Association pour l’anthropologie du changement social et du développement
Association for the anthropology of social change and development

The making of public action in countries « under an aid regime ».

Stakeholders, processes, negotiations

2015 APAD International Conference will take place in Cotonou (Benin) on November 17th-20th

The conference is co-organized with LASDEL (Laboratory for Studies and Research on Social Dynamics and Local Development, Niger and Benin) and LADYD (Laboratory for Analysis of Dynamic Development, Faculty of Agronomy of the University of Abomey Calavi, Benin), in partnership with the University of Abomey Calavi and with the support of the ANR APPI project “A fragmented public action? Production and institutionalization of public action” and in cooperation with the Beninese Ministry for Public Policies Evaluation. It is funded by the French Agency for Development (Research dpt), the Netherlands Royal Embassy in Cotonou and the French Institute for Development Research (IRD).

More than 160 abstracts have been received, from 23 countries.

The conference will take place from the 17th to 20th November 2015 in Cotonou. It will be opened by an inaugural lecture on the campus of the University, given by Philippe Zittoun, professor of political sciences and General secretary of the International Public Policy Association (IPPA).The working session will take place in Cotonou at Hôtel du Lac.

Call for papers
Public action can be defined as the way in which stakeholders – be they state, private sector or associational actors – act at different scales on issues defined as public or collective problems and thus help regulate social relations. The 2015 APAD conference aims to examine the current arrangements of the production and implementation of public action in countries under an aid regime, based on in-depth empirical research in various public action sectors.
The “new modalities of aid”, an evolution of the strategies and practices of development?

Due to their colonial and post-colonial histories, political or humanitarian crises, and the fall of the Berlin wall, an increasing number of countries can be considered “under an aid regime” in the sense that international aid holds a prominent place within national budgets, institutions, and the circulation of ideas. For 30 years, such aid reliance goes hand in hand with policies of state disengagement, liberalization and privatization, as well as the proliferation of NGOs and international and national foundations. These reforms have resulted in a multiplication of stakeholders involved in defining and implementing public policies. This raises important questions about their efficiency and impact on the state, such as: circumvention and weakening of the administration, a strong dependency on imported models, the heterogeneity of the strategies implemented by different aid institutions, a lack of coordination across sectors and at local levels, spatial and temporal heterogeneities due to “project” funding, and so on. Persistently submitted to processes of reform, and with difficulties institutionalizing their actions, states are therefore constantly “at work” and “under construction”. While the state’s role was largely questioned throughout the 1980s and 1990s – resulting in its circumvention by international agencies – it has been placed again at the forefront over the last decade. The Paris Declaration, signed in 2005, promotes state ownership of sectoral policies, alignment of aid with national policies, and coordination between donors. However, this pendulum swing occurred at a time when administrations had been weakened and when strategies of aid extraversion and instrumentalization were at their highest. Therefore, the notion of ownership is ambiguous in itself.

Multi-stakeholder and extroverted public action
The neo-liberal turn in industrialized countries has also led to a proliferation of stakeholders involved in public policies. Decentralization policies on the one hand and supra-national construction processes on the other, have multiplied the different levels of governance. Less than ever is the state the only one taking care of public or collective problems. The notion of public action aims to respond to this shift towards a multi-stakeholder, multi-level analysis, and questions its controversial effects: where some perceive increased relevance and efficiency due to policy negotiations and a better taking into account of realities, others point to the risk of an “increasing ungovernability of societies”.

After decades of interference by the aid system, a state’s capacity to define its own policies and negotiate them with donors is debatable. However, one should not overestimate the weight of external inference. Donors’ means to develop coherent policies and to implement their own conditionalities must be questioned. States have capacities for resilience and subversion, as well as techniques to deflect and bypass imposed policies. For example, certain countries, comparable historically and in terms of their aid dependency, have not always made the same policy choices concerning priority sectors such as water, education, health or and land tenure. Local stakeholders (NGOs, local entities, private initiatives, etc.), taking a diversity of initiatives have designed innovative institutional frameworks coherent with – or in opposition to – national policies. Actors also raise alternative social issues and address them outside of state or donor interventions, or press to have them addressed in public debate. The relationships between the different public action stakeholders should be examined, as well as the processes through which public action is produced, negotiated, implemented, contested, adapted, and diverted.

An empirical perspective on the formulation and implementation of public action and their stakes in terms of “politics” and “polity”

Public action can be defined as the construction and qualification of collective problems by a society and also as the development of responses, content and processes to handle and thus regulate social relations. This broad definition highlights the manner in which problems are defined and treated by different parties, their relationships and the concrete implementation processes of solutions. It stresses the heterogeneity of collective “services”, which can be produced by various stakeholders (local authorities, administrations, local and international organisations, etc.) and in diverse relationships of competition, substitution, or complementarity. Sectoral policies are always, to varying degrees, marked by power dynamics between actors or professional groups, or between populations and external stakeholders, linked to strategies of the elites in power (politics). They pose theoretical questions on the relations between the state and citizens, relationships with the market, the role of local norms, in short, questions of societal choice, of “polity”. Political sociology and political science offer a constructivist analysis of public action, understood as action by various stakeholders on issues of public interest. This approach enables the analysis of complex modes of public action, with different levels of governance and multi-stakeholder processes. Public action proves to be a complex and ambiguous process, blending conflicting vested interests, battles of ideas, and institutional dependencies. These perspectives complement and respond to social anthropology’s rich insights on development.

