In a world in which water is increasingly too little, too much, or too polluted to meet our needs, water stewardship initiatives may be part of the solution to managing water better. Such initiatives bring together a range of players to form collective action partnerships to address linked water risks. Typically, these multi-stakeholder partnerships include representatives of the private sector, government and affected communities, and they address water risks within a designated catchment area.
Like all partnerships, water stewardship initiatives stand or fall on the level of trust between the partners who may have ideological differences, strongly held views, or a long history of mutual distrust.
Over the years, a number of frameworks for designing and managing water stewardship initiatives have emerged. Applied correctly, they can help build trust between stakeholders. But they will only be truly effective if integrity is built in as a guiding principle.
What defines effective water stewardship?
A water stewardship intiative will be seen as effective when the majority of stakeholders feel that the initiative has addressed their needs. This might be improved access to water for downstream communities; the social license to operate, improved reliability of access to water, and reduced reputation and regulatory risks for the private sector; and the achievement of environmental protection and/or restoration programmes.
Getting to this point and demonstrating effectiveness requires strong foundations:
- Trustworthy, credible, and accountable participants;
- Clear objectives and demonstrable outcomes that advance sustainable and equitable water management; and
- Inclusive, transparent, and responsive processes and governance that lead to informed and balanced decision-making, and clear communication and disclosure.
These are three dimensions of integrity that have been presented in The Guide for Managing Integrity in Water Stewardship Initiatives developed by WIN, the CEO Water Mandate and the Pacific Institute in 2015. The guide also includes descriptions of practical tools to build up each of these dimensions.
The power and challenges of collective action
In 1997, Davis, Schoorman and Donaldson set out a Stewardship Theory which described the potential of multi-stakeholder collective action in addressing water security challenges, as a response to the more individualistic approaches usually in play. Stewardship Theory assumes that stewards are “motivated to act in the best interests of their principals” and to prioritize “pro-organizational, collectivistic behaviours”. This motivation towards a collective approach for managing water assumes that trust can be built between the relevant stakeholders.
The challenge is how to build trust between stakeholders who have not historically worked together, or worse, may have had fractious relationships in the past, and where there are significant imbalances in power between the different partners.
This is complicated by the fact that water stewardship initiatives are generally run on a voluntary basis without any legally binding agreements being in place. In the absence of being able to hold stakeholders accountable by legal means for their pledged cash and/or in-kind contributions, a change in mindset is required. Stakeholders need to take a leap of faith when engaging in a water stewardship partnership, trusting that other stakeholders genuinely want to contribute to finding joint solutions to water risks.
Integrity: a practical approach to build trust
By formally putting integrity measures in place ensuring Transparency, Accountability, Participation, and Anti-corruption for the partnership can ensure partners take the leap of faith from a stronger, and more secure base.
The Guide for Managing Integrity describes various tools that can be used to support the set up and management of water stewardship initiatives with a focus on integrity. Such tools or processes include for example: processes and structures that ensure balanced and participatory decision-making, processes for disclosure of actions and use of funds, as well as mechanisms for open learning. Specific tools such as stakeholder mapping can also be used to ensure that all stakeholders, whether powerful or not, are involved, and to ensure that their legitimate interests and knowledge are taken into consideration.
Lessons learned from case studies
The Lusaka Water Security Initiative (LuWSI) in Zambia, through a stakeholder mapping and engagement process, engaged with over 30 international, local and national public, private, and civil society sector actors working towards water security for the residents and businesses of Lusaka. The Initiative also actively included input from 12 of the city’s most vulnerable wards in terms of socio-economic profile and known water security risks. LuWSI also has partnership work plans with a detailed monitoring and evaluation framework. It publically share information about performance and expenditure and thus has the ability to publicly demonstrate balanced decision-making that seeks public benefit, equity, and sustainability, building trust both within and outside the WSI.
The Foundation Water Fund for Life and Sustainability, a WSI with an environmental and social focus on the sugarcane sector in the upper Cauca River Valley in Colombia, is another good example. Partners commit financial and human resources for joint actions aimed at the protection and conservation of watersheds that drain into the Cauca River, the main water source for sugar production in the area. Projects are designed using local knowledge of communities and indigenous groups. There are also joint project planning and implementation processes, based on agreed objectives and outcomes.
The report Building Effective Water Stewardship Initiatives: The Case for Integrity highlights the most important integrity measures needed in water stewardship initiatives based on lessons from these two cases and others.
Integrity, trust and the way forward.
Integrity in governance of water stewardship initiatives is built on the four pillars of transparency, accountability, participation and anti-corruption measures. High levels of integrity lead to trust building between partners. Greater levels of trust lead to stronger and more sustainable outcomes from water stewardship initiatives. It is a win-win situation.