Page 161

• Informal institutions can take the shape of rules to break the rules, reinterpret the rules, suspend the rules here and there, and selectively enforce them. This includes rules of democratic participation and planning rules. Most of the successful communities analyzed in our research relied on some level of informality being used wisely by a local leadership that was stable and not self-interested. Planning rules were sometimes hastily suspended or rewritten to stop highway development and maintain control over a local asset, votes were sometimes forced or selectively ignored, coalitions were forged with hasty promises — all for the greater good. Such use of informality are pronounced when the local community is trying to transcend its role and increase its autonomy: in these cases, many formal institutions have to be stretched, and communities need to create semi-governmental organizations that can expand the role of local government. • We would argue that neither of these analyses can be true in general, that none of them can be the basis of a universal strategy of development. A community’s own self-analysis has to point out which problems are associated with the relationship between formal and informal institutions, and which part of a new strategy should be devoted to redressing that balance. If the main problem hampering reinvention of a place that experienced a bust is an informal network of coordination, then that network can deserve serious attention. It still does not mean that in all those cases a direct attack on informality will be the best way forward. The informal actors and the associated informal institutions and rules can be lured in, smoked out, waited out, or cornered by means of other strategies; meanwhile a new direction for future development takes shape. If informal institutions locally are a hard stumbling block for innovation or decision-making, a lobby at higher levels might be worthwhile. • A small Albertan prairie town has been dominated by two families for about a century. They informally controlled the place, and were able to control the procedures to enact formal institutions locally. In the present day, one family has fragmented, the other not, and the economic basis for their power has gone. Still, these families are a stumbling block for making changes in the community, through their residual prestige, land ownership and institutional legacies, traces of old policies that used to favor them. One strategy to deal with this challenge is to wait longer, another one is to resort to informal coordination, to reinterpret the old rules, selectively enforce them, and work with shifting alliances (with industry players, the province, school boards, university experts, NGOs, and consultants) to get rid of the remaining legacies one-by-one.

Part V: Development approaches for inspiration and guidance

149

Profile for University of Alberta Extension

Boom & Bust: A Guide, Managing Ups and Downs in Communities  

Boom and Bust: A Guide is the result of a collective effort at the University of Alberta to better understand the dramatic ups and downs whi...

Boom & Bust: A Guide, Managing Ups and Downs in Communities  

Boom and Bust: A Guide is the result of a collective effort at the University of Alberta to better understand the dramatic ups and downs whi...

Advertisement