How can process contribute to long-term management of conflict?

One way process can mitigate conflict over water is by increasing and sustaining institutional capacity in the basin.11 Aaron Wolf, Shira Yoffe, and Mark Giordano found that the best indicator of potential

Development of shared waters agreements 97 conflict in international rivers was the institutional capacity of the basin, or its ability to absorb the change (be it geopolitical, socioeconomic, or biophysical) occurring within the basin.12 In that study and others, institutional capacity was measured as the presence/absence of a treaty/agreement between riparian nations or the presence of a river basin organization.13 However, from the experience in some basins, it is evident that merely the presence of an agreement or basin-wide organization does not ensure successful cooperation.14 Therefore, it is important to explore the characteristics of sustainable institutions15 and how to incorporate them into the creation of an institution during a decision-making or other process.

The current understanding of sustainable institutions indicates that such institutions typically have one or more of the following characteristics: (1) strong leadership, (2) information sharing and learning, (3) trust, (4) flexibility, (5) accountability, (6) a balanced approach in dealing with issues of sovereignty, (7) fair representation, and (8) adequate resourcing (see Table 4.2). These characteristics are interrelated. Information sharing and joint learning can build trust, as can accountability measures. Fair representation and efforts to balance sovereignty incorporate aspects of accountability while respecting various authorities and legal realities.

Table 4.2 Characteristics of sustainable institutions

Leadership - A person or an organization pushes the institution to achieve its vision by sustaining momentum and keeping the support of various parties and funding sources.1

Information sharing and learning (e.g., social learning) - A commitment to share data and information in order to foster shared learning and understanding.2

Trust - The institution needs to be trusted to reduce pushback on its proposals/efforts. Those within the institution also need to trust one another to stay actively involved.3

Flexibility (adaptability) - Ability to adapt to new political or scientific realities or information such as changes in political leaders, shifting political ideologies, or a new understanding of ecosystem linkages.4

Accountability - The institution is held accountable by its constituency, and members/participants within the institution are also held accountable for their commitments and as such this increases an institution’s legitimacy.5

Balanced approach to sovereignty - When dealing with multiple scales of governance (e.g., federal, state, local) institutions balance power and respect sovereignty.6

Fair representation - Those interested in or affected by the issue are represented within the institution or have other meaningful avenues for input. This may include sovereigns, stakeholder groups, and the public.7


98 Kim Ogren and Aaron T. Wolf

Adequate resourcing - A twofold issue, the institution requires resources (e.g., funding) itself to continue functioning but also ensuring others have resources to stay involved (e.g., lowering transaction costs for participants).8

Source: Ogren and Wolf.

  • 1 Andrea Gerlak and Tanya Heikkila, “Collaboration and Institutional Endurance in US Water Policy,” Political Science <8 Politics 40, no. I (2007): 55-60; and Per Olsson. Carl Folke, and Fikret Berkes, "Adaptive Comanagement for Building Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems,” Environmental Management 34, no. 1 (2004): 75-90.
  • 2 Browning-Aiken and Morehouse, "Social-Ecological Resilience of Transboundary Watershed Management"; Barbara Cosens, “Transboundary River Governance in the Face of Uncertainty: Resilience Theory and the Columbia River Treaty,” Journal of Land. Resources <8 Environmental Law 30, no. 2 (2010): 229-265; Gerlak and Heikkila, "Collaboration and Institutional Endurance in US Water Policy”; Claudia Pahl-Wostl, “A Conceptual Framework for Analysing Adaptive Capacity and Multi-Level Learning Processes in Resource Governance Regimes,” Global Environmental Change 19, no. 3 (2009): 354-365; and John T. Scholz and Bruce Stiftel, eds., Adaptive Governance and Water Conflict: New Institutions for Collaborative Planning (Washington, DC: Resources for the Future, 2005).
  • 3 Gerlak and Heikkila, "Collaboration and Institutional Endurance in US Water Policy"; and Olsson. Folke, and Berkes, “Adaptive Comanagement for Building Resilience."
  • 4 Jordan and Wolf, eds., Interstate Water Allocation in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia', and Lynn Mandarano, Jeffrey P. Featherstone, and Kurt Paulsen, “Institutions for Interstate Water Resources Management,” Journal of the American Water Resources Association 44, no.l (2008): 136-147.
  • 5 Lebel et al.. “Governance and the Capacity to Manage Resilience”: 19; and Per Olsson et al.. "Shooting the Rapids: Navigating Transitions to Adaptive Governance of Social-Ecological Systems," Ecology and Society 11. no. 1 (2006): 18.
  • 6 Mandarano, Featherstone, and Paulsen, "Institutions for Interstate Water Resources Management.”
  • 7 Cosens, “Transboundary River Governance in the Face of Uncertainty”; Scott Hardy and Tomas Koontz, "Rules for Collaboration: Institutional Analysis of Group Membership and Levels of Action in Watershed Partnerships," Policy Studies Journal 37, no. 3 (2009): 393-414; Huitema et al., "Adaptive Water Governance,” 26; Lebel et al., “Governance and the Capacity to Manage Resilience,” 19; and Stephen Leitman, "Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Basin: Tri-State Negotiations of a Water Allocation Formula," in Adaptive Governance and Water Conflict: New Institutions for Collaborative Planning, ed. Scholz and Stiftel. 74-88.
  • 8 William Blomquist, Tanya Heikkila, and Edella Schlager, “Building the Agenda for Institutional Research in Water Resource Management,” Journal of the American Water Resources Association 40, no. 4 (2004): 925-936; and Huitema et al., “Adaptive Water Governance,” 26.

External factors can also contribute to or work against the endurance of an institution. External factors that bolster an institution can include crises that remind participants why it is important to stay engaged16 and a diverse set of other institutions contributing to polycentricity within a basin.1' Other factors may cause an institution to collapse. Table 4.3 presents a number of potential biophysical.

