How have community forest governance structures in the Italian Dolomites changed over the years? How have they engaged with the government, and each other? Our associate Luke Whaley’s next blog explains more…

In the previous instalment of this blog I outlined the three case studies that Dr Nathan Deutsch and myself have decided to focus on in order to explore how traditional forest governance institutions in the Italian Alps – known as “regole” – influence, or fail to influence, the development pathways of their respective territories. Three cases were chosen, namely the eleven regole of Cortina, who have formally come together to form a confederation or “Communanza”; the sixteen regole of Comelico, who unlike Cortina have not managed to work together or affect the development of their territory to the same degree; and the regole of San Vito, a much smaller case study comprising only three regole.

We have now interviewed representatives from all of these cases. However, the interviews are yet to be properly translated by Nathan and so at present any analysis is reasonably speculative and relates only to a more general translation that took place during the course of the conversations. It is on the strength of these real-time translations that I shall outline some of the preliminary findings of the research. Given restrictions with space, the intention is not to provide a detailed assessment but simply to offer a flavour of the outcomes at this stage. Firstly, however, I shall briefly discuss the conceptual approach we have adopted.

In order to think about how the regole affect the development of their territories, Nathan and I have decided to focus on innovation. Here it is useful to refer to the concept of “development through bricolage” (Cleaver 2012), which for this study we have defined as “making do by applying combinations of the resources at hand to new problems and opportunities” (Baker and Nelson 2005: 333). This process of recombination through bricolage can be considered a useful framing as it is a primary driver of innovation (Senyard et al 2014). With this in mind, our research question can now be formally stated as: How do regole in the Italian Alps innovate, or fail to innovate, in order to affect territorial development towards particular strategic outcomes?

Nathan talking to Monego, an ex-forester in the regole of San Vito
Nathan talking to Monego, an ex-forester in the regole of San Vito

This question and its conceptual underpinnings also set the agenda for the interviews, where in total we interviewed nine representatives of the regole (sometimes on more than one occasion). The interview questions themselves were exploratory, and conformed to a non-prescriptive structure that sought to understand: 1) development decisions of the regole (around land use), 2) communication (with other regole and relevant actors involved in the governance of their territory, 3) perceived similarities and differences (with other regole), and 4) available and utilised assets/forms of capital/resources (limiting and enabling factors). The interviews are supported by a literature review, and an analysis of primary and secondary documents relating to our research question. It must also be pointed out that there are now plans to collect further data, through a survey as well as additional interviews and focus groups, either in person or via skype.

After some initial deliberation, we also decided that the three cases are best approached as two separate studies. In the first study, we compared the regole of Cortina with the regole of Comelico. In particular, we decided to examine Cortina’s successful proposal to have the northern half of their territory designated as a Natural Regional Park in 1990, and to be put in charge of managing the park as a private collective entity; a unique case in Italy which required a change to the law. This is a recent historical example of territorial innovation for which there is existing literature, which was then explored further during our interviews.

The Natural Park - a high altitude grazing pasture
The Natural Park – a high altitude grazing pasture

We can note that the development of the Natural Park was at least in part a strategic move by the regole of Cortina intended to curtail more recent developments in their territory that were imposing on the local inhabitants’ way of life. This stands in contrast to a more non-critical interpretation of the Park’s formation that would instead place the emphasis on the natural significance and beauty of the land and not the interests of local actors. Perhaps the two main threats that instigated the Park’s proposal was that the northern part of the regole’s territory was being used by the military for training exercises, and there was also a proposal by the Government to construct a new highway through the area.

In the face of these threats, the regole were able to draw upon their available assets in order to negotiate the designation of the park, which in turn meant that both military activity and the proposal for a new road were halted. Given their unique status as a “collective private entity”, the law surrounding natural parks in Italy also had to be changed in order that they could be put in charge of the park’s management. The interviews and literature review have identified a range of factors pertinent to this case, including:

  • Use of a stewardship discourse, which the regole drew upon to position themselves as the obvious (perhaps only) choice to manage the land given their historical relationship with it.
  • Access to Government funds, which provided the regole with the financial power to manage the park.
  • The capacity to network and negotiate, in particular with respect to the designation of the park and of the regole as its manager.
  • Institutional and geographical fit, including the fact that there is only one municipality to deal with in the area and that all the regole’s land constitutes a single, undivided territory.
  • Members’ relationship with the land, where until the 1950s most of the members of the regole were still farmers, which allowed for a smooth transition into tourism given that for many outsiders it is these farming practices (agri-tourism) and the landscape that is produced by them (scenic value) that makes Cortina such a desirable place to visit.

Although there is not space here to discuss these and other observations in more detail, it is possible to further abstract from the above points to observe that in many ways the success of the regole of Cortina relates to their ability to embed themselves within a range of legal orders, from the local through to state and EU rules and regulations. Thus a key mechanism appears to be “fit and embeddedness”, where this relates both to institutional and geographical/territorial dynamics. The ability of the regole of Cortina to achieve an appropriate level of fit and embeddedness in turn stems from both the internal capacity of the regole and their ability to influence proceedings through their external relations. Here they have drawn upon available assets to position themselves in a way that corresponds with particular strategic objectives. This is consistent with our concept of development through bricolage, discussed above.

In contrast, the regole of Comelico appear far more fragmented, both institutionally and geographically, with territories that are not always contiguous and where there are a number of local municipalities to deal with. They also lack the internal capacity that characterises the regole of Cortina. As a result, these regole have failed to achieve appropriate levels of fit and embeddedness, which would allow them to better position themselves within the current system of governance and so have greater control over their territorial development. A deeper analysis will start to unearth more precise underlying causes for this situation.

The second study is concerned with the regole of San Vito. Here we are exploring a situation whereby the regole are attempting to manage an area of forest on their territory that has been divided up into private parcels of land, where the scale of these private holdings is not appropriate for effective forest management. This is an intensive study that will require further interviews to tease out the details of the case and to explore the issues from a range of perspectives.

At present we have examined some of the wider factors that are pertinent to this case study, and have sourced a number of new contacts who will be interviewed in due course. These wider issues includes how the regole of San Vito initially reformed in the year 2000 as a response to the way the municipality was affecting the course of development in the area, which the members of the regole felt threatened by. Having reformed, their newfound institutional capacity is being employed to reorient development along a pathway that is more desirable to them. As with the previous analysis discussed above, this case is well framed by the concept of “development through bricolage”, where the regole continue to draw upon available assets in order to affect the direction of land use in their territory, towards particular strategic ends.

In due course we will analyse the properly transcribed interviews, and this will allow us to better tease out the details of the cases and to make more definitive conclusions. The intention is also to collect further data in order to improve the robustness of the study and to explore certain areas more thoroughly. In the case of the first study, data collection will take the form of a survey of the members of the regole of Comelico, followed by a workshop. In the second case, where we are looking at how the regole of San Vito are attempting to scale up management objectives across a collection of privately held parcels of land, we will look to undertake a series of interviews. For the time being, however, my time in Italy has now come to an end. I shall report further on the outcomes of this research when there is proper occasion to do so.

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