Community-based forest management in bureaucratic organizations: are they compatible?

Sushil Kumar and Shashi Kant 1


Community-based forest management (CBFM) is widely argued to offer substantial promise as an approach for sustainable forest management. A number of countries are attempting decentralization of forest management to incorporate people's inputs. Public administration in most developing countries is based on bureaucratic managerial principles. However, in analysing the success of this new management system, policy makers and researchers treat the implementing agencies as exogenous by assuming congruity between their centralized and hierarchical working culture, and the participatory philosophy of CBFM. In this paper, we empirically examine the compatibility between these two. A mail-in questionnaire survey was conducted among 610 middle and senior level managers of four state forest departments in India, implementing `Joint Forest Management (JFM)'. Results from Structural Equation Modeling of the data indicate bipolarity between the participatory ethos of JFM and the value system of bureaucratic forest departments. We argue that success of CBFM, and hence, sustainable forest management, will depend upon the degree of acceptability and adoption of participatory approaches by forestry agencies. However, if decentralization policy reforms are not accompanied with reform of the overall legal and administrative frameworks, these agencies will remain bound by their traditional bureaucratic perspectives. Consequently, the paradigm of CBFM, instead of contributing to local empowerment, may result in `decentralization without empowerment', defeating its basic motive.

In the recent decades, scholars and practitioners have argued for community-based natural resource (forest) management (CBFM) as a desirable management approach for sustainable management of natural resources (e.g., Bromley 1992; Ostrom 1990). As a consequence, state-centered paradigm of forest management (FM) is steadily getting replaced with people-centered management approaches in many developing countries, including India and China. This new FM paradigm focuses on decentralization of responsibilities and decision-making powers from the state to local communities. Historically, public administration in most of these countries, including forestry sector, has been highly bureaucratized (Thompson 1995). In the transformation of FM paradigm, policy-makers have assumed that the same state agencies, which have been implementing state-centered exclusionary forest policies, without any visible reorientation in their structure, processes, and culture, will be able to successfully implement the people-centered FM systems. Similarly, most of the researchers have treated the forestry agencies as exogenous by assuming compatibility between their centralized working culture and the decentralized ethos of CBFM systems. Some scholars, such as Gauld (2000) and Khan (1998), in their studies of decentralization reforms, have included structure and culture of implementing agencies, but their studies lack in-depth analysis and statistical modeling.

The main objective of this paper is to examine the compatibility between bureaucratic values of forestry organizations and the participatory ethos of CBFM systems. We also examine the variation in compatibility across management-levels within an organization and across organizations in different states. The study is based on structural equation modeling (SEM) of the data from a questionnaire survey in four state forest departments (FD) of India. The results indicate incompatibility between the bureaucratic FD and CBFM which is invariant across the management levels, but variant across different states.

2. Background:

India's JFM program, a system of partnership between the state and communities, has been rated as one of the world's largest participatory management efforts (Sunder 2000). However, the program has been criticized for its limited power sharing between the state and rural communities. To understand and contextualize the issue of incongruity, historical appreciation of the evolution of institutional arrangements is necessary.

In the second half of 19th century, British Rulers imposed centralized control over forests (hitherto managed locally) in the name of `scientific FM', and established a bureaucratic organization - Forest Department - to meet the timber and revenue demands of the colonial government. Bureaucratic structure and culture of the FD though non-responsive to societal needs, was in line with colonial government's requirements. Independent India inherited this bureaucratic organization. New National Forest Policy of 1952 did make some deviations from the colonial forest policy of 1894; however, these changes could not percolate down to the operational level. Hence, the FD maintained its focus on wielding power and authority, and its role essentially remained one of `revenue collector' and `protector of forests' from local people.

Top-down approach of FM and the state's tendency to exclude local communities from forests, which were based on Hardin's Tragedy of Commons and Neo-Malthusian philosophy, resulted into growing hostility between the communities and the FD. Marginalized communities started defying state expansion and restrictive policies through social movements. Signs of failure of state-centered policy to stop degradation of forest resources also started surfacing. As a consequence of the combined effect of social, economic, ecological, environmental, and international factors, independent India's 2nd Forest Policy (1988) put the priority on needs and requirements of the local communities, and recognized the role of local people in FM. Government of India indicated its seriousness about this change in policy by issuing, in 1990, detailed guidelines on JFM, and it was followed by state-level government orders.

3.0 Dysfunctions and Dimensions of Bureaucracy:

The major criticism of the bureaucratization is that the `key decisions are made by bureaucrats who, as agents within a government institution, are at least two or three steps removed from anyone the citizens elect' (Kranz, 1976: 31). Hence, their `accountability,' `responsibility,' and `responsiveness' either to common public or to their political masters, cannot be taken as given. In addition, bureaucratic organization suppresses intellectual potential of average human being, thus stimulating conformity rather than innovations.

