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Maija Hyle, Ph.D., 20.5.2022: Increased opportunities for citizen participation in natural resource management in Tanzania - challenge: to enable meaningful participation

The dissertation in the field of environmental policy will be examined at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies at Joensuu campus and online.

What is the subject of your dissertation? Why is it important to research this topic?

Hyle’s dissertation is about the responsiveness of natural resource management. The case study focuses on Tanzania, a long-term development cooperation country with Finland. In Tanzania, natural resource management has been decentralized, which has increased the opportunities for citizens to participate. Decentralization is based on the idea that the sustainability of natural resource management improves when decisions are made and resources are managed closer to the people whose lives are affected. When management takes place in this way, it is believed to promote more responsive governance.

A key question for this research is how responsiveness reveals itself in resource management. In addition to Tanzania, the dissertation also looks at the responsiveness of natural resource governance in other countries. This topic is important for the legitimacy and legality of natural resource governance. The study explores opportunities and ways in which vulnerable groups can participate in natural resource governance. It also seeks to understand the barriers to participation. The study examines responsibility and accountability in natural resource management and discusses the elements of participation and the role of the community in natural resource management.

What are the main results or findings of your thesis?

The study found that citizens have become more involved in the management of natural resources. On the other hand, the new opportunities for participation can also disproportionately burden or even impose responsibilities on actors, whether citizens or authorities, who do not necessarily have the skills and resources to take on new responsibilities. It is important that there is mutual clarity that the local authorities are willing to take over duties and that the central authorities are willing to decentralize duties. In addition, there needs to be a process for making changes and reforming local authorities, which reflects the requirements of new roles and responsibilities rather than the mere transfer of tasks and responsibilities.

The research suggests that there may also be challenges to the skills and expertise of individuals to be active decision-makers. Meaningful and informed participation is difficult without knowledge, skills, or experience, and where cultural patterns of behavior do not allow participation.  The latter is particularly challenging for vulnerable and marginalized groups. Poor education and patriarchal culture are typical barriers to participation in decision-making for vulnerable and marginalized groups. Fortunately, the culture of participation is changing but, according to this study, only slowly.  On the other hand, former elites, including traditional leaders, and their role in democratic decision-making cannot be ignored; in Tanzania, for example, though traditional leaders no longer have a formal role in decision-making, their opinions matter. Participation should be all-inclusive.

How can the results of your dissertation be put into practice?

The research will increase our understanding of the challenges of decentralization. It is important to make a distinction between citizens who wish to remain passive and not participate in collective decision-making.  And yet to identify barriers to participation and possible gaps in knowledge and capacity to participate for those who want to participate. This applies to many different areas of governance. Responsive natural resource management enables and promotes the participation potential of all citizens if they are willing to participate. Decentralized resource management is more effective than centralized management. However, to be successful, decentralization must be a process in which the actors whose responsibilities, whether institutional or individual, are increased are supported in a process-oriented and accountable way.

What are the main research methods and data used in your dissertation?

The research is qualitative and based on a case study in rural Tanzania. The study area was chosen because of the long history of cooperation between Finland and Tanzania in the region. The study used a model of theoretical analysis and deductive reasoning and is analytical and explanatory. The dissertation uses the conceptual framework of natural resource management to assess community participation in land use planning, particularly the participation of rural women in the communities surrounding the Angai Forest in southern Tanzania. The findings are based on focus group discussions in four villages, in-depth interviews, document analysis, and participatory observation. One of the articles in the dissertation deals with natural resource management from the perspective of vulnerable groups in Tanzania and in Nepal. The other deals with accountability and responsibility in Tanzania, Mexico, and Nepal. The dissertation research is part of the MAKUTANO project, funded by the Academy of Finland and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs development research program DEVELOP.

The importance of fieldwork periods and practical development cooperation for research

Maija Hyle spent eight years working on the doctoral thesis and the first two years in Tanzania, where the research data were collected. Living close to the field study area enabled her to visit the villages studied on several occasions, which provided in-depth insight and a broad understanding of the context. After her years spent in Tanzania, she has been working on her Ph.D. alongside her day job in the implementation of development cooperation This arrangement allowed for in-depth integration of development theory and practice. While working on her doctoral thesis, she has also lived in Ethiopia which, like Tanzania, is one of Finland's longer-term development partners. This further deepened her understanding of how each country's governance practices are a product of history and geography; there is no right and wrong. It is important to be aware that we always look at different contexts through our own cultural, historical, and geographical lenses. The biases in a researcher's thinking caused by his or her background must be recognized and taken into account, and the interface of these cultural cracks and tensions due to different contexts must be used creatively in the search for deeper scientific understanding.

Maija Hyle's doctoral thesis "Rethinking Responsive Environmental Governance: The Challenge of Responsibilization" will be examined at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies of the University of Eastern Finland on 20 May at 12.00 in the Metria Building, Hall M100 and online. The opponent in the public examination will be Professor Arild Vatn (Norwegian University of Life Sciences NMBU) and the custos will be Professor Irmeli Mustalahti of the University of Eastern Finland. The dissertation can be followed online.

For further information, please contact:
Maija Hyle, maija.hyle(at)