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News & Events Intermediary actors as important justice brokers in land use governance
Intermediary actors as important justice brokers in land use governance
Intermediary actors as important justice brokers in land use governance

The effectiveness of sustainable land use governance can be undermined if local affected people perceive land-use policies as not reflecting social objectives, or as ‘unjust.’ To transform externally-conceived sustainability principles from the international level into on-the-ground practice, involves the interplay of various organizations and peoples from the government, civil society, and the private sector. These organizations and peoples, or policy intermediaries, may represent diverse stakeholders and carry out various roles in interpreting and implement national land-use policies in a particular social context. Therefore they can affect how justice is delivered to forest-dependent communities.

Our case study investigates the experiences of sub-national intermediaries (i.e. governmental officers, environmental and development consultants, and academics) involved in the review processes of environmental impacts assessments (EIA) in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. The findings uncover how the intermediaries’ perceptions and prioritizations of justice-related norms affect equitable land-use decision-making in Indonesia. We cover three dimensions of justice in this paper: (1) equal distributions of environmental harms and development benefits, (2) fair public participation processes and outcomes, and (3) recognition of culturally suppressed identities and worldviews.



Takeaway #1: Patriarchal and hierarchical norms underplay injustices in land-use decision-making

Related to who participates, we found that the intermediaries interviewed had little engagement in the discussion or promotion of recognition of indigenous rights and gender equality. We identified and interviewed only three female technical experts in this study. Besides, the technical experts consulted were mostly senior staff based in an administrative center (e.g., a capital city) and are not originating from rural communities that are affected by the decision-making processes. Their seniority at work may affect their social status, social capital, and their perspectives to justice. We therefore raise the question of whether the technical committee have adequately represented various stakeholders’ interests in land-use decision making.

Takeaway #2: Communication tools (e.g. social media) and technology are changing the power landscape

Although the interviewees struggled to navigate justice concerns within the growth-oriented governance setting, they recognized that an improved financial condition of local governments has improved their working conditions. Infrastructure, such as road, airport, and mobile phone coverage, have enabled information exchange and access of knowledge service beyond an administrative territory, which has been particularly useful for areas that have limited social resources. The use of remote sensing and other technologies has provided supportive tools to achieve their work goals in an improved work environment.

Increasing calls on equal participation from expanded media reach have also led to more accountable decision-making procedures, as observed by the intermediaries: The government can close its eyes to project impacts when the public did not know what happened. They cannot do that anymore. As soon as there is protest, the whole country is informed by various media.

Access to high-quality data, including data scale, consistency, and access, as well as open communication tools therefore will be required for supporting intermediaries in brokering justice.

Takeaway #3: Social and psychological incentives are as important as monetary incentives for encouraging equitable practices for the intermediaries.

Issues of corruption can be coupled with low monetary and psychological incentives of carrying on equitable practices for the intermediaries. The technical experts were often overburdened by their workloads and worked part-time to make ends meet due to a low salary. Some of them however highlighted psychological rewards that were important for motivating them: I quit consultancy to join the technical team […] I earned more as a consultant. But I hope my knowledge can contribute to something bigger.

We suggest that proper working conditions, including workload, incentives, and safety, can motivate intermediaries to actively engage in justice-related negotiations in land-use governance.

Final note

Our findings demonstrated the intermediaries’ constant attempts of seeking feasible solutions between the stakeholders’ needs, abilities, and budgets within the local capacity of technology and facilities. Identifying the resources needed by these institutional intermediaries, therefore, may be significant to improving local environmental practices and delivering environmental justice from a cost-effectiveness perspective. This empowerment strategy can be useful especially because many countries that possess rich forest and natural resources often suffer from limited resources available for environmental management.


To learn more about the study cited in this blog, see: 

Lai, J. Y., Staddon, Sam, and Hamilton, Alistair. 2021. Technical Experts’ Perspectives of Justice-Related Norms: Lessons from Everyday Environmental Practices in Indonesia. Land Use Policy 102 (March): 105234.

Free-access accepted manuscript can be found at ResearchGate