Bureaucracy operates at two levels: organizational structure and processes; and individual behavior and experience. In this paper, only the organizational aspect (institutional bureaucracy) has been taken into account as many organizational theorists (e.g., Korten and Uphoff 1981) argue that appropriate designing of institutional structures and their effective imposition on the bureaucrats can over-ride many dysfunctions of bureaucracy.

4. Compatibility between bureaucratic FDs and CBFM:

Paradigm of CBFM requires a radical change in the role of FD from conventional custodial and production managers to that of a facilitator. In this role, FD needs to share authority and power of FM with local communities (external democratization), which is not possible without delegation of responsibilities and devolution of powers within the organization (internal democratization).

With `stringent regulatory measures' and `military style controls' on local people, FD cannot accomplish the most important democratic ideal of the CBFM system i.e., `institutional capacity building'. Chambers et al. (1989) point out that Indian foresters' attitude is conservationist and custodial, and they regard the local forest dwelling communities more as a danger and nuisance than as collaborating partners. Most of the foresters are technically trained in forest management and not in community development. Traditional bureaucratic perspective of the organization shapes their outlook and thus, they always lay emphasis on centralized control and technical aspects of FM.

Paradigmatic shift towards CBFM requires frequent interactions of forestry official with the diverse communities and their members, often having diverse and conflicting interests in forest resources. Employees of the department, in order to deal with such diverse stakeholders, are required to be a trifle flexible and innovative in response to certain situations where the normal operating procedures are inadequate. However, the kind of hierarchical, standardized, authoritarian management of the department does not offer this flexibility. Participatory decision-making and decentralized management are unfamiliar concepts for the bureaucratic FDs.

5. Measures of the Acceptability of CBFM (JFM) and Institutional Bureaucracy:

The acceptability of JFM and institutional bureaucracy are the latent factors that cannot be measured directly. In order to deal with the theoretical debates about the congruity issue in a relevant empirical way, based on literature and authors' experiences, conceptual components of acceptability and instrumental principles of bureaucracy were identified. These conceptual components are the first-order latent factors which are measurable using questionnaire instruments as their indicators.

5.1 Acceptability of CBFM (`acptblty'):

We measure the perceived acceptability by assessing its three conceptual components: acceptability in the structure, acceptability in culture, and the extent to which officials perceive organizational support for implementing CBFM systems.

5.1.1 Structural acceptability (`str_acc'): Organizational structure, to a great extent, shapes decisions of individuals in an organization. `Structural acceptability' tends to measure the extent of internalization of participatory concept in the organizational structure of the department.

5.1.2 Cultural acceptability (`cul_acc'): Organizational culture is a pattern of beliefs, assumptions, values and expectations shared by members of an organization. These beliefs and expectations produce norms- rules for behavior- that powerfully shape the behavior of individuals and groups in the organization. Acceptability of the concept of JFM in the culture of the FD measures the internalization of the importance of participatory approaches in the informal networks of the organization.

5.1.3 Organizational Support (`support'): Organizational support in the form of allocating additional resources (staff time, budget, technical support etc.); changing appraisal system dimensions; and reward strategies, is very much desired for operationalizing JFM.

5.2 Institutional Bureaucracy (`instbrcy'):

Bureaucracy is a multi-faceted concept, and includes division of labor, hierarchical authority structure, formal rules and regulations, impersonal orientation of officials, and career employment of officials. We use four bureaucratic instrumental principles, which are crucial from the perspective of the CBFM systems, to identify four first order factors.

5.2.1 Hierarchical rigidity (`rigidity'):Rigid hierarchical structure, which is over committed to rules, regulations, and precedents, is a characteristic of bureaucratic organization. This over-commitment results into conformity to commands coming from top managers rather than experimentation, learning from mistakes and responding creatively to changing conditions and opportunities.

5.2.2 Centralization of powers (`cntrlzn'): Bureaucratization and centralization of powers go hand in hand. Centralization of administrative and financial powers at top curtails initiatives at the lower levels.

5.2.3 Non-participatory decision-making (`noprtcpn'): When achieving coordination is the goal, centralized decision-making gives better results, but if the goal demands initiative and ingenuity on the part of officials, decentralized decision-making is desirable. In the CBFM systems, as innovativeness of officials is a crucial aspect, decision-making construct is included in this study.

5.2.4 Stability orientation (`stablity'): In a professional bureaucratic organization with a predominant stable ideology, potential of innovative ideas and ingenuity gets suppressed. Hence, `Stability orientation' is included keeping in view the entrenched organizational culture and established practices of the FD.

