Fair, effective and sustainable water management requires a multi-stakeholder, negotiated approach. The inherent complexity and diversity of interests in water is a social and political challenge for which top-down ‘command-and-control’ water management does not provide durable solutions. Lack of shared commitment or recognition of the legitimacy of decisions over water can mean people choose not to comply and water resources become overused, polluted and degraded. Coming to decisions which are instead fair, effective and sustainable is possible. Stakeholders with interests in water decisions need to work together to understand their differences and search for workable solutions that each can accept.
Negotiation processes and the skills to design, facilitate and participate in multi-stakeholder negotiations are critical to improving water management.
Water users, water managers and policy makers involved in negotiating water decisions need to develop effective negotiation practice. Better negotiation can help stakeholders to arrive at workable solutions they would not otherwise achieve. Applications of better negotiation practice are numerous. Water allocation agreements, watershed management plans, national water law reforms, corporate water policies and transboundary water treaties all involve multiple stakeholders and can be strengthened through more deliberative and inclusive negotiation.
An explicit focus on the 4Rs of rewards, risks, rights and responsibilities supports effective water negotiations.
The 4Rs provide a framework for structuring, analyzing and understanding the interests of diverse stakeholders, based on defining who seeks a reward, claims a right, bears a risk or holds a responsibility. Keeping a focus on the 4Rs in negotiations helps create the space needed by negotiators to identify the elements that must come together to accommodate diverse interests in agreements.
Water governance is strengthened by using constructive engagement.
Water governance encompasses ‘the range of political, social, economic and administrative systems that are in place to develop and manage water resources, and deliver water services, at different levels of society.’ Governance can be a constructive and creative process through engagement of different people in negotiation. The larger goal of water negotiation is to turn potential conflict into constructive engagement and ideally into voluntary, fair, lasting agreements that can be effectively implemented.
With constructive engagement, stakeholders gain the ability to influence and shape decisions.
Stakeholders choosing constructive engagement recognize that it can be preferable to work with others to find options that are mutually acceptable. Public participation in planning and decision making encourages engagement by multiple stakeholders. However, simply ‘informing’ or ‘consulting’ the public is not adequate. In some circumstances the public may be empowered to make decisions, but most frequently stakeholders influence and shape decisions by creating and deliberating options.
Negotiation plays a central role where multiple stakeholders participate in constructive engagement.
To offer a legitimate way forward for dealing with differences collectively, negotiations over complex water decisions need to be transparent and inclusive. If negotiation can be approached in a considerate and constructive manner, it can encourage understanding and joint problem solving, greater mutual regard for diverse interests and values, and the possibility of integrating these into sustainable, rewarding and workable outcomes. Approaches to negotiation that are suited to constructive engagement are key.
Hard bargaining in competitive negotiation leads to loss of opportunities for mutual gains.
Competitive negotiation, parties often establish a particular ‘position’ at the outset that is then sought and defended on one side and argued against on the other. With its focus on bargaining over predetermined positions and dividing benefits to maximize gains or minimize losses, competitive negotiation tends to result, at best, in a compromise. Opportunities for creating new solutions with mutual gains can be easily missed.
Cooperative negotiation strengthens constructive engagement. Rather than focusing on positions, cooperative negotiation focuses on ‘interests’. Interests relate to the reasons why a position is sought, the underlying values, needs, concerns or relationships. In cooperative negotiation, parties build trust and mutual understanding of interests. They create new options for agreement by examining the inter-dependent interests of the parties and exploring how they can find mutual gains in order to come to a workable, equitable agreement.
Multi-Stakeholder Platforms (MSPs) are an approach to constructive engagement and learning about complex water problems. Choices about water often involve contesting facts and values. In an MSP, deliberation is fostered among multiple, diverse stakeholders to help them undertake joint analysis prior to decisions. Differences are respected – or at least better understood – while pursuing fair and effective, workable agreements about complex issues.
Setting up an MSP requires good design and process led by credible and competent convenors.
The purpose and scope of an MSP must be clear, with appropriate scales and levels for deliberation and analysis (for example watershed versus river basin, or local district versus national). There should be sufficient human, financial and information resources, political support and enough time available for deliberations to be completed. Explicit recognition of politics and power should be incorporated into the MSP design and process.
High quality process, enabling effective deliberation, is key to MSPs earning legitimacy. MSPs need high standards of deliberation, facilitation, inclusiveness, information exchange and communication with the participants and wider constituency. Deliberation is fundamental, aimed at producing reasonable, well-informed opinions in which participants are willing to revise preferences in light of discussion, new information and claims made by fellow participants. MSPs should use and share the best available information and build the knowledge base. Good facilitation is essential.
Practical steps for organizing an MSP must keep in mind the final goal of producing workable recommendations for forward action.
