Chapter 3 Multi-Stakeholder Platforms (MSPs)

3.1 MSPs: a basis for fairer water governance

Multi-Stakeholder Platforms (MSPs) are a part of governance in which different stakeholders are identified and, usually through representatives, invited and assisted to interact in a deliberative forum that focuses on:

MSPs are not the only places where deliberation takes place. MSPs and dialogues are words that are often used interchangeably. This may be misleading. Any ‘dialogue process’ implies deliberation is central. There may be much dialogue and deliberation embedded in advocacy organizations, diplomacy, operations within the party room, the parliament, contract drafting, the corporate board room or the village committee. However, as the name specifies, MSPs refer to where deliberation is fostered among multiple, diverse stakeholders.

MSPs are an approach for constructive engagement and learning about complex problems where facts and values may be in dispute. Choices about water often involve society contesting facts, such as the most efficient way to supply water, recover delivery costs, and provide efficiency incentives. Choices about water also often involve contesting values, for example, whose priorities and needs matter most, when there is insufficient water to satisfy all demands.

MSPs may lead to the creation or strengthening of bridges of understanding between actors representing wide-ranging interests, and the satisfactory resolution of at least some differences. An MSP can bring into sharper focus substantive differences of approach and priorities that may not be easily reconcilable. By articulating these differences in the public sphere, an MSP can contribute to a sounder basis for negotiation and decision making.


MSPs can be influential by bringing together stakeholders in a new form of communication and decision finding. In this way, they can ensure that differences are respected – or at least better understood – while pursuing fair and effective workable agreements about complex issues.

Influence is different to authority. Many MSPs are not necessarily vested with, nor must they claim, authority to make decisions. To do so may invite resistance and be counter-productive. Although not all dominant political cultures support or permit MSPs, in many places MSPs are part of a broader trend towards new forms of governance based on collaboration that build and draw upon social capital.

A way of focusing the MSP contribution to water negotiations is to use the 4Rs, (introduced in Chapter 1) as part of a systematic and semi-structured approach. Recapping, the 4Rs refer to rewards, risks, rights and responsibilities. For example:

While the 4Rs can always be useful as reference points, MSPs do not all need to follow the same format or structure. MSPs exist in different shapes and sizes. But, as a guide, there are desirable characteristics of MSPs. These are summarized in Figure 3.1 and explained in Sections 3.23.5 to provide an outline for an ‘ideal type’ of MSP that can contribute to fairer, more effective water governance.19


Figure 3.1: MSP conceptual framework and desirable characteristics

3.2 Desirable context for MSPs

3.2.1 Clear purpose and scope

The purpose of an MSP needs to be clearly articulated in terms of its political and practical boundaries to enquiry, the derivation, extent and duration of its mandate, and a justification of how the MSP might improve existing governance.

Questions to consider include:

Answers to these questions should determine the design of the MSP and tactics to optimize engagement, particularly regarding choices of convenors, facilitators, invitees, agenda and tools. There are more ideas on how to clarify the purpose and scope of an MSP later in this chapter.

Case 3.1: ‘Exploring Water Futures Together’ in the Mekong Region

A new water governance paradigm was needed in the Mekong Region which encompasses Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam and southern China.

On main streams and tributaries disputes exist resulting from interventions to natural flow regimes and overt or default allocation decisions. These interventions are justified on grounds of: flood control, more irrigation for food or fibre production, urban or industrial supply, improving ease of navigation, or boosting energy production via hydropower. There are associated disputes about altered sediment and nutrient loads, fisheries, livelihood options, groundwater use, water re-use, and diversions (inter-State, intra-State, inter-basin and intra-basin).

An alliance of actors in the Mekong Region cooperated to convene and implement an MSP undertaken at national and regional scales. The convening coalition comprised: IUCN, the Thailand Environment Institute (TEI) – a national organization focused on sustainability; the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) – an international research organization; and the M-POWER regional knowledge network whose core membership is from, and focus is on, the six Mekong Region countries.

The purpose and scope has been to make it routine in the Mekong Region for important national and transnational water-related options and decisions to be examined in the public sphere from a range of perspectives. The MSP aimed to demonstrate this practice.21

3.2.2 Credible and competent convenors

Convenors are those who call people to come together and collectively engage in an issue. There are many possible convenors for MSPs and they can be either from within or outside of government (see Box 3.1). Credibility and competence are essential. Credibility will be linked to the ‘social capital’ of the convenor or convening coalition. Without the capacity to build new or upon existing relationships, convenors will be unable to establish an MSP constituency. Without competence, convenors will not be able to maintain the constituency or have an effective engagement.

