A new Regions and Cities book, Fragile Governance and Local Economic Development edited by Sergio Montero and Karen Chapple was published by Routledge on the 17th August 2018.  This book uses the idea of “fragile governance” to rethink the relationship between governance and local economic development from the experience of small cities and peripheral regions of Latin America.

But what is ‘fragile governance’ and how does it work?  The book argues that peripheral regions in Latin America are often characterized by fragile governance, that is, emergent –and often informal- processes of coordination and collaboration of local actors to promote local development goals in contexts of weak institutional capacity. Case studies are used to illustrate three key themes that are leading to the new, albeit fragile, governance for local economic development: learning processes; networks and associations; and leadership and conflict management. Diverse forms of learning are generating new forms of collaboration and economic development, and by leveraging networks and creating new associations, communities are connecting the horizontal and vertical dimensions of governance needed to promote economic development.

One case study, for instance, tells the tale of Peruvian engineer Teodoro Rojas, who in 1983, upon returning to his home in Tupicocha following a visit to a dam in Cajamarca, gathered together his fellow comuneros to tell them about the valve technology he had seen. His vision was to use it to build artificial reservoirs to solve the community’s irrigation problems. But some of the people remained sceptical, according to Rojas: “They couldn’t imagine it, because they had never seen it before.”

Only a few families bought into the concept, providing Rojas with materials and in-kind labour to help build the reservoir. To coordinate commitments over the 8-year period, the families organised a comité de regantes (irrigation committee).  The new reservoir boosted the community’s economy, and previously sceptical families now wanted to participate. Two more committees were formed, and two more reservoirs were built. The whole community became involved and by 2010, 70% of Cullpe’s rural inhabitants had “moved from a subsistence economy with food insecurity to a surplus economy with food security” (Alfaro Moreno and Claverías, 2010: 40).

The community’s success sparked a new, positive attitude in the region towards change and innovation. Seeing these improvements in the region, neighbouring communities wanted to improve their own agricultural production. It “gave hope to the farmers,” according to Rojas. This local interest then drew the attention of funders: non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and different government agencies became interested in promoting these irrigation innovations and began funding numerous grants to try to replicate them in other rural communities in Peru and beyond.

Not long after, the Peruvian government began encouraging municipalities to enter into a voluntary agreement to become a collective association called a “Mancomunidad,” to provide services and promote local development jointly. Tupicocha joined with six other villages and the provincial Huarochiri municipality to form the Mancomunidad Municipal de la Cuenca Valle de Lurín – which then won funding for two technical studies for reservoirs to provide 15 million cubic meters of water for the region. The Mancomunidad then drew attention from two NGOs in the region and a new conversation about collaborative governance around economic development began.

Thus, new governance arrangements grew out of different forms of knowledge and learning processes, nurturing individual leadership, facilitating the transition to shared leadership processes, and managing conflicts in emerging collaborative schemes. In contrast to the stories of networked governance in urban areas that have dominated in Anglophone urban studies and economic geography, this more fragile governance in Latin America peripheral regions works in a more informal way, has less private-sector involvement and often engages communities directly in decision-making from the bottom up.

This book project originated with a visit to the University of California at Berkeley by a group of Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) officials. The Bank’s Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) was funding many local economic development projects in Latin American countries, observing what they believed was remarkable innovation in territorial governance, yet there was frustration that many outcomes were not being captured by the IADB’s traditional evaluation metrics, led by its randomistas. Karen Chapple and Sergio Montero became part of the team of Berkeley researchers who would conduct qualitative research on these projects and conducted fieldwork over a period of almost three years in Peru, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Guatemala, and Colombia, among other countries, holding several conferences and workshops, and eventually publishing an open-source manual for local economic development practitioners in Spanish, Una Guía para la Práctica: Mecanismos de Gestión Publico-Privada para el Desarrollo Económico Territorial (A Guide for Practice: Mechanisms of Public-Private Management for Territorial Economic Development.)

The editors are unequivocal in their gratitude to those who participated and contributed to Fragile Governance and Local Economic Development, which they describes as truly the product of a village. Case study research is not possible without the people that take the time to answer questions, without assistance and support from local leaders.  They also acknowledge the great many research assistants along the way, “each with extraordinary contributions, providing us not only with interview data but with exciting discussions” as well as the support of all the editors of the Routledge Regions and Cities series, and the conference and workshop participants who helped in shaping the final publication.

Sergio Montero (@sergemont), PhD, is Assistant Professor of Urban and Regional Development at Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá and received the 2017 Regional Studies Association Routledge Early Career Award, “for the potential of the concept of ‘fragile governance’ to analyze local economic development processes from the experience of smaller cities.” He is also the RSA Ambassador to Colombia.

Karen Chapple, Ph.D., is a Professor of City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley. Chapple holds the Carmel P. Friesen Chair in Urban Studies and studies the governance, planning, and development of regions in the U.S. and Latin America, with a focus on economic development and housing.

The story of Teodoro Rojas was published in the Berkeley Review of Latin American Studies, Spring 2017 and is based on the following article: Chapple, K., & Montero, S. (2016). From learning to fragile governance: regional economic development in rural Peru. Journal of rural studies, 44, 143-152.