Identifying and Characterizing Prospective Participants


Collective action, by definition, involves engaging with individuals and organizations external to your company, raising the need to identify with whom you should engage. In the previous section, you articulated the specific water resource management challenges facing your company and a set of potential collective action interventions well-suited to address them. These findings provide you with the baseline information needed to identify the most relevant external parties and the starting point for the conversation you need to have with them. For example, if your water challenge relates to deteriorating source-water quality as a result of poor upstream management practices—with a resulting action-area interest in more sustainable agricultural practices—then key external parties will almost certainly include upstream water users or pollution dischargers, and your interest will be in motivating or enabling them to improve their stewardship of the water resource. Case Example 6, focused on efforts by Anglo American to catalyze water users in order to address water availability in South Africa’s Olifants River region, profiles part of Anglo’s efforts to link a water availability challenge, action area needs, and interested parties.

Elements of Collective Action Preparation

The list below identifies some categories of potentially interested parties (within the context of all external parties) to consider as you explore prospective participants in your engagement.


Categories of Potentially Interested Parties

  • Parties dependent on the shared water resource (e.g., other large-scale commercial, agricultural, or residential water users in the catchment)
  • Governmental organizations charged with setting and implementing the system of governance for the management of the shared water resource
  • NGOs with missions associated with good management of the resource
  • Donors and aid agencies
  • Private or public entities with direct operational responsibility for controlling the quality or quantity of the water resource and providing treatment, distribution, or collection services
  • Research institutions that provide data or analyses on water resource status
  • Equipment and consulting service vendors with expertise in water resource management
  • Community-based organizations with a general interest in the equitable allocation and overall health and sustainability of the resource (e.g., economic development agencies, neighborhood associations)

Linking Water Challenges, Action Areas, and Interested Parties

The Olifants River region in Limpopo, South Africa, is a key strategic area in terms of Anglo American Platinum operations. Present within this catchment are all three of Anglo American’s South African commodity business units: Kumba Iron Ore, Anglo American Thermal Coal, and Anglo American Platinum. Engagement began when it was recognized that this area was a key resource region, and that water availability was a serious constraint to further growth and social development. Anglo American Platinum approached other businesses in the region and established that water was a constraint to them all. As the core risk of water security was not being faced by Anglo American Platinum alone, there was engagement around negating the problem.

The Olifants Water Resources Strategy forum was set up as an open, nonbinding forum for all stakeholders in the region to come together and discuss their water risk concerns. It was believed that by working together, more substantial solutions could be implemented. Key to the success of this process was having a long-term vision and the will to engage with the competition. Beginning the engagement informally was important in establishing where common ground existed, before entering into legal or signed agreements. This informed communication with other water users in the catchment highlighted risk areas that may not have been considered otherwise, and through the sharing of experiences, enabled all parties to get onto the same page.

The main driver of the platform was to identify ways additional water could be brought into the region to support economic growth without jeopardizing the environmental reserve or social needs. Additionally, the communities around the region are impoverished and have little access to water, which is a focus area for the government in addressing the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, and also brings into sharp contrast business and social water needs (in essence, there is a risk of a contravention to the human right to access to water should business needs be met without considering social needs). This posed a potential reputational risk if the mine were to secure further water for future development.

Once concrete action plans had been identified, the group set up the Lebalelo Water Users Association as a legal entity. The users association is set up like a water board and works closely with the DWA. Projects are financed in collaboration with the DWA (50 percent) and the businesses in the region. The agreement states that 50 percent of the water goes to industry, while the other 50 percent goes to the surrounding communities in the catchment for domestic water use. Where set projects have been put in place, these have been done on a commercial basis with reviews every two years. In the long term, forms of collective action such as the forum will exist as long as there is a risk that needs to be mitigated. These longer-term engagements are guided by agreements, while shorter projects are set up as clear contractual agreements.

Ultimately, the Water Users Association has brought together NGOs, government agencies, and society, helping to avoid situations where multiple water users pursue individual water security agendas and solutions that could result in, for example, requests for licenses in an uncoordinated and patchwork manner.


This broad array of potentially interested parties creates an imperative to carefully identify the most critical, legitimate, and relevant parties to engage given your specific water-related challenges and intended action areas. In the absence of careful scrutiny of the interested-party landscape and your options for direct collaborators and general participants, you will run the risk of an overly cumbersome process (all parties engaged with equal intensity), a failure to engage a party of critical importance to addressing your challenges, or a poor choice of partners. You can avoid these pitfalls by addressing, at least on an informal basis, the following questions:

  • Who has what type of interest in your challenges and planned action areas?
  • Who can best help address your challenges as a partner?
  • Who needs to be part of the solutions that will address your challenges?

In addition to identifying the individuals—and individual organizations—with whom to engage, you must survey and characterize the existing collective action landscape. Are there current collective actions addressing the water resource management system conditions that generate your challenges? Is there room for—or will it be helpful to introduce—a new collective action, or will this merely result in spreading resources too thinly among too many different efforts? Is there a current collective action in which your participation will be welcome, while also being productive for you? Exploring these and other questions related to the current collective action landscape will help you avoid inadvertently creating unproductive competition among efforts, or potentially diluting the ability of key individuals to provide focused effort in addressing the water management system needs.

The appendix Identifying and Characterizing Interested Parties provides further description of how to identify and characterize interested parties using a six-point analysis. The analysis, and the findings you produced in Scoping Water Challenges and Action Areas, will combine to provide you with a picture of the relationship between your water challenge(s), action areas of interest, and potential interested parties.

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