To get going, a steering group is established and the rationale for an MSP is explained to help build a constituency of support for the process. Convenors identify relevant stakeholders using stakeholder analysis and, as they come together, convenors and participating stakeholder representatives agree rules of engagement and roles and responsibilities. A sufficiently thorough assessment of contested issues is needed that is informed by, and of use to, all stakeholders. Deliberation tools such as scenario building help participants create options for workable recommendations based on learning about each others' different interests, values, priorities, assumptions and constraints. MSPs might also take and implement decisions, depending on the extent of their mandate.
MSPs help deliberation to become routine, enabling complex water issues to be more rigorously examined in better informed negotiations.
MSPs can lead to a variety of desirable outcomes. They can expand representation and participation of stakeholders in governance. They encourage learning and greater understanding of interdependencies among stakeholders and ways of resolving contested issues. By providing a pathway for deliberation, MSPs can lead to better decisions and water agreements that can be more successfully implemented.
Consensus building aims to meet the interests of all the parties at the negotiating table.
In consensus building, parties agree to seek unanimity but settle for overwhelming agreement. The politically less powerful are assured that their interests will be addressed and that they will not be forced to accept something they oppose. Politically powerful parties keep the equivalent of a veto as long as they make every effort to meet the interests of all the other parties at the table. The facilitator holds the parties accountable to their consensus building commitments.
Consensus-building negotiation creates new value for stakeholders through mutual gains.
It is a mistake in water negotiation to consider one issue at a time, as trading across issues is key to creating value. The agenda should guarantee all participants that issues of greatest concern to them will be addressed as part of a package. Negotiations on one issue should not be concluded until the full package of issues has been explored. Otherwise, negotiators may be unable to link issues together to create value through mutual gain.
Consensus building requires a commitment to take science and empirical knowledge seriously as well as focus on achieving political accord.
In a consensus-building process that has incorporated joint fact finding and an agenda developed by the group as a whole, it is much more likely that scientific and empirical knowledge will be given its due. A powerful majority cannot force its political preferences on a minority and overlook what the technical or local empirical evidence suggests.
Consensus building is guided by a 6 step process, from convening to deciding, implementing and learning.
Successful water negotiations hinge on getting the right parties to the table in Step 1, convening. Step 2 is clarifying responsibilities. Once the right parties are at the table, they review roles and responsibilities, select the facilitator or chair and agree the agenda, work plan, budget, ground rules and joint fact-finding procedures. Step 3 is deliberating, that is informed by joint fact finding and enables invention of options and packages that respond to the concerns of all parties. Step 4 is deciding, in which parties formulate agreements and check that their constituencies can live with what is being proposed. Step 5 is implementation, including creation of monitoring strategies and schedules for reporting. Step 6 is organizational learning, by applying monitoring results in adaptive management
An agreement is the direct tangible product of negotiation that captures joint decisions and outlines the steps for its implementation.
There are many types of water agreements: policies, laws, charters, codes of conduct, contracts or other agreements to manage and allocate water. Agreements can be guiding in nature, or set laws or specific rules. Agreements can be formal or informal, legally binding or voluntary, verbal or written. They can apply at various scales and levels – from local to international, from wells to micro-watershed to river basins – and between a diversity of actors.
Agreements bring more certainty and more transparency to expected rewards, risks, rights and responsibilities.
Agreements must be formulated to be consistent with the existing legal and policy framework. Good agreements include clear steps to address future differences, inadequate implementation, or breaches of them. The clearer the agreement, the less its provisions will be contested. Regardless of type, core features of good agreements define and describe: scope, governance mechanisms including roles and responsibilities, financing, provisions for data and information sharing, compliance needs, mechanisms for enforcement and dispute resolutions, and the dates of effect, duration and amendment procedures.
Fairer and more sustainable water allocation, use and management results from agreements only if they are effectively implemented.
Finalizing an agreement begins with drafting a written text, and requires verification by stakeholders and endorsement through signature. For agreements where authority rests outside the negotiating table, a further enactment step may be required such as ministerial approval or parliamentary ratification. Implementation steps for formal agreements include putting in place the necessary institutional arrangements, building capacity, taking agreed actions and undertaking monitoring. For agreements that aim to influence decisions taken by others, influencing strategies need to be developed.
Translating the agreement into action is at the heart of effecting change, and requires ongoing commitment.
Stakeholders must continue to work together to reflect on the fairness and effectiveness of implementation, resolve new differences and enhance cooperation.
There are additional, less tangible results of negotiation that are essential to enhancing water governance in the long run.
Improved relationships, enhanced understanding and better processes for deliberation and decision making emerge from constructive engagement and effective multi-stakeholder negotiation. Where no formal agreement results, these other outcomes can nevertheless be highly influential in the way water resources are allocated and managed.
Multi-stakeholder water governance is a long-term process encompassing cycles of engagement and negotiation.
Each negotiated agreement is significant, but new issues arise and need to be addressed and resolved. It is important to build on the momentum and relationships created during constructive engagement to positively influence decision-making processes and institutions in the long run.
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