior of parallel governance systems. The paper concludes with a summary of initial findings and ideas for future work.
Introduction This paper addresses regional variations in local governance. Insights about the effect of regional differences on decentralization and local governance are drawn from two complementary analytical frameworks: (i) “public choice” theory and (ii) “parallel governance.”
The thesis presented here is that regional variations in local governance traditions reflect regional and subregional histories and cultures. Local governance systems reflect choices about public needs within a given culture. For the purposes of this paper, the key aspect of governance is “the manner in which power is exercised by state or non-state actors for the allocation and management of a society's public resources.”4 Two concepts developed from the discussion about parallel governance systems in the regional section of this paper are: the importance of intermediation between informal and formal governance systems at the local level; and the viability of multiple governance systems co-existing among the same people residing in the same territorial space. Public choice adherents might call the viability of multiple governance systems, “polycentricity.” Parallel governance discussants call some informal and nonformal organizations, parallel governance.
This paper will address regional variations among generic theoretical precepts within the four regions into which USAID organizationally divides itself: (i) Asia and the Middle East; (ii) Latin America and the Caribbean;(iii) Africa; and (iv) Europe and Eurasia. The argument presented here is that people define public goods and decisions about how they are produced and provided differently within those various regions. These regional differences are the result of many factors. The factors briefly discussed in this paper to illustrate that broader thesis include: (1) external influences (colonial experience/historic imperialism, and the effect of contemporary foreign assistance); (2) internal influences (notably political culture, social and religious values); and (3) the existence and structure of parallel governance systems and how these relate to decentralization experience.
The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the academic literature on regional differences in the realization of decentralization and local governance worldwide. Public choice theory posits that social and political universals override culture in determining the success of decentralized democratic governance.5 According to Oluwu and Wunsch, over time, “collective learning will tend to converge on personally rational strategies, given local conditions.”6 To what extent are variations in local governance explained as part of a rational set of calculations and processes inherent in individual human behavior rather than by regional, cultural, or historical influences? To what extent do cultural ties define the response when individuals in a community find their needs are not met?
The paper is presented in two sections and a conclusion. Following this introductory overview, Section One presents key insights derived from those analytical frameworks; focusing on the universality of conflicts about the specification, allocation, operations, and use of public goods and services and the need to resolve those conflicts within any sustainable societies. Section Two presents differences in local governance and decentralization structures and practices within and between the four main regions of the world (as classified by USAID). The paper concludes with initial findings which will benefit from conference discussion. Definitions of administrative, fiscal, and political decentralization are provided in Annex A. Annex B discusses governance definitions and Annex C looks at forms of parallel governance. An extensive Bibliography is also attached.
Public Choice and Parallel Governance This section summarizes key concepts drawn from the theoretical frameworks of public choice and parallel governance. The concepts reviewed inform the discussion of decentralization experience and local government traditions between and within USAID’s four regions.