The 2015 APAD conference aims to examine the current arrangements of the production and implementation of public action in countries under an aid regime, based on extensive empirical research in various public actions sectors. Paper presentations, based on perspectives from the socio-anthropology of development, political sociology, institutional economics, political science, etc., may focus on different topics exploring the issue of public action in different sectors (health, education, land, water, etc.).

Some ideas for paper contributions
Public policies in state construction processes

The sociology of the state has long focused on power struggles aiming at conquest and control of the state, and on the question of domination over a territory and its populations. The recent work of social anthropology of public or collective services highlights an alternative structural dimension of the state: the production of services for citizens. This work also shows the magnitude of successive reforms and their impact on administrations, or on the ability of the state to perform that function. If states are “under construction” or “at work”, an historical analysis of the emergence of different sectors of public action reveals progressive processes of differentiation and sedimentation of state intervention, of the construction of institutional mechanisms, and of increasing state presence. Paper presentations focusing on this theme could focus on the political and institutional history of the different sectors of public action, taking into consideration the plurality of norms and the stakes between polity and politics underlying the choice of policy and institutional mechanisms. They may also question the links between sectoral policies and the interest of political and economic elites; the way sectoral policies are contributing to strengthening the local presence of the state, its ability to influence social relations and local economic and political dynamics.

Formulation and dissemination of problems

Who decides whether a question should be defined as a public/collective problem justifying a policy or intervention? How are problems formulated, by whom and in which form? How does one perspective take precedence over a series of other possible perspectives promoted by a different network of stakeholders? Who are the influential stakeholders, both within and outside the state? What is the real extent of donors’ and international NGOs’ influence? What role do lobby groups play? What is the media’s role, which, in industrialized countries is significant for raising debate around problems in the public sphere? Does the multiplication of “participative” processes involving “civil society” simply legitimize pre-established options or does it sometimes (and in which contexts?) lead to more deliberative co-production of frameworks and solutions?

The circulation of frames of reference and articulations of scale
Questions of “policy transfer” and “travelling” models and blueprints are at the heart of the analysis of public policies. These questions are of particular importance in the Global South because of the power displayed by international institutions and think tanks in the production of concepts and strategies, and the role of donors in financing public policies. Although a certain number of neo-liberal principles are disseminated at the global level through public private partnerships, privatization, and administrative decentralization, these models are reinterpreted and adapted to local contexts and transferred by mediators holding specific institutional positions.

How, within a given sector, are policies defined? From which controversy(ies) and competing ideas put forward by which stakeholders? Influenced by which international frameworks? Through which mediation and reformulation processes have they been imported into the national sphere? Have local experiences and references been taken into account? If so, which ones, to what extent, and through which forms of mediation?

Implementing public action: which instruments? Which measures? Which effectiveness?
Implementing a new policy supposes a package of instruments to put organizational and institutional innovations in place and/or to modify existing institutional practices. Implementation is often the weakest link in policy, since there is only little control over practice. Also, reforms can have little effectiveness if they result from a poor understanding of the practices to be modified, from a belief that a change in legislation is enough to change reality, or because of their potential neutralization through enforcement mechanisms (monitoring and evaluation, etc.) by actors with an interest in preserving the status quo.

Based on the observation that any measures are the result of a multi-stakeholder negotiation (state, donor, local institutions, operators), and that this negotiation continues throughout implementation due to local population and institutions’ reactions, we need to analyze this reinterpretation process and its effects. Special attention could be paid to the increasing reliance on sub-contractors and its consequences. Considering the problem of policy effectiveness, one could analyze their implementation and their collision with local situations, and question the processes of reinterpretation/selective adoption/rejection of innovations.

Services, institutional schemes, and coordination between stakeholders
Over the past few years, anthropology of development and political sciences have widened their scope to include the question of the state on a daily basis, through the analysis of delivery modes of public goods and services to gain an empirical understanding of governance. With varying degrees of success, consecutive reforms have attempted to alter the institutional apparatus of service provision in order to change practices: public/private partnerships, competency transfer to communes, a change from communal management to user associations, the creation of hybrid institutions between local authorities and the administration on questions of land tenure, etc. Institutional economics provides a grid to analyze institutional schemes within their respective environments, stakeholder relations, and formal and informal normative settings.

Paper presentations can focus on the wide variety of services offered in different institutional settings (state, communes, development projects, NGOs, foundations, etc.). The aim should be to analyze these measures’ local embeddedness, the hybridization and adaptation processes which enabled or prevented them, and to clarify the concrete relationships established between service providers. Contributions should analyze the relationships between different stakeholders and their concrete modes of service production and regulation.