The Negotiated Approach: inclusive and sustainable water management

The Negotiated Approach is a bottom-up governance method. It gives communities a voice in river management, ensures a fair and sustainable use of water and prevents damage to vulnerable ecosytems.

The Negotiated Approach is an approach towards sustainable water resource management, aimed at enabling local communities to protect their rights and propose and negotiate viable long-term solutions, in order to alleviate poverty and ensure healthy ecosystems.

Negotiated Approach: creating political space for local actors

Access to water and land is essential for the rural poor. Smallholder producers, pastoralists, peasants, fishing folk and indigenous people depend directly on these resources for their livelihoods. However, local communities often have insecure access to fishing grounds, drinking water and fertile lands and these natural resources are often managed in an exclusive and top-down manner. Local communities are rarely involved in planning and decision making and often do not have a seat at the negotiation table or any way to influence policies or planning processes. This results in policies which do not reflect, and often conflict with, the rights, needs and realities of local communities. The Negotiated Approach is an instrument designed to correct this: to create structural political space, in which local people acquire a long-term negotiating position over the planning and management of natural resources, especially water.

Negotiation: more than participation

The Negotiated Approach facilitates local communities and civil society organisations (CSOs) to become full-fledged players in natural resource management at the local and (inter)national levels. The Negotiated Approach goes beyond merely creating a multi-stakeholder dialogue but creates opportunities for local actors to actively develop, propose and negotiate policy and investment measures, based on their own local knowledge, needs and environmental realities. This is fundamentally different to most conventional participatory processes, in which local groups merely have the opportunity to react to strategic plans developed by experts or policy makers.

The Negotiated Approach prioritises building the capacity of local stakeholders so they can engage effectively in negotiations with policy makers and have a stronger position in the negotiation process, creating a (more) level playing field. The Negotiated Approach guarantees that local communities are well prepared and have all tools to be equal participants throughout the whole negotiation process. This includes: gathering data on the physical and biological characteristics of the local environment, understanding the institutional and legal contexts, power mapping, developing negotiation skills and creating, or linking to, strategic platforms for negotiation.

The Negotiated Approach and Both ENDS: a long history

The Negotiated Approach has been developed in the field through the efforts of civil society organizations (CSOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in various parts of the world. It emerged as a response to the business-as usual, top-down processes used by the mainstream establishment, and to the frustrations felt by local communities (and those who work closest with them) that these processes never provided satisfactory or balanced results.

In the late 1990s, Both ENDS and our partner Gomukh Environmental Trust for Sustainable Development, based in India, decided to design an alternative approach to water resources management. We brought together NGOs from various countries (Bangladesh, Bolivia, Cambodia, India, Peru, Thailand, South Africa and Vietnam) that had succeeded in linking local initiatives to higher levels of government. Taking their projects as starting points, the organizations worked together to develop the basics of the Negotiated Approach, using their projects as examples. The outcome was River Basin Management: A Negotiated Approach, which was published by Both ENDS in 2005.

The Negotiated Approach: the proof is in the practice

Since the development of the Negotiated Approach, Both ENDS and our partners have implemented it in many river basins around the world. In 2006, we launched pilot projects in Bolivia, Costa Rica, Indonesia and Peru. In Indonesia this led to the installation of the IndoWater Community of Practice. This network enables local organisations to work together and strengthens each other in their efforts to inclusive and sustainable river basin management.

Our efforts have led to greater recognition of CSO's as important players in the field of water management in many countries. This, in turn, enabled communities to better protect the river so essential for their livelihood.

Since the Negotiated Approach has proven itself in so many different contexts and with so many different positive outcomes, we aim to spread this sustainable practice. There are many more river basins around the world threatened by abuse, mismanagement, pollution, infrastructure projects or large-scale agriculture. By applying the Negotiated Approach we can give local water users a voice in river management and ensure a more sustainable and fair water governance.

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women wash dishes in the river near Cotonou, Benin

women wash dishes in the river near Cotonou, Benin
(women wash dishes in the river near Cotonou, Benin (admin), 15/06/2018)