Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Co-existence with the Brazilian Semi-arid = Co-existence of Collaborative Institutions?

Die Masterarbeit von Isabelle Bleeser wurde mit dem Humboldt-Preis 2014 ausgezeichnet.


bleeser.jpgDie Masterarbeit von Isabelle Bleeser aus dem Institut für Agrar- und Gartenbauwissenschaften wird mit dem diesjährigen Humboldt-Preis ausgezeichnet. Die politische Relevanz der ausgezeichneten Arbeit ist angesichts einer der schwersten Dürren im Nordosten Brasiliens und der Betrachtung des zentralen Regierungsprogramms, das darauf abzielt, der dort lebenden Bevölkerung Zugang zu Wasser für Haushalts- und Produktionszwecke zu verschaffen, besonders hoch einzustufen.


In development economics the role and engagement of civil society is seen as a very important aspect towards sustainable development. They are considered to possess high social capital needed to gain trust and legitimacy in local communities as well as diverse competences adapted to local conditions that traditional state-level actors often lack. Nonetheless, the state remains in control of primary political resources, particularly financial means.

This thesis focused on the institutionalized cooperation between the Brazilian State and civil society organizations (CSOs) – a governance form that is considered as relatively new in Brazil – to provide poor rural households with rainwater harvesting systems. The objective was to reveal the impact that these existing collaborative institutions have on civil society organizations and to evaluate the robustness of the governance system to shocks in the wider socio-political environment.

In the context of increasing environmental and social risks derived from climate change impacts in the North Eastern Brazil, this topic is of high relevance. New cooperation forms between Government and civil society are indispensable to protect the livelihoods of the poor and to ensure food security and sustainable development. The results of the thesis aim to widen the still limited understanding of collaborative institutions and to give political recommendations on how to improve the current cooperation between State and civil society.

A multi-methods approach was applied including both qualitative and quantitative data collection. The Institutional and Development (IAD) framework by OSTROM was chosen to organize and analyze the collected data. In order to evaluate the performance of the collaborative institutions according to the research objectives, two evaluation criteria were chosen: empowerment and robustness.

It could be shown that the current institutional setting provides CSOs with distributive empowerment, that is, a change of the distribution of goods and services, as well as an increased opportunity of participation (procedural empowerment) in the political process. However, participation is still limited and often civil society concerns and knowledge are not considered into decision-making processes.

Several factors were identified to have a negative impact on the robustness of the governance system. One is the high level of bureaucracy needed to monitor and report on the Program’s progress that is little flexible and impedes innovation, a factor often necessary to recover from shocks. In addition, the lack of coordination, especially between the governmental actors, puts a burden on the overall outcomes of the program and thus makes the governance system susceptible to shocks.

Deriving from these findings the following political recommendations were made to improve the overall outcomes of this institutional innovation:

  • Develop a new legal framework more adapted for CSOs;
  • Improve coordination between State actors and develop incentives for different stakeholders to work together;
  • Reveal and share best practices oft he different State-level governments;
  • Open more political space for active participation of CSOs and include all stakeholders in important decision making processes.