Box 3.1: MSPs and dialogue tracks 1, 2, 3

The terminology of dialogue tracks 1–3 is one way of differentiating between water governance fora, some of which are MSPs, and the different convening possibilities.

Track 1 refers to processes of governments and associated bureaucracy, including inter- and intra-State fora. In the eyes of States these are ‘official’ and the most legitimate. The dominant logic is, for the most part, still implicitly accepting of rational, self-interested behaviour, particularly in international affairs. Track 1 dialogues are convened by State actors for State actors. The UN General Assembly is an example. They may be deliberative, but they are not multi-stakeholder.

Track 2 refers to governance processes involving State, UN family, donor/lender, civil society and business. These interactive forums are usually convened and led by an actor or coalition closely aligned with States ensuring government representatives remain privileged actors, such as with the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). The convenors are usually focused on enhancing the effectiveness of States by widening the field of ideas and influences. Track 2 MSPs may be convened by State or non-State actors, but usually widen the range of stakeholder involvement.

Track 3 refers to research, dialogue and advocacy efforts led by civil society or business, less impeded by or less subordinate to State actors. These fora are committed to enlarging the political space and are often optimistic about the potential of MSPs to find and assist in negotiating better ways forward for society. The convening is led by non-State actors, and by design should bring in the full range of relevant stakeholders or possible contributors to addressing an issue. Convening coalitions are often a useful way of aggregating the social capital of the individual convenors. Tracks 2 and 3 are often now grappling with the idea and practices of deliberative MSPs. Practice may be less than ideal, but there are many promising efforts around the world where Tracks 2 and 3 are trying to improve the quality of their MSPs to inform and shape water-related debates, generate options, and inform and shape negotiations.

3.2.3 Appropriate scales and levels

Clarifying purpose and scope is a precursor to thinking about scales and levels.22 Scales are the spatial, temporal, quantitative or analytical dimensions used to measure, or rank, and study an issue (see Figure 3.2). Levels are the units of analysis that are located at different positions on a scale.

Water management is often institutionalized around the spatial scales of government (i.e., administrative) or hydrology. The scale of government has different levels, for example: district, provincial, national, regional, global. The scale of hydrology also has different levels, for example: well, aquifer, stream, lake, reservoir, small watershed, larger national river basin, or international river basin. MSP convenors must be aware that analysis and action may best occur at various scales and levels – single or multiple. For complex water issues it is usually multiple. A strength of MSPs is that they can be flexibly constructed so as to fit any scale or level, but also to enable cross-level and cross-scale deliberations.


Figure 3.2: Scales and levels

Figure 3.223 shows some examples of typical levels on five different scales (one temporal and four spatial). Examples of cross-level and cross-scale interactions are given for a pair of spatial scales. Some multi-level processes are shown on the ecosystem scale.

Actors contest scales and levels, overtly through debates, media releases, lobbying and protests, and more subtly, through use and control of technologies, indicators, deliberations over measurements and controlling political sites. Thus, some actors push for hydrological scales – watersheds to river basins – as levels correspond to manageable units in the models or infrastructure they operate. Others promote conventional, area-based administrative hierarchies – districts to regions – arguing that this is where capacity, accountability and legitimacy already exist. Differences between administrative and hydrological scales, for example, are a common source of tensions in water resource governance.

Contests can arise in MSPs because different actors favour particular scales and levels in their analysis, arguments and responses. Convenors may take steps in selection of participants and format to ensure there are constructive exchanges and debate within and between relevant scales and levels.

The scales and levels used in an MSP should eventually be a joint product of biophysical and social processes. It is rarely possible, and probably undesirable, in an MSP being undertaken for a complex water issue, to be too strict, too early about scale and level choices.

The physics of flows, and the dynamics of ecosystems or social institutions can often be collectively better understood if scale and level boundaries are not overly constrained at the beginning of an MSP. For example, seasonal dynamics of flow regimes are important to fish (and thus fishers) on different temporal levels than the operational and planning logics of hydropower generation, irrigation and flood risk management.

3.2.4 Sufficient resources, political support and time

Without adequate resources – human, financial, informational and intellectual – an MSP will not reach its potential. Competent people will be needed to support the operation of the MSP. Costs will be incurred and so funding needs to be organized. Uncertainties will need to be addressed with information and people that have the knowledge that can help to move forward.

It is vital that any MSP has sufficient political space and momentum to permit or encourage establishment and support. The need for some degree of political support is unavoidable. This does not just refer to political support from the State, but rather is a reminder that an MSP must have some type of supportive stakeholder constituency with either influence or authority. In the case of Cape York, Australia (see Case 3.2) the political support wavered, but endured for long enough to ensure the MSP was given a chance to make its best contribution.