Table 4.3 Stressors to institutions

Stressor type


Characteristics for resilience


  • • Extreme events (e.g., floods and droughts)
  • • New information or data about the biophysical system
  • • Adaptive management
  • • Information sharing


  • • Elections (turnover of elected officials)
  • • Demographic shifts
  • • New lawsuits filed
  • • Trust
  • • Social learning
  • • Flexibility/adaptability


  • • Economic recessions
  • • Variable funding stream
  • • Reduce transaction costs
  • • Flexibility/adaptability

Source: Ogren and Wolf.

geopolitical, and socioeconomic stressors an institution may face and what characteristics may enable the institutions to withstand the stress.

One way we use the process to create strong or resilient institutions is through broader (often public) participation in a process. The popularity of public participation and collaboration in water management has increased over the past couple of decades.18 This is due in part to the fact that participatory processes are regarded as one way to increase the sustainability of an institution.19 A participatory process may be used to create the institution, or the institution may use a participatory process as it carries out its mission. In Table 4.4, we summarize our observations of how participatory processes contribute to sustainable institutions, highlighting some of the critical aspects of good public participation processes.

Several frameworks identify different structures for different degrees of public participation (see Table 4.5). To recap the benefits of participation, such as reducing resistance to implementation of decisions,20 participation must be meaningful.21 In their framework for meaningful participation in environmental assessments, Jennifer Stewart and A. John Sinclair22 identify several metrics for participatory processes: (1) integrity and accountability, (2) influence (participants can affect outcomes), (3) fair notice and time, (4) inclusiveness and adequate representation, (5) fair and open dialogue, (6) multiple and appropriate methods, (7) adequate and accessible information, and (8) informed participation.

Table 4.4 How a participatory process can contribute to sustainable institutions


Potential contribution of participatory processes


Local leaders can help champion the institution and its cause.

Information sharing and learning

Participation provides a venue for bi-directional information sharing and an opportunity to educate participants.


Trust can be increased through positive interactions in the participatory process. Through engagement stakeholders and sovereigns build trust in each other.



Involvement of a variety of interested and affected parties early on may mean the institution is able to more readily adapt to changes since (1) it will ideally already have all political interests represented and (2) with broader involvement of groups the expertise involved in the creation of institution is greater and may better anticipate potential stressors.


Those involved in the participatory process can help hold the institution accountable for its commitments and may view the institutions and its decisions as more legitimate as a result of their involvement.

Balanced approach to sovereignty

With a variety of sovereigns involved in a process, decision makers at different scales are present and can use their respective authorities as appropriate.

Fair representation

Participation provides a venue for fair representation if structured appropriately.

Adequate resourcing

Increased buy-in due to participation may result in increased access to funds or the political support to lobby for funds.

Source: Ogren and Wolf.

Jennifer Shirk et al.23 suggest that when designing a participatory process attention must be paid to the degree and quality of participation. Quality of participation refers to the extent to which a process’ goals and efforts align with, respond to, and are pertinent to the needs and interests of participants and involves issues of credibility and trust, fairness, responsiveness, relevance, and agency.24 Degree of participation refers to the duration of involvement, level of research effort, number and diversity of participants, depth of involvement, and power (the ability to influence the outcomes of a process).

Table 4.5 Levels of public participation


Levels or types of participation

Ladder of citizen participation1

  • Citizen control
  • Delegated power
  • Partnership
  • Placation
  • Consultation
  • Informing
  • Therapy
  • Manipulation

A new ladder of citizen participation2

  • Resolution/prevention
  • Litigation
  • Mediation
  • Joint planning
  • Consultation
  • Information-feedback
  • Education

Levels of


  • Partnership/ community control
  • Management boards
  • Advisory committees
  • Communication
  • Cooperation
  • Consultation
  • Informing

Public participation spectrum4

  • Empower
  • Collaborate
  • Involve
  • Consult
  • Inform

Five models for different degrees of participation’

  • Contractual projects
  • Contributory projects
  • Collaborative projects
  • Co-created projects
  • Collegial contributions

Source: Sherry R. Arnstein, “A Ladder of Citizen Participation," Journal of the American Institute of Planners 35, no. 4 (1969): 216; Fikret Berkes, “Co-Management: Bridging the Two Solitudes,” Northern Perspectives 22. nos. 2-3 (1994): 18-20; Desmond M. Connor, “A New Ladder of Citizen Participation,” National Civic Review 77. no. 3 (1988): 248-257; International Association for Public Participation, “IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation," Spectrum.pdf; and Jennifer L. Shirk et al.. "Public Participation in Scientific Research: A Framework for Deliberate Design,” Ecology and Society 17, no. 2(2012): 29-48.

  • 1 Arnstein. “A Ladder of Citizen Participation.”
  • 2 Connor. “A New Ladder of Citizen Participation.”
  • 3 Berkes, “Co-Management.”
  • 4 International Association for Public Participation, "IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation.”
  • 5 Shirk et al.. “Public Participation in Scientific Research.”

In order to determine the appropriate structure of a participatory process, one should answer a number of questions, namely: (1) who should be included? (2) why are they involved? (3) what should that involvement consist of? (4) when should involvement occur? and (5) how can you ensure the form participation fits the specific situation at hand? Pulling from the experience of practitioners and scholars, the National Academy of Sciences published a comprehensive report which addresses when government agencies should pursue public participation and what to consider when answering the questions above.25 The report authors highlight the need to: (1) consider the context (no two situations are identical); (2) ensure transparency, information sharing, and good communication; (3) identify and address the problem in a meaningful manner; and (4) allow for iteration to incorporate new information and promote adaptability.

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