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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Rural electrification, climate change, and local economies: Facilitating communication in development policy and practice on Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast

  • Author(s): Casillas, Christian E.
  • Advisor(s): Kammen, Daniel M
  • et al.

I explore the role of information and communication in the world of institution-led development. Through a series of case studies from the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, I present several projects and their implications for uncovering information that may lead to greater local benefit from externally-planned development projects. In order to construct policies and implement projects, development institutions collect, analyze, and simplify information, collapsing messy physical and social realities into narrow sets of metrics. In addition, local stakeholders often aren't privy to the analysis and assumptions of the "expert" planners. An evolved set of methods for dialogue and planning, which focus on sharing available information, can help facilitate outcomes that are more beneficial for targeted groups.

Carbon abatement cost curves provide a clear example where the relations of complex social, economic, and environmental systems are reduced to a narrow set of metrics, specifically the cost of carbon mitigation and the total tons reduced. When the carbon abatement cost curve is applied to the community level, it reveals information and allows for conclusions obscured by aggregated national level studies. I show that there are opportunities for augmenting the limited metrics of these cost curves to include those that relate to welfare, beginning to highlight how costs and savings are distributed among stakeholders. In particular, the benefits to the most marginalized groups are heavily dependent on planners taking a pro-poor approach.

However, planners typically remain blind to the priorities, capabilities, and values of the target stakeholders. There is a dearth of methods that effectively open up the development expert's black box of project designs, allowing their proposed solutions to be transparent to the target beneficiaries. I address this challenge through the presentation of a participatory modeling process that was utilized with groups of artisanal fishers. Participatory modeling places a greater emphasis on understanding processes, rather than just focusing on outcomes. The process facilitated the detailed exploration of local realities through the creation and playing of a board game that modeled their local fishing economy. Participants were able to look closely at the causal relations between several potential development interventions such as a cooperative-owned fish businesses and local ice production, gaining insights into possible costs and benefits.

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