Transformative Practice

A Negotiated Approach for Inclusive Water Governance

A Negotiated Approach envisages the meaningful and long-term participation of communities in all aspects of managing the water and other natural resources on which their lives depend. It seeks to achieve healthy ecosystems and equitable sharing of benefits among all stakeholders within a river basin. This inclusive way of working is an essential precondition for the Transformative Practices that are promoted by Both ENDS and partners.

Water governance is everybody's business

The world is facing multiple water crises. Billions of people are being affected by water scarcity, pollution and floods. Solutions tend to only focus on technical and managerial aspects. However, fundamental governance gaps remain, as local to global power dynamics that created these problems are rarely addressed.

Sustainable solutions in the long run can only be achieved if unequal power relations are adequately addressed. Therefore, Both ENDS and civil society partners support and promote initiatives towards sustainable and just governance of water resources, while also challenging conventional approaches that tend to exclude typically marginalised groups in society.

A Negotiated Approach

Water is a human right, a social good and a common-pool resource. As water is a vital source of life that speaks to every member of society, it is crucial to ensure that water related decision-making processes are transparent, inclusive and gender-responsive. A Negotiated Approach works towards creating and maintaining a level playing field for a collective planning process that seeks to achieve environmental sustainability and equitable sharing of benefits.

Creating political space for local actors

Access to water and land is particularly essential for rural communities; smallholder producers, pastoralists, peasants, fisher folks, and indigenous people often depend directly on these resources for their livelihoods. Yet, local communities often face insecure access to fishing grounds, clean drinking water, and fertile lands.

More often than not, the management of natural resources is done in an exclusive and top-down manner in which local communities are rarely actively involved in planning and decision-making. This results in policies which do not reflect and often conflict with the rights, needs, and realities of local communities.

Contrary to top-down interventions, a Negotiated Approach creates structural political space in which local people acquire a long-term negotiating position over the planning and management of water and other natural resources.

Negotiation: meaningful participation

A 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. Going beyond merely creating a multi-stakeholder dialogue, a Negotiated Approach creates opportunities for local actors to actively develop, propose and negotiate policy measures, based on their own local knowledge, needs, aspirations, and environmental realities. This approach is fundamentally different to most conventional participatory processes in which local groups are often consulted and invited to react to already developed plans by 'experts' or policy makers.

A Negotiated Approach prioritises capacity building of local stakeholders so they can engage effectively in negotiations with policy makers and have a stronger position in the negotiation process, creating a level playing field. Furthermore, the approach ensures that local communities are well prepared to meaningfully participate in the whole negotiation process. This may include 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 strategic platforms for negotiation.

A long history: Both ENDS and a Negotiated Approach

Both ENDS maintains a long track record of partnerships for inclusive water governance, dating back to the late 1990s. A Negotiated Approach to Inclusive Water Governance was developed in the field through the efforts of community based organisations and NGOs in various parts of the world. 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. Their location-specific approaches to inclusive water governance have been a response to top-down approaches and the lack of attention to local communities' needs, knowledge, and environmental realities. Using their projects as example, the organisations worked together to develop a Negotiated Approach. The outcome 'River Basin Management: A Negotiated Approach' was published by Both ENDS in 2005, and 'Involving Communities' was published in 2011 in close collaboration with Indian partner organization Gomukh.

Since then, Both ENDS and partners have used a Negotiated Approach in many river basins around the world. By adopting a Negotiated Approach, we can work towards achieving inclusive water governance in which local communities can play a meaningful role in the sustainable management of water and other natural resources.

More information:

Video 'Getting control over natural resources: the Negotiated Approach


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