Case 3.2: Breaking down the wall in Australia's Cape York

The MSP of CYPLUS (Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy) was born in the 1990s after 20 years of intensifying conflict about major development proposals, mining, land rights, cattle grazing and Aboriginal land rights in the Cape York Peninsula of north-eastern Australia. CYPLUS was an intensive and extensive MSP to develop a land-use strategy – not water-focused, but undoubtedly complex – in a remote area of northern Australia covering 137,000 km2 but home to only 18,000 people, the majority of whom are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent. All levels of government were actively involved.

People who studied CYPLUS were told by one participant: ‘Before CYPLUS there was a brick wall between graziers (cattle farmers), greens and aboriginal people on Cape York – they were all trying to cut the Cape up into little pieces for themselves but there wasn't enough to go around. CYPLUS broke down the wall’. The researchers also warned of the need for a long-term commitment, which for CYPLUS was envisaged as at least 10 years, during which time there would be (in the Australian political system) ‘at least three elections and countless changes in policies, programs and players involved in the effort’.


The saying ‘Rome was not built in a day’ also applies to MSPs which require an investment in time and patience, some degree of continuity, and then follow-up. If the time allowed is too short, it is hard for an MSP to do its job. If the MSP is not followed up, or is not taken into account by decision makers, many participants will be disillusioned and re-engaging with them in the future will likely be more difficult.24 A key lesson noted by an observer of a Canadian MSP (see Case 3.3) was that: ‘One of the main criticisms aimed at collaborative systems of governance is that whilst they provide opportunities for deliberation and wider participation in decision making, they often produce implementation failures because insufficient attention is given to outputs that will have an impact on the problem at hand. As a result, participants may lose enthusiasm for further collaboration if there is little sign of their efforts having a positive effect’.25

Case 3.3: Balancing power in the Fraser Basin Council in Canada

The Fraser Basin spans 13 watersheds in western Canada and supports more than 2.5 million people with an economy based on natural resources. The need for a more integrated approach to effectively and sustainably managing the land and water resources has long been recognized.

The Fraser Basin Council was established in 1997 as an MSP to pursue sustainable development through integrated river basin planning and management. It succeeded the Fraser Basin Management Programme, which was seen as being dominated by government interests.

The Council is a not-for-profit organization with a corporate structure that aims to address multi-jurisdictional issues to resolve disputes using a consensual rather than a legal or bureaucratic approach. It was specifically designed to complement, as opposed to duplicate, government management functions. A Charter for Sustainability was initially developed as a means of creating shared understanding among the diverse groups. The Charter outlines problems as well a vision, and articulates the values, principles and rules to guide collective action.

The institutional set-up of the Council was carefully crafted in order to create a space for equitable deliberative opportunity amongst diverse stakeholders to influence policy and programme decisions. It was recognized that a key challenge for collaborative governance is to provide fair representation, given that there are always economic and political power imbalances between groups that have legitimate interests in various facets of river basin management.

The Council included 36 directors drawn from three tiers of government (federal, provincial and local), First Nations, community groups, businesses as well as social, economic and environmental interest groups. To ensure fair local involvement, there were five regional committees for specific watersheds comprising representatives from local government, First Nations and sectoral interests.

3.2.5 Politics and power recognized

When scoping an MSP it is necessary to consider politics and power explicitly.

Politics is a slippery concept. Comments from almost 50 years ago remain useful: ‘Politics is about policy, first and foremost; and policy is a matter of either the desire for change or the desire to protect something against change’ and ‘Politics is a natural reflex of the divergences between members of a society... [where]... there is a variety of perpetual disagreements which arise from fundamental differences of condition, status, power, opinion, and aim’.26 Water sharing is not just about technical choices. Contesting different views is the realm of politics. MSPs are a place for this contesting. MSPs are one way of ensuring that political tussles include evidence and exploration of different values and perspectives.

Another elusive concept is power. It can be seen as the ability to shape the context and conduct of others. This is helpful, but it only gets you so far. It is useful also, and very relevant to MSPs, to think of power in terms of assets and power relations (see Figure 3.3).27 Thinking of both can help in understanding the context.


MSPs are likely to be more influential if they are endowed with adequate helpings of ‘assets’ including: resources, participants in strategic positions, individuals with leadership ability, and a rich inflow of ideas.

For some, politics and therefore political analysis, is focused on an analysis of power – identifying and interrogating its distribution, exercise and consequences. How power relations are manifested is just as important as whether particular actors have power – ‘power to act’, power with others', ‘power over’ and ‘power to lead’28 – all are important, as with the invocation of the wax, wick and flame metaphor in Box 2.1 in Chapter 2. MSPs are more likely to be agents of constructive engagement if the power relations manifested are a healthy mixture of these different forms. Perhaps most important and integral to the success of MSPs is fostering the acceptance by many participants that there is new and additional power in collectively working with others.