All these first order factors were measured by responses to number of questionnaire items corresponding to each factor. The list of items used to measure each first order factor, is given in Appendix A.

6. Survey Instruments and Data Collection:

Mail-in questionnaire survey was used to collect the data. All the questionnaire items to measure constructs were rated on a 5-point Likert type scale, with higher score connoting greater of a particular construct. Questionnaires were mailed to 625 middle and senior level managers of four state FDs of India- Andhra Pradesh (AP), Haryana (HR), Himachal Pradesh (HP), and West Bengal (WB). In all, 406 (response rate- 65%) completed questionnaires were received back. Reliability of the items was tested within the framework of test-retest method. Reliability coefficients range from 0.76 to 0.92, and are statistically significant at 1% level of significance for all the items.

7. Data Analysis:

We used Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) technique with LISREL 8.52 to analyze the data. Scores on respective questionnaire items were used as instruments to measure the seven first order-factors from which two second order factors (acceptability of JFM and bureaucratization) were extracted. Congruity between these two second order latent factors was examined by computing factor correlation between them.

The data was analyzed in two stages. Stage 1 involves assessment of two hypothesized second-order factor models (one for acceptability of JFM and another for institutional bureaucracy) and following their acceptance, Stage 2 provides an estimation and assessment of the proposed complete structural model (Figure 1). Chi-square test as well as Root Mean Square Error of Approximation (RMSEA); Goodness of Fit Index (GFI); Adjusted Goodness of Fit Index (AGFI); Normed Fit Index (NFI), were used to evaluate the fit of the proposed model. Multi-sample SEM analysis, using composite scores of the first order constructs, was used to test differences between four states and across two management levels.

8. Results:

Chi-square values for all the three models - two measurement models and the complete structural model - are insignificant indicating an exact fit between the proposed models and the data (due to space limitations, results of only the complete structural model are presented in detail in Figure 1). Values of RMSEA are well below the cut-off limit of 0.06 and the values of GFI, AGFI, and NFI are above the lower bound acceptable limit of 0.90. Results of the first measurement model confirm that acceptability of JFM (`acptblty') is a latent underlying construct which significantly explains variance in three first-order factors: structural acceptability, cultural acceptability, and support. Standardized parameter estimates of all the paths from questionnaire items to their respective latent construct are statistically significant. Similarly, the second measurement model indicates that hypothesized construct of institutional bureaucracy (`instbrcy') can reliably be measured from hierarchical rigidity, non-participatory decision-making, centralization of powers, and stability orientation of the FD. In the complete structural model, factor correlation between acceptability of JFM concept and institutional bureaucracy (Figure 1) is negative and statistically significant (i.e., r = -0.91, p < .000).

To segregate the structural and cultural aspects, a three factor model was run. In this model, structural acceptability, cultural acceptability, and support, instead of loading onto a single construct - acceptability of JFM, were loaded on to two constructs - first twos on structural acceptability, and third one on cultural acceptability. On the basis of chi square difference test, this model does not fit the data better than the two factors model. However, results of this model show a factor correlation of -0.78 between acceptability of JFM systems and institutional bureaucracy in comparison to that of -0.52 between cultural acceptability and institutional bureaucracy.

The results of multi-sample SEM analysis demonstrate differences across the states. The factor correlation between acceptability of JFM and institutional bureaucracy is -0.44 for the state of WB, -0.91 for HP, and -0.79 for AP and HR. In addition, parameter estimate of the path from cultural acceptability to acceptability of JFM is statistically insignificant in the case of WB. This insignificant loading was further explored in the three factor model. In this model, factor correlation between structural acceptability and institutional bureaucracy was the lowest (-0.53) for WB and highest (-0.92) for HP state. Similarly, factor correlation between cultural acceptability and institutionalized bureaucracy was -0.27 for WB and the other three states have consistent value (0.-49).For the two management levels, factor correlation between acceptability of JFM concept and degree of institutional bureaucracy does not reveal statistically significant difference between the middle and senior management levels.

9. Discussion and Conclusions:

A statistically significant negative correlation of 0.91 between the acceptability of JFM in the organization and institutionalized bureaucracy shows that officers of the four state FDs, in general, regard participatory ethos of CBFM and bureaucratic values of the FD as two bipolar concepts which cannot coexist. In the three factors model, there is higher negative correlation of structural acceptability as compared to that of cultural acceptability with bureaucracy. This indicates that individuals in the FD perceive that culturally the organization is comparatively more receptive to the concept of JFM, however, structure and procedures create barriers for its implementation. Organizational structure and procedures designed to implement top-down management policies as such cannot accommodate the bottom-up approach of CBFM. Hence, the study suggests that structure and processes of the FD should be the thrust areas for change for the effective diffusion of the CBFM concept. Present mechanistic structure of the organization, due to low individual discretion, restricted communication flow, and strictly defined roles, results into stifling of creativity. Frequent and meaningful social interactions, low centralization, and low formalization, as in organic-type structures, are important conditions to match the shift in FM regime.

