Donors, local development groups and institutional reform over Vietnam's development decade
in Kerkvliet, B.J., Heng, R.H.K. and Hock, D.K.W. (eds.), Getting organized in Vietnam: Moving in and around the socialist state, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 234-270.
International donors have attempted to contribute to, and indeed influence, the overall tenor of socioeconomic and governance-related reforms in Vietnam. They have done so in a number of ways: directly supporting policy research, stablishing forums for debate of developmental issues with government counterparts, funding projects on administrative and judiciary reform and central level capacity building, and providing direct financial and sometimes indirect support for ‘indigenous’ NGOs, primarily development service organizations working as contractors for particular development projects. This paper examines another modality through which donors sought to influence administrative reform over the heady ‘development decade’ of the 1990s – donor support for rural development projects conceived as ‘policy experiments’ (Rondinelli 1983). Though diverse in sectoral focus, these projects commonly attempted to introduce local institutional arrangements promoting greater responsiveness and accountability of local governments to rural communities as a whole, or to particular sub-groups such as smallholder farmers. To do so, local organizations or grassroots groups were typically established as new ways of organizing the rural populace to demand, plan for, access or provide services underpinning rural development and poverty alleviation. “Local development groups” (LDGs) is the name I give to groups comprised of farmers and other end-users of project services (or representatives they choose) that were formed in the process of implementing particular development projects. This paper probes the experience of these development projects and LDGs over approximately the last ten years. It depicts how projects funded by a wide range of donors became an important part of the institutional landscape in many areas of Vietnam, leaving a significant mark on many sectors related to rural development. Five sections follow this introduction. The first examines how changing donor roles interacted with institutional developments to produce an opportunity for projects to influence policy. Section two presents a theoretical framework with which to assess LDGs and the policy experiments in which they were embedded, which section three applies the framework to a sample of 15 donor projects operational over the 1990s in Vietnam. Section four presents more qualitative detail on a few of the higher-impact projects. The final section concludes with implications for donors and the study of local institutional change in Vietnam.