Figure 3.3: Assets that shape power and power relations

3.3 Elements of good process

MSPs earn legitimacy, at least in part, by demonstrating high-quality process. To do so requires attaining and maintaining high standards of deliberation, facilitation, inclusiveness, information exchange and communication with the participants and wider constituency.

3.3.1 Deliberative

Deliberation is integral, by which we mean: ‘deliberation is debate and discussion 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. Although consensus need not be the ultimate aim of deliberation, and participants are expected to pursue their interests, an overarching interest in the legitimacy of outcomes (understood as justification to all affected) ideally characterizes deliberation’.

MSPs are rooted in a belief in the value of ‘authentic deliberation’29 between people with different perspectives. In this way, MSPs give privilege to the power of argument, explanation and reason over other types of power. Therefore, it is important to note that stakeholders who do not have language and communication skills can be disadvantaged, unless adequately represented.


3.3.2 Facilitated

To enable deliberation, good facilitation is an essential characteristic if MSPs are to reach their potential. Ideally in a group of MSP facilitators, there would be a mixture of men and women of varying cultural backgrounds, united by having open minds. These facilitators need to possess a reasonable share of the following traits:

Listener: Ability to listen and create an atmosphere where others will listen (not just talk).

Enabler: Ability to see who is participating and who is not, and to find ways to enable all participants to contribute in an authentic way. This includes stopping any particular individual or group from dominating an MSP.

Linker: Willingness to prepare by thinking through the programme and backgrounds of participants, anticipating what might happen. It is important the facilitator link the steps in the MSP process, maintaining some direction/focus, whilst also being adaptable to the needs of participants.

Respectful: Respect and empathy for different people and the different world views that they hold. This includes respect for different forms of knowledge – engineering, agriculture, ecology, economic, cultural, social, national politics, local villagers.

Energetic: To maintain the enthusiasm of the participants to persist and work through what may be difficult tasks, the facilitator usually requires large reserves of personal energy.

Familiarity with appropriate ‘facilitator techniques’: There are many techniques to encourage creative expression, such as buzzing, mind mapping, rich pictures. A skilful facilitator can draw on these as components of the MSP method.30


3.3.3 Inclusive

MSPs should enable representation of a wide range of stakeholders and their disparate interests via a flexible process which may have many different facets. Inclusiveness implies being respectful of diverse ethics, ways of reasoning, world views and priorities of actors.

3.3.4 Informed and communicative

MSPs should use and share the best available information, building the knowledge base. MSP participants should become familiar with other relevant fora, plans, agendas etc. The MSP also needs to communicate effectively with the wider public sphere if it wishes to create and maintain a constituency.

3.4 Desirable MSP content

MSPs are not all the same. Figure 3.4 provides a practical example of a hypothetical MSP which shows a plausible flow from acknowledgement of a concern through to deliberation and agreement on next steps.

MSPs may involve regular meetings between core participants. These might be informal gatherings beside an irrigation canal, next to a wetland, or on the banks of a river. There might also be conferences/discussions open to the wider public, locally hosted field visits, electronic exchanges, government briefings, films, plays, historical texts, testimony, or commissioned research.

Despite differences in the way they are set up and implemented, examples of desirable content can be suggested.

Figure 3.4: Timeframe and sequence of hypothetical MSP31

3.4.1 Setting-up

Setting up refers to the practical steps that must be taken in establishing an effective MSP.32 Essential steps include:

Establishment of an interim MSP steering group

There are now hundreds of examples around the world of water-related MSPs. To get going has usually required an interim MSP steering group. Some say ‘interim’, others ‘initial’ or ‘informal’. Some prefer ‘working group’ or ‘committee’ to steering group. It's important, though, not to get hung up at this early stage. The key is to start somewhere. Final convening, management and coordination responsibilities for the MSP are sorted out and adjusted during the setting-up phase (see Case 3.4).

Case 3.4: Improving agricultural knowledge, science and technology

A prominent recent example of an MSP was the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). This was a five-year process from 2003–2008. Whilst not focused on water, it is nevertheless an excellent example.

In the beginning a Steering Committee of 40 representatives from governments, agencies, industry, farmers and other rural producers, consumers, environmental and other NGOs produced a basic document in August 2003 calling for the International Assessment. They chose to address this question: How can we reduce hunger and poverty, improve rural livelihoods, and facilitate equitable, environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development through the generation, access to, and use of agricultural knowledge, science and technology?

A design process soon followed. The first meeting of the parties (governments), five co-sponsoring UN agencies, the World Bank and civil society representatives took place in 2004. The government representatives (45 countries present) decided to go ahead with the Assessment. They agreed on the content and scope of the Assessment and adopted outlines and procedures, a timetable and a budget of US$ 10.7 million.

