Researching the politics of development



The interplay of ideas, institutional innovations and organisational structures: Insights from group farming in India

Working paper 116

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Bina Agarwal
An innovative development programme requires ideas at multiple stages, from conception to implementation. Where do these ideas come from, and how do they shape institutional and organisational structures? A recent debate on ideas has focused more on their role in framing public policy, than on their role in designing institutions or the organisational structures needed for the successful functioning of those institutions. Moreover, this debate mostly concerns political institutions in developed countries, and ideas mooted by experts. In contrast, a much older body of work on participatory development emphasises the need for planners to design policy in interaction with local communities, taking account of ideas emerging from ordinary people whom the policies will affect. But what kinds of organisational forms can enable villager participation in policy formulation and ensure the creation of viable institutions?
This paper analyses the interplay between ideas, institutions, and organisational structures, using, as an example, an unusual institutional innovation, namely group farming by women in two states of India – Telangana and Kerala. Based especially on the author’s interviews with those who shaped and implemented these programmes in each state, it traces how the idea of group farming for poverty alleviation and women’s empowerment emerged; how it differed from the historical examples of collective farming globally; and the thinking behind different elements of programme implementation. Although both states focused on group farming, they diverged notably in their ideas about group formation and composition, and the organisational form needed for implementation. The paper traces these differences, and their effect on the economic and social performance of the groups, as well as on institutional sustainability.