2016 Education and Research Other

Going with the flow or swimming against the current? Interplay of formal rules, informal norms and NGO advocacy strategies

Yumiko Yasuda

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have increasingly become important agents in environmental governance. Many studies discuss the way civil society actors attempt to influence rules and norms. There is limited research, however, that examines how rules and norms affect the behavior of civil society actors. This research brief introduces key findings from broader research that aimed at understanding the influence of formal and informal rules and norms on civil society actors. In order to identify this two NGO coalitions operating within the Mekong River Basin were studied.

The report was presented during the seminar Drivers for development: advocacy, diversification, donations and endowments.

Main findings

  • Formal and informal rules and norms interact complementarily at times, and at other times have a competing relationship. Actors play important roles in determining these relationships. Conducting an objective analysis of how formal and informal rules and norms influence NGOs activities would be useful to inform and shape strategies.
  • While formal rules are often designed to protect people’s rights, informal rules and norms tend to take precedent and create barriers in exercising rights. On the other hand, complementary relationships between formal and informal rules and norms tend to assist NGO actors in strategy implementation.
  • The analytical framework which was developed for this research can provide a useful lens for conducting further analysis. It is an advancement of the existing Institutional Analysis and Development framework developed by scholars of new institutionalism.
Yumiko Yasuda is a postdoctoral researcher at the Hague Institute for Global Justice, and the International Centre for Water Cooperation (under the auspices of UNESCO) established by the Stockholm International Water Institute and the Uppsala University. She defended her dissertation Going with the flow or swimming against the current? The influence of rules and norms on advocacy strategies of NGO coalitions along the Mekong River at the University of Dundee in February 2014.