The process became a UN inter-governmental process, which means the participating member State representatives made the final decisions and were asked to adopt the final report. The initial Steering Committee morphed into a multi-stakeholder Bureau of 60 representatives of governments (30), civil society (22) and international institutions (8) to oversee the process.

The IAASTD then undertook a comprehensive global assessment that included five more detailed sub-global reports, of the role of agricultural science and technology in development, culminating in a final plenary in Johannesburg in April 2008 at which synthesis reports and summaries for decision makers were presented to all stakeholders.

Articulating clear rationale for the MSP

The need for an MSP has to be explained and accepted before people will agree to invest time and effort. What problems or opportunities will the MSP seek to address? How will an MSP fill a gap, or add value, to the existing efforts being made?

Diverse goals have catalyzed recent local, national, regional and global MSPs, including:


Building a constituency for the MSP

To reach its potential an MSP needs a constituency of diverse supporters. Providing early opportunity for involvement is important. Although people may constructively engage for different reasons, most will want to be convinced that the MSP is a genuine and worthy effort to search for fair and effective ways forward. Building a constituency means building a base of MSP supporters who are committed to engaging in a collective process. It is far more than ‘engaging with stakeholders’ or undertaking a ‘stakeholder analysis’ (see section 3.4.2).


Preliminary examination of the wider MSP context

The interim steering group needs to ensure that the wider MSP context is understood. Some call this the ‘operating environment’ or the wider ‘political economy’. It is important to get a basic overview of the present and relevant history, including an initial understanding of the range of perspectives of the MSP stakeholders. This will provide guidance on the areas to be explored in more detail.

Assessing potential MSP operating structures

There are usually various choices for an MSP operating structure which will determine function, legitimacy and credibility. Links to existing authority structures need to be clear. For example, what is to be the link to existing levels of government (if any)? Taking the time to investigate and introduce an appropriate structure is vital.

Assessing MSP designs and mandates

In the words of one expert: ‘MSPs, by any other name, are currently ‘hot’ in the water sector’ attracting diverse actors to operate collectively – at least for a time – in a ‘weird and wonderful panorama’ of different multi-stakeholder processes.35

That said, there are many choices for the design of an MSP, which must match the purpose and scope. The design includes operating structures and plans for carrying out the MSP. The setting-up phase is critical in negotiating appropriate designs and mandates, so that the particular MSP can serve the needs of the part of society grappling with a particular issue, hoping to make water governance fairer and more effective via a well-intentioned platform.

3.4.2 Stakeholder analysis

Stakeholder analysis is essential to properly design and implement an MSP. It helps to clarify who to involve in an MSP and in what way. It should provide a foundation and plan for participation throughout the MSP making it easier for stakeholders to engage, be respected, and learn from each other.

MSP drivers – that is, the convenors, or steering group – must agree on criteria for determining stakeholders. For many MSPs, the 4Rs are a useful starting point. What are the benefits and who may be involved in reaping a reward or bearing a cost? What are the risks and who are the voluntary or involuntary risk bearers? Who has or may claim a right to be involved, recognizing that some will always say their ‘right to participate’ is greater than others? Who has a responsibility to be involved – legal or perhaps because of ‘civic duty’ – given the insights they possess and may be able to contribute?

List all the people and organizations that might fit the criteria. The list may need to be revisited several times to ensure that all key groups and people are given the opportunity to engage, either directly or via representatives. Allowing stakeholders to self-nominate can also ensure that those with an interest are not excluded. Decisions need to be taken on how best to involve people. It is sensible to hear from all parties likely to be interested in the MSP so as to hear how they think they can be optimally involved in different ways.

Various tools can be used to learn about stakeholders and their relationships, such as: brainstorming, actor mapping, interviews with key informants or producing ‘rich pictures’ with focus groups.

It can be helpful to make a stakeholder matrix with the stakeholders along one axis and 4Rs criteria along the other (see Table 3.1). In complex situations, it is often the case that there are contesting views. It can help to use the 4Rs to research the roles of different stakeholders in the MSP key issues.

Cross-checking with different people can lessen the risk of oversights or bias. If not too provocative, it can also be useful to prepare preliminary summaries of the influence and authority of different actors. Recognizing the dynamism of actor relationships, it can also help to use the 4Rs to reflect on the power (influence and/or authority of different stakeholders).

Photo 3.1 Dams and Development Dialogue meeting (Nepal).

Table 3.1: Stakeholder analysis using the 4Rs in a hypothetical water project

3.4.3 Social contract between participants

The social contract is a summary of the rules of engagement in the MSP. A social contract36 needs to be established between the convenors and all stakeholder representatives, which requires reaching some workable agreement on purpose, scope, political space, resources, time and process so that participants in an MSP understand the roles and responsibilities of all.

