Communication (C5)

What differentiates IWRM from traditional water management approaches is the idea that water security can only be reached if different sectors that use water resources share information and collaborate on management issues. Another major difference is the meaningful involvement of stakeholders in the decision-making and implementation process. Both of these are impossible to achieve without communication. But the more diverse the actors are, the more likely they are to misunderstand each other or to pursue different kinds of interests, and the more communication specifically for conflictive situations might be needed. Communication is fundamental to any kind of success in IWRM.

Ideally all parties involved will make an effort to maintain effective communication in relation to water management, however certain parties have a particular obligation to communicate. Any person or group that holds authority or decision-making power must communicate their legitimacy and their reasoning regarding water management decisions. Communication is a particular obligation of the government, or whatever group is initiating the water management project, and any businesses that are being contracted to implement a project (e.g. large infrastructure by an engineering firm) should be legally required to communicate the original project, the progress, and any changes or developments during implementation to stakeholders.

Targets for communication in IWRM can include political leaders, policy makers, companies, water users, and the public. Their input and expertise is needed in order to compile and evaluate data, identify specific problems and their causes, set up monitoring networks, and to design and implement plans. In order to direct this process in the most efficient manner, communication is essential. It is also a prerequisite for any kind of coordination action, for identifying allies and for settling political disagreements.

Communication means exchanging information. It is very much a two-way street and feedback processes should be put in place that allow for a meaningful back-and-forth between parties instead of merely providing information. The very first step towards this is to identify communication partners, via Stakeholder Analysis (C3.02) and to establish platforms for, or channels of, communication. The section on Communication Channels (C5.01) provides information on that. It proposes a variety of channels that can be used to engage stakeholders in the water sector and outside of it, and lays out a set of principles that helps to communicate effectively.

If communication is aimed at providing information, it is important to remember who the target audience is and to tailor information accordingly, so that the audience hears things that are relevant for and accessible to them. This way, a meaningful dialogue can take place and information can be applied later on. Keeping the message clear and concise while still covering all major points serves the same purpose. When imparting information, it is important to have thorough knowledge on the issue itself and surrounding issues, and to be able to illustrate talking points and arguments with examples.

However, communication also means entering into conversations about ideas, attitudes, or beliefs. This is especially important in IWRM planning and implementation where conflicts are often centred on different priorities or visions. Communication in this case serves to explain these differing ideas to the respective other groups and to look for common denominators. This way, it helps to avoid conflict and to overcome conflictive situations once they have been established.

Consensus Building (C5.02) is a technique that relies heavily on communication in order to resolve a difference of opinion before it can become a full-fledged conflict. Once that stage has been reached, Conflict Management (C5.03) lays out strategies to deal with the situation and reach a compromise between the different parties.