The state level disparity of the factor correlation between `acptblty' and `instbrcy' reveals that the degree of incongruity between participatory approaches of CBFM and institutionalized bureaucracy is not invariant in the four states. FD in WB shows the least incompatibility while in HP, the two concepts are perceived to be almost bipolar. The states of AP and HR have an intermediate position. This indicates that foresters in WB, as compared to other three states, perceive higher acceptability of the JFM concept in both- structure and culture of the organization. These results are not surprising given that the concept of JFM originated in WB in early 1970. In addition, this state is under the communist government since 1977 whereas none of the other three states have this governance history. Therefore, the influence of the ideology of the government in bringing changes in the bureaucracy cannot be ruled out. The high incompatibility between the JFM concept and institutionalized bureaucracy in the case of HP corroborates with authors' observations of very weak institutional and legal support for the JFM systems in this state.

None the less, differences in the degree of incongruity between the JFM concept and bureaucracy across four states suggest designing of context specific strategies to reorient forestry agencies so as to achieve desired policy outcomes.

These findings are of significant importance to the countries that are attempting to take recourse to CBFM. Most of these countries of the developing world share many commonalities in the history of FM. Decentralization policies in most of these countries have been accompanied with very little reform of the overall legal, administrative, and fiscal frameworks. The CBFM systems, without requisite organizational changes, may result into `decentralization without empowerment' i.e., co-optation of local communities into state dominated mode of natural resource management without actual transfer of decision-making powers. This will defeat the basic motive of the CBFM systems.

In order to be successful facilitator in CBFM systems, forestry agencies need to resort to double-loop learning (Argyris, 1977) which focuses on transformational change and enhances the capacity to create new paradigm, in contrast to hitherto followed single-loop learning which is concerned with incremental change in the organization. In fact, changed paradigm requires replacement of bureaucratic principles of public administration with what proponents of New Public Administration (e.g., Fredrickson, 1980) refer to as `participative public administration.' which includes internal as well as external democratization.


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Appendix A: Constructs, conceptual components, and instruments used to measure them.


Conceptual Components



Acceptability of JFM

Structural Acceptability


In the existing set-up the forest department it is easy to introduces changes for implementing JFM (STR_ACC1).

Forest department has introduced has introduced changes in its working to effectively implement Joint Forest Management (STR_ACC2).

I do not feel need of any organizational reforms in the forest department for implementing Joint Forest Management (STR_ACC3).

In the formal meetings in the department, we are encouraged to take up discussion on issues related to involvement of local people in forest activities (STR_ACC4).

Cultural Acceptability


In general, around here one is not expected to explore the possibilities of involving local people in forest management (CUL_ACC1).

Even if convinced of the usefulness and feasibility of innovative ways of working, most of in my department dare nor to go against the well established working style persisting in the department (CUL_ACC2).

It is commonly held belief in the department that we should not try to involve local people in forest management (CUL_ACC3).



My performance in the department will be rated higher if I make extra efforts to involve local people in forest management (SUPPORT1).

The department offers rewards for involving local people in management of forests (SUPPORT2).

Institutional Bureaucracy

Hierarchical Rigidity


There is enough scope of experimenting with new ideas within the existing rules and regulations of the forest department (RIGIDITY1).

Prior approval of the super-ordinates is required before taking up any initiative (RIGIDITY2).

Subordinates are free to question the orders issued by their bosses (RIGIDTY3).

Centralized Powers


How centralized are the administrative powers in the department (CENTRLZN1)?

How centralized are the financial powers in the department (CENTRLZN2)?

How centralized are the procedures of the work you usually do (CENTRLZN3)?



In the department, decisions are taken jointly in consultation with subordinates (NOPRTCPN1)

In the department, decisions are taken at the higher ups and subordinates are told to act on them (NOPRTCPN2)

Stability Orientation


General atmosphere in the department is to stick to the traditional ways of working (STABLITY1).

It is commonly believed in the department that a person does not really have much wisdom until he is well along in years (STABLITY2).

The best way to get along in this department is to think the way the rest of the group does (STABLITY3).

We tend to follow commonly accepted procedures without questioning if the procedures produce desired results (STABLITY4).

1 Faculty of Forestry, University of Toronto, 33 Willcocks Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5S3B3 Canada. [email protected]