Social contracts – which are also usually negotiated – should make the ‘participation promise’ clear, to lessen the chance of a mismatch between reality and expectations. For example, are stakeholder representatives being invited to:

The social contract needs to be unambiguous and documented, such as for the global Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Forum (see Case 3.5).


Case 3.5: The ‘social contract’ of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Forum

In 2004, the International Hydropower Association (IHA) adopted Sustainability Guidelines, followed in 2006 by the adoption of a Sustainability Assessment Protocol (SAP). During 2008–2009, the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Forum (HSAF)37 examined whether it is possible to establish a broadly endorsed sustainability assessment tool to measure and guide performance in the hydropower sector, based on the IHA's SAP. The HSAF included on-ground assessments and meetings in USA, Zambia, China, Brazil, Iceland and Turkey. In August 2009 it released its draft Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol (HSAP).

The Forum membership included representatives of developed and developing countries involved in hydropower as well as from the NGO, finance and industry sectors. At the beginning of the Forum, participants signed a Memorandum of Understanding and agreed to detailed ‘Communications and Operating Procedures’ including, for example, that:


3.4.4 Comprehensive assessments

There are many deliberation-support tools that can be helpful when negotiating water-related resource use and further development. It is axiomatic that MSPs should strive to ensure a comprehensive, meaning ‘sufficiently thorough’, assessment of issues, informed by all stakeholders, and ultimately of use to them all. There is now extensive experience in undertaking MSPs that have a substantial knowledge-assembly, contesting and building component.

Case 3.6: Civil society-led dialogue assessing river-linking schemes in India

River diversions and basin transfers are some of the most contested water issues globally. India's mega Interlinking of Rivers (ILR) project has proposed to provide 173 billion m3 of water to irrigate 37 million hectares through 31 links in Himalayan and peninsula rivers and associated large dams, reservoirs and canals.

Proponents argue the merits of diverting water from ‘surplus’ rivers to ‘deficit’ rivers to increase irrigation and thereby food grain production, mitigate floods and droughts, and reduce regional imbalance in the availability of water. Critics cite the negative ecological, economic and social costs, and argue for more effective ways to address food security.

A coalition of civil society groups, led by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), initiated an MSP in 2003 to comprehensively assess the benefits and risks of the project, and explore alternatives to river linking. An initial working group, including civil society, government representatives, political leaders and media, spent eight months negotiating the set-up of the forum, and especially its members. The resulting ‘National Civil Society Committee’ (NCSC) was comprised of eminent persons representing diverse views. The NCSC was expected to: generate public debate; facilitate and improve information sharing between civil society and government; make available past knowledge and experience; and generate new knowledge about the project through independent studies.

The NCSC successfully raised public debate on the issue and influenced government to rethink its procedures and actions. Although the establishment of the forum took longer than anticipated, the credibility and legitimacy of the process was largely due to the diversity of perspectives represented and the comprehensiveness of the analysis.38

3.4.5 Scenarios

Scenarios are stories that outline possible futures. For complex situations with associated uncertainty, scenario building in an MSP can help all participants think laterally and learn about each others' different interests, values, priorities, assumptions, constraints and options.

Scenario analysis has a history going back to the 1960s in the military and business. In recent times, as both the pace of change and uncertainty has increased, there has been renewed interest in scenario analysis and planning.

The basic principle of scenario planning is to try and understand plausible future trends to help make strategic decisions based on an analysis of the possible consequences. Some form of scenario analysis is highly relevant to many MSPs (see Box 3.2).

Scenarios are an interpretation of the present as well as an image of a possible future. Qualitative scenario storylines should be internally consistent and describe paths from the present to the possible futures. Where data exists, quantitative modelling is a way of making scenarios more explanatory and coherent by making important connections more explicit.


Box 3.2: Steps used in scenario building

Step 1: Identify driving forces – from whatever source: politics, economics, social or ecological change, technical breakthroughs etc.
Step 2: Identify predetermined factors – assessing what is inevitable about the future.
Step 3: Identify critical uncertainties – assessing those areas where the future is uncertain, which can be prioritized according to importance and degree of uncertainty.
Step 4: Develop scenario storylines – a series of plausible alternative futures.
Step 5: Assess the implication of different scenarios – for the issue(s), organization(s), place(s) or sector(s) of concern.
Step 6: Identify and use indicators – to enable continual reassessment and adaptation.

