Civil society organisations (B3.03)


Appropriately organised, the public can become a central partner in IWRM. Civil society organizations (CSOs) are effective channels as to ensure that the needs of the population are transmitted to other involved parties, especially to the government, and vice-versa. This two-way communication promotes better coordination not only at the planning phase but also at the implementation and management stages of water related projects and programmes. Hence, government institutions should enable and enhance the active participation of the public – as water users, as voters, as tax/charge payers, but also as providers of labour for water services.

For people to influence the overall decision-making process or to directly perform management tasks, they need to be organised, e.g. in Water Users' Associations (WUAs) or non-governmental organizations. Other groupings include consultative groups, community groups and lobby groups. Initially, their sustainability may well require external financial and structural support, e.g. to cover travelling costs, set-up a secretariat or finance external expertise. External funding is especially needed in the early stages of their establishment, however, CSOs should rather aim for financial self-sustainability in the long run. Unfortunately, these groups tend to continue to rely on grants and often times end up dissolving when external funding dries out.

CSOs are usually small and deal with only one or a few aspects of water management. To ensure an integrated approach, they must form an integral part of the broader institutional arrangements. This is especially so in large and complex water systems with many geographical and cross-sectoral interdependencies. In such cases, WUAs may form an "association of associations". CSOs are good brokers of knowledge under the condition that they are able to translate research into key messages and do raising awareness campaigns.

It is important to keep in mind that the level of participation depends on the context. Effective communication with stakeholder should take the local power dynamics. The process should not be hijacked by the "loud voices" but also take into account those individuals and groups that are marginalized. In that way, participatory management and coordination has been shown to be most successful if the public at large is involved enough to be aware of the general goals and needs. Therefore, individuals and civil groups need information, skills and water awareness.

Participatory management can be helpful in almost all efforts to implement IWRM, particularly in cases of competing use or geographic disputes. Stakeholders and interest groups may need formal training in some activities – for example in managing a community based system, or in measuring and monitoring water use in participatory irrigation approaches. They also need support in the form of access to information and technical knowledge.

Lessons learned

  • For coordination to be effective, CSOs should be involved across all stages (e.g. planning, implementation, management, information sharing).
  • External funding and structural support can be essential for ensuring balanced public participation in which also the less affluent groups contribute to decision-making. However, sustainability and effectiveness ultimately depends on financial self-reliance.
  • To broaden their influence CSOs can form "association of associations".
  • Public participation needs to be carefully managed to avoid capture by minority or particularly articulate groups. Where this happens decision-making becomes overly influenced by groups with limited legitimacy, insofar as a genuine public-government coordination can be lost.
  • The CSOs ability to coordinate and facilitate is contingent on the existence of an agreed set of rules as well as reliable mechanisms to enforce such rules and settle disputes. Support may be needed here.