[In Focus] INFORM | Closing the Gap between Formal and Informal Institutions in the Balkans

INFORM is an international three-year research project that studies the interactions between formal and informal institutions in the Western Balkan societies, as well as tracks the influence of these institutions on the implementation of the European Union rules and regulations.

The Western Balkan societies have a long history of rapid, often foreign-inspired political and ideological transformations and have developed specific informal ways of dealing with fluctuations in formal institutions. Over the course of three years, the INFORM project team aims to understand how the formal and the informal come together in the fields of politics, economics and everyday life in the Western Balkan region.

Now, the project has just released its first newsletter sharing some first results of the project. Eric Gordy, project coordinator, and Predrag Cvetičanin, one of the leading researchers, elaborate on the importance of analysing the uneasy balance between formal institutions and informal practices. How does the intertwinement of formal and informal institutions and practices shape the implementation of EU rules and regulations in Western Balkans and what implications does this practice have on the ways EU regulations are perceived, accepted or resisted in the Balkan context?

The first five case studies presented in the newsletter highlight the multidisciplinary and dedicated approach to the questions. The INFORM researchers assume that the gap between formal institutions and informal social practices in the Balkans has been widening. The gap has increased because of people’s historical experiences with radically changing ideological and legal structures over the past century. In the context of EU integration efforts, the citizens of the Western Balkan countries continue to rely on informal social networks to ensure their socio-economic and political security.

The distance between the proclaimed goals and existing practices represents a key challenge to the European integration of Balkan societies. At the same time, the INFORM project also aims to highlight the positive aspects of informal processes and practices.

To achieve the goals of the project, the INFORM team employs a variety of methods, relying on case studies (see p. 4-8 of the newsletter), quantitative data-gathering (page 9), structured interviews, ethnographic research, and secondary data analysis, including comprehensive analysis of legal documents and media reports.

The project brings together teams from nine countries and various research organisations.

A selection of topic related events, news, calls, documents, organisations, links etc. is available here.