Formats and settings can be experimented with creatively. The Georgia Basin Futures Project, for example, drew on expert knowledge and community inputs to build tools and a game for exploring what-if-type scenarios for a basin on the west coast of Canada. Visioning is commonly used in scenario building and decision making, for example by policy makers and youth in Europe,39 and for much longer by indigenous people grappling with water sharing in the High Atlas mountains and Negev desert.

Role-playing games can also help stakeholders explore each others' perspectives on water management options. Case 3.7 introduces Companion Modelling, which combines role-playing games with computerized modelling to explore scenarios.


Case 3.7: Companion Modelling

Companion Modelling combines role-playing games with computer model simulations to facilitate shared learning and explore scenarios in order to assist with collective decision making.

The approach has been successfully applied to resolve conflict amongst villagers on water allocation for rice irrigation in Bhutan and Thailand. Farmers in the Lingmutey Chu watershed in Bhutan played several sessions of the game to see the outcomes of various water-sharing strategies when applied both within their village and also in a collective approach between villages. Role swapping was particularly effective in building common understanding amongst participants of the situations of other parties.

The computerized multi-agent model allows rapid simulation of a more comprehensive set of scenarios of water-sharing rules. It examines the interactions among different actors (or ‘agents’) and between these actors and the common resource to be shared. Researchers and participants can discuss the outcomes of the scenarios, and adapt the model so that scenarios genuinely reflect the on-the-ground situation.

Participants initially engaged in the games as an exercise, but soon realized the power of the tools for joint analysis of complex issues. Plenary discussions amidst the gaming sessions took the deliberations from simulation to reality. Villagers in Bhutan concluded their sessions with a formal agreement on how to allocate water more fairly, including the creation of a water management committee and steps to develop rules and procedures.40

Case 3.8: Scenarios in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA)41 assessed the consequences of ecosystem change for human wellbeing. From 2001–2005, the MA involved the work of more than 1,360 experts worldwide. Their findings provide a state-of-the-art scientific appraisal of the condition and trends in the world's ecosystems and the services they provide, as well as the scientific basis for action to conserve and use them sustainably.

The MA Scenarios Working Group considered scenario development as a tool to explore possibilities for the future that cannot be predicted by extrapolation of past and current trends.

The MA considered the possible evolution of ecosystem services during the 21st century by developing four global scenarios exploring plausible future changes in drivers, ecosystems, ecosystem services, and human wellbeing:

Wetlands and water was a key part of the MA analysis, and many evidence-based key messages were distilled for policy makers. For example, noting and exploring the policy decisions that have to be made involving trade-offs between agricultural production and water quality, land use and biodiversity, water use and aquatic biodiversity, and current water use for irrigation and future agriculture production.

3.4.6 Selective use of tools

There are many tools to support water negotiations, including the previously introduced stakeholder analysis, comprehensive assessments and scenarios. Other tools are explored in companion books to NEGOTIATE, such as FLOW, PAY, SHARE and RULE.42

FLOW introduces the user to the essentials of environmental flows. Implementing ‘environmental flows’ requires establishing water flow regimes which recognize ecosystem needs whilst trying to satisfy social and economic demands (see Case 3.9). FLOW explores how societies define flow requirements, modifications that might be necessary to infrastructure design and operation, finance and incentives, policy and legal frameworks, and the necessity to generate and maintain political momentum. Environmental flows work requires the integration of a range of disciplines including engineering, law, ecology, economy, hydrology, political science and communication. An MSP approach is very suitable for informing the negotiations and decision making about how humans interfere with natural flow regimes.

Case 3.9: Negotiating environmental flows in the Senegal River Basin

Transboundary cooperation in the Senegal River Basin is led by OMVS (The Senegal River Basin Development Organization) which provides a forum for joint efforts by Mali, Mauritania and Senegal (and recently, upstream Guinea) to respond to development challenges while operationalizing integrated water resource management.

In 2002, the OMVS member countries adopted the first-ever River Basin Water Charter in sub-Saharan Africa, which was preceded in 2000 by the establishment of an Observatory of the Environment responsible for monitoring the state of the environment in the basin and impacts of development interventions. The Charter and Observatory were the culmination of a two-decade-long process marked by studies and debates on optimal ways of managing the river waters and investing in major water infrastructure projects.

The objective of the Charter is to provide for efficient allocation of the waters of the Senegal River among many different sectors, such as domestic uses, urban and rural water supply, irrigation and agriculture, hydropower production, navigation, fisheries, while paying attention to minimum stream flows and other environmental matters. It also establishes a process for approving new projects that may have significant impacts on those sectors, based on the provision of information to, and consultation with, all riparian stakeholders including local users.

