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The rules of governance are defined through the institutions at work in a community. All communities operate on the basis of a combination of both formal and informal institutions. Formal institutions are designed to guide interaction — in modern western societies these include laws, policies, and plans. Informal institutions are those unwritten rules that work as alternative coordination mechanisms, rooted in local culture and history. Formal laws, policies, and plans emerge out of and can only work in the presence of informality: they always leave gaps, require support, have to be interpreted, modified, enforced. In some cases, informal institutions form rules parallel to those formed by formal institutions. For example, when the mafia creates its own parallel law. More relevant to the western Canadian context, and considerably less dangerous, are informal social networks and governance guidelines emanating from church organizations, Lions Clubs, chambers of commerce, Masonic Lodges, sports clubs, or even well respected landowners or families. In some cases, city council can wield less influence than these networks, or else the two parallel systems exist simultaneously, alternating in relevance and influence depending on circumstances and actors involved. In other cases, informal institutions are mostly visible as coordination mechanisms existing in clear conjunction with the formal ones, forming rules regarding how and when to interpret, select, or even break the formal rules. Whether formal or informal, rules of governance are deeply interconnected with a community’s narrative. Stories shape daily interactions and negotiations, which in turn form rules of interaction, or simple institutions which can become more complex and formal. At the same time, the resulting institutions and rules impact how citizens engage with one another. For example, we may sign a contract because we don’t trust a potential buyer of our house because of his questionable family history. However, we also sign a contract because we believe that we both live in a community where the rule of law reigns, because we believe there is a shared future in this place and that the contract has meaning to our buyer and the institutions that enforce it. Over time, our trust in the contract and in shared community values form and empower the informal and formal institutions within our community. The stories that are woven into institutions have a profound impact on how decisions are made and implemented in a community, making local governance rich and complicated. However, these stories, that is “governance content”, are selective and often limited. In many cases, they can be old, or out of date. Even if a story is still pervasive and significant in the community, the actual rules of interaction derived from its narrative may no longer work very well. Perhaps practical conditions

Part I: Basic notions for community analysis

3

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