This publication has been written with a view to providing material for strengthening rural institutions. It provides a thorough overview of the decentralization process in rural development from the issue of state withdrawal and higher efficiency to the rise of civil society and its enhanced role in sustainable development. This balance between the state and civil society is explored in all dimensions (historical, conceptual and operational) in such a way as to avoid the risks of a badly managed decentralization process. Experience demonstrates that institutional voids and blocked support can have serious implications for the most vulnerable rural producers. Based on FAO's experience in various countries, the text proposes an analytical model of decentralization (RED-IFO) and describes management modalities and ongoing processes. Questionnaires, surveys and analytical tools are proposed to allow readers to follow and work on the process in their own countries. The document offers practical tools to take the lead in facing up to various dimensions of the problems of decentralization in rural development. It also proposes ways in which the RED-IFO model can be applied.