The Charter drew on comprehensive analysis of the effects of the Diama and Manantali dams and exploration of alternatives to their current operation. The studies revealed the considerable and diverse benefits of the natural flood system – in terms of wetlands, fisheries, agriculture, livestock, forestry and groundwater recharge – benefits which needed to be factored into the operation of the dams and in planning of future development interventions. This was particularly essential since the majority of those affected rely heavily on the exploitation of water-dependent natural resources (traditional agriculture, fisheries, livestock, and exploitation of forest and wetland products).

As a result, the Water Charter includes specific provisions for the release of water from the dams to help restore the floodplains and generate an annual flood, thereby recognizing the value of the floodplain ecosystem and traditional livelihood strategies.43


3.4.7 Action recommendations

MSP content must provide action recommendations. There is no need to manufacture consensus if it cannot be reached, but workable recommendations for forward action must be sought, otherwise the MSP might end up being nothing more than an interesting discussion. If empowered to do so, the MSP might also take and implement decisions, but this is dependent on the extent of the mandate.

The World Commission on Dams (WCD) (see Case 3.10) is an example of an MSP that provided extensive action recommendations, without claiming decision-making authority.

Case 3.10: World Commission on Dams

Don't plan, build, protest, operate, decommission, propose, oppose or discuss a dam without it! By 2000, the world had built 45,000 large dams to irrigate a third of all crops, generate a fifth of all power, control floods in wet times and store water in dry times. Yet, in the last century, large dams also disrupted the ecology of over half the world's rivers, displaced over 40 million people from their homes and left nations burdened with debt (Earthscan advertizing material promoting the WCD report)

The World Commission on Dams (WCD) was a high-profile MSP which emerged from increasing public criticism of large dams. It aimed to undertake a rigorous, independent review of the development effectiveness of large dams, to assess alternatives and propose practical guidelines for future decision making. The WCD attempted to conduct an ideal, deliberative multi-stakeholder learning process. Government participated, but with the same standing as civil society. There were many actors involved at the local, regional and international level – dam ‘practitioners’, economists, sociologists, ecologists, political scientists and the media. The process received enormous publicity and international recognition. In its own words it ‘provided a unique arena for understanding complex choices facing societies in meeting their water and energy needs’.

The WCD commissioners produced a ‘consensus’ report, an informed and negotiated contribution, which was launched in a blaze of publicity in 2000, evoking a range of responses.44 The ‘WCD decision-making framework’ has since been evaluated for use as both an implementation and advocacy tool. It is complex. The framework includes three grounding global norms, five core values, five key decision points, seven strategic priorities, 33 associated policy principles, and 26 guidelines. The task of trying to figure out how to combine these pieces of advice remains a challenge for post-WCD activity.

Following the release of the WCD report, there were numerous follow-up activities, including MSPs, undertaken around the world. The Dams and Development Dialogue in Nepal45 is just one example where diverse stakeholders assembled and persisted over several years to explore sensitive large dam issues in the Nepal context.

3.5 Outcomes and impact

There is a suite of desirable outcomes possible from MSPs that successfully manage to read and respond to the context, establish a fair and safe process, and generally display the desirable characteristics outlined in the preceding sections.

In some places, the MSP approach has already become routine behaviour, but in other places an MSP is a new possibility. In an example from Peru, it is claimed that an MSP has provided a positive and ‘unprecedented’ experience: ‘The multi-stakeholder platform is an unprecedented mechanism in the country. Throughout its history, Peru has developed a culture based on confrontation rather than one based on negotiation. Therefore, experiences such as that of Yakunchik imply ‘learning to negotiate’ after a long tradition of domination, submission and violence’. (The MSP ‘Yakunchik’, after the Quecha word for ‘our water’, was established at the end of 1998 in the central highlands of Peru). It was further claimed that: ‘As a result of the platform’s initiatives, irrigation has been placed on the regional agenda, and has led to the discussion of other issues such as the rural-urban relationship, conflict negotiation, organizational and institutional water management-related problems, and rural development. In other words, the platform is contributing not only to the development of a new social fabric, but also to activating the agenda of regional development’.

There is no attempt here to claim that all MSP experiences have been positive, but lessons have been learned, and there is sufficient evidence from around the world to conclude the following:

MSPs can be a valuable, collaborative addition to water governance when the issues are complex. It needs to be stressed that MSPs are a complement to other forms of governing, not a replacement, and not a panacea. There is potential for their wider use.

Establishing the link between the policy-informing and decision-searching processes of an MSP, and policy making and decision taking, remains a skilled task. However, by favouring deliberation, MSPs can give people of goodwill a better chance to constructively influence decisions that affect their lives.

Chapter 4 provides guidance on consensus building, an elusive but key element of MSPs. The construction and operation of MSPs, and the pursuit of consensus building, are central pillars of constructive engagement, improving negotiations, and a move towards fairer, more effective water governance.


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