NIFK16006U Participatory Natural Resource Governance

Volume 2018/2019

MSc Programme in Agricultural Development
MSc Programme in Forest and Livelihoods (SUTROFOR)
MSc Programme in Forest and Nature Management


Despite official policies of sustainable utilisation and conservation of renewable natural resources these often end up degraded or destroyed. This happens across the world but not least in developing countries where central government departments frequently fail to prevent deforestation, forest degradation, extinction or depletion of fish and wildlife, and degradation of pasture land, or fail to secure enough water for agricultural irrigation. These natural resources are often commons before they are ‘harvested’ after which they become private properties.  Another shared feature is that while they hold specific market and/or subsistence values to people who harvest them, these resources also represent wider values to society at large. Forests are, for example, habitats for a multitude of species and store vast amounts of carbon.

Accordingly, individuals, whose livelihoods depend on utilizing common natural resources, often share an overall interest with the rest of society in sustaining these resources. Yet the combined effect of individual uses frequently results in degradation and such ‘tragedies of the commons’, have led policy analysts to conclude that resource conservation can only be achieved through privatisation or nationalisation. However, privatising the commons is often politically impossible or dangerous because it would involve exclusion of groups who feel their interests are as or even more legitimate as those of others.  Furthermore, a number of resources are for biophysical reasons inherently difficult to privatise in a meaningful way. This includes stocks of wildlife and wild fish as well as large pastures where erratic and localised rainfall makes the grazing value of a given parcel entirely unpredictable. Direct management by the state has also shown its weaknesses, perhaps most profoundly in forestry in developing countries where degradation and deforestation is often the reality although this runs entirely against official policies. Hence, the challenge is to design natural resource governance systems that simultaneously and in practice, not only in theory, cater for the economic interests of resource utilising individuals as well as the wider ecological and economic interests of society. Here, participatory governance of natural resources appears a promising option.

Governing the commons includes a myriad of scales and resources ranging from greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere to irrigation of subsistence agriculture in a remote mountain village. This course focusses on the governance of renewable natural resources in developing countries and how participatory policies and approaches may promote rural development and resource conservation in an equitable manner. Central themes are:

1.       The theoretical foundation of participatory resource governance vis á vis the tragedy of the (unmanaged) commons as developed in particular by Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Prize laureate in economics in 2009.

2.       Identification of legitimate stakeholders.

  • Which stakeholders should become right-holders to specific resources and why?

3.       Institutional arrangements, policy, and legislation.

  • Which kinds of policy and legislative frameworks are needed to make sustainable participatory resource governance worthwhile at the local-level?

4.       Institutional choice and different models of decentralising natural resource management.

  • What kind of local-level institutions are most likely to genuinely represent the interests of all local-level stakeholders, how and to whom should such institutions be accountable?

5.       Science and power in participatory natural resource management.

  • What functions does the concept of scientific management fulfil in participatory natural resource governance?

6.       Outcomes of participatory natural resource governance.

  • What evidence is available and how to judge whether participatory natural resource governance has delivered on its ‘promise’ of resource conservation and equitable improvement of rural livelihoods?


Throughout the course, different cases will be used to illustrate theory and to evaluate practical outcomes of participatory natural resource governance. 

Learning Outcome

The main objective of the course is to give the students a thorough understanding of how and under which circumstances participatory natural resource governance may contribute to rural development, resource and nature conservation as well as good governance at the local level. 

After completing the course the student should be able to:

• Describe the concept of participatory natural resource governance including the history, the theoretical foundation within common pool resource management, the importance of political, legal and institutional frameworks as well as how the concept may be applied in practice. 
• Describe the potentials of participatory natural resource governance in serving the dual objective of equitable rural development and resource/nature conservation

• Critically analyse and discuss the real-life feasibility of achieving the dual objective of participatory natural resource governance including how and under which circumstances these objectives may conflict in practice.
• Apply the theoretical framework on literature cases and in 'real life' situations. 

• Put the opportunities and constraints of participatory natural resource governance into a broader development perspective.
• Cooperate with fellow students on analysing and communicating (in writing) participatory natural resource governance cases from different developing countries.


Please refer to the course homepage in Absalon

The course draws on basic elements of economic theory, political ecology and management of renewable natural resources all or part of which are introduced in a wide range of undergraduate programmes.
The courses; LOJK10209 Applied Socio-economics in Tropical Forestry, LFKK10258 Qualitative Methods in Agricultural Development, and NIFK15004U Political Ecology offer useful but not critical additional background knowledge.
1. E-learning (e-modules): internet-based teaching modules integrating literature studies and exercises. Exercises relate to theory (multiple-choice and free text exercises) and case studies (free text only). E-learning will be supported by on-line discussions in which students are expected to participate.
2. Class room sessions with presentations and discussions of selected topics and cases.
The course is, however, designed for distance learners so the class room sessions are a supplement to the e-learning activities mentioned under point 1.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Exam
  • 16
  • Guidance
  • 5
  • Preparation
  • 120
  • Theory exercises
  • 65
  • Total
  • 206
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Continuous assessment
Written assignment, during the course
The examination form is Continuous Assessment, which includes the following elements:

1. Individual exercises (questionnaires and e-tivities) which will be completed throughout the course

2. Two tutor marked written assignments; one to be submitted approximately half way through the course and one to be submitted at the end of the course.

The final mark is based on a weighted average in which the exercises mentioned under point 1 count 50% while each of the tutor-marked assignments count 25%.
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
one internal examiner

Students who participate in online discussions and submit their individual questionnaires but fail to hand-in one or both their TMAs will be allowed to submit alternative TMAs during the course or during a two week period after course closure. Students who fail to participate in online discussions and fail to submit their individual questionnaires as well as their TMAs will, in the official re-examination period, be allowed to submit a written essay covering the entire course curriculum.

Criteria for exam assesment

Reference is made to the above mentioned learning objectives of the course.

Students who score 90% or higher in the combined assessment of  questionnaire answers, the on-line discussions and the two tutor marked assignments (c.f. above) will get the grade 12