Selecting the Level of Engagement


Levels of Engagement profiled four engagement levels for structuring collective action activity. The informative, consultative, collaborative, and integrative levels present distinct choices. Key considerations include the extent of common ground sought among participants; the degree of independent decision making maintained among participants; the expectations for joint action and responsiveness; and the experience and resources needed for collective action. Lines between these engagement levels are far from distinct, and the structures themselves are not mutually exclusive. For example, most integrative or collaborative collective actions will necessarily include at the outset elements of informative activity. Engagement options can also be viewed as end states in and of themselves (for example, informative collective action can be deemed sufficient to address the identified challenges and becomes the full extent of the engagement), or as a set of stepping stones for a company with interest in highly integrative collective action but insufficient current capacity to engage in it.

Elements of Collective Action Preparation

The table below provides a summary of the basic requirements of the four levels of collective action engagement. These different levels serve different purposes and come with substantially different requirements, driving the need for careful selection among or combining of them to suit company purposes. Selecting which level of engagement to pursue thus becomes a key strategic decision, and will be driven by the nature of the water challenges facing your company and the landscape of interested parties with whom you need to engage.


Collective Action Levels and Associated Requirements

To optimize your collective action, you must explicitly match your action areas of focus and the associated interested parties with the level of engagement that will most effectively support the effort. Selecting among the engagement levels involves the exploration of three factors: external-party dependence, external-party interest and capacity, and internal-company interest and capacity. (Appendix D provides a set of diagnostic questions for each of the factors, enabling you to systematically evaluate on-the-ground conditions relative to the collective action choices.)

External-party dependence is a key factor for selecting the level of engagement to pursue. As the dependence on external parties for addressing your water challenges increases, the need for establishing shared responsibility and coordinated joint action will also increase. Higher dependency equates to the need for more engaged forms of collective action. Figure 6 portrays the potential range of results that the collective action engagement selection exercise can produce. On the left, it shows the relationship between dependence on external parties to address a particular water-related challenge and the collective action engagement level likely needed to support these dependency conditions.

External-party interest and capacity are key factors that will enable or constrain the collective action engagement levels available to you. As more engaged (collaborative or integrative) levels of collective action are desired, the demands will be greater on the external parties. Low external-party interest or capacity will not support more engaged collective action, and will signal a need for the cultivation of interest or capacity through, at least in part, use of lower levels of collective action (e.g., informative) to establish a sense of shared risks and the benefits of joint action. (Note: At this stage, your assessment of external-party “readiness” would be based on prior history or other indirect sources of information. Later in the process, as you directly engage with external parties, it will be important to explore further interest and capacity levels and make adjustments to the collective action process as needed.)

Internal-company interest and capacity will also enable or constrain your collective action engagement levels. These conditions speak to the basics of whether your organization can support effective involvement at the desired level of engagement. Low interest (buy-in) among key staff, limited time or financial resources, or a strong organizational culture of independent decision making and control can substantially inhibit the available engagement options.

The right-hand portion of the figure below portrays the relationship of external-party interest and capacity and internal-company interest and capacity to collective action engagement levels. It provides a conceptual framework to help you ascertain whether you and the other interested parties have the capacity and mutual interest to implement your desired level of collective action. Generally speaking, there are three potential outcomes:

  • Internal and external interest and capacity align well with the desired engagement level for collective action (e.g., both internal and external interest and capacity are high, and “integrative” is the desired collective action engagement).
  • Internal or external interest and capacity is insufficient to support the desired collective action engagement (e.g., external interest and capacity are low, while you desire higher engagement levels of collective action).
  • Internal or external interest and capacity exceed the needed level to support the desired collective action (e.g., internal interest and capacity are high, while lower engagement levels of collective action can address the water challenge at hand, and you therefore have “reserve capacity”).

Mapping Dependency, Interest, and Capacity Outcomes to Collective Action Engagement Levels

Each of the above outcomes will strongly influence your approach and the work you need to do to prepare for collective action. When alignment exists, you have a strong foundation for initiating and designing the desired collective action. When there is insufficient external or internal interest or capacity, specific efforts must be undertaken to correct the deficiency so as to evolve toward the desired level of collective action. For example, if evidence-based, objective information is lacking relative to your water-related challenge(s), which in turn results in a lack of interest by external parties, then engaging in an informative collective action that shares data and generates a greater appreciation of the problem could be a natural first step for your organization. If internal interest or capacity is lacking, then developing a clear business case that demonstrates the need for and benefits of the proposed collective action is likely a first critical step toward garnering the needed internal support and commitments. Case Example 7, the Lake Naivasha Initiative, portrays the evolution of collective action engagement levels over time, as interest and capacity evolved among interested parties.

Scoping the Right Collective Action Level of Engagement

The level of engagement by companies can change over time, as the interest and capacity of different parties evolve. This evolution is illustrated in the shifting focus of collective action by the horticulture industry in Lake Naivasha, Kenya, over the past decade.

The cut-flower industry was established around Lake Naivasha in the 1970s, but it was only in the late 1990s that lake levels and water quality challenges became significant as a result of the increasing population, smallholders, and horticulture. Recognizing these challenges, Finlays Horticulture Kenya Ltd. and other private-sector actors and NGOs spearheaded a number of initiatives in the region over the past decade. Given weak government regulatory and management capacity in the catchment, the Lake Naivasha Water Resources Users Association and the Lake Naivasha Growers Group became the focus of engagement between the horticulture companies, water users, and stakeholders with an interest in the lake.

Unfortunately, these initiatives were not always aligned, due to varying interests and uneven capacity. Despite the pressing needs, the participants were not able to derive the full benefits of joint planning and action in mitigating the water challenges in the lake. However, these forums did provide vehicles for collective action around information sharing (including data collection) and consultative engagement (including capacity building and advocacy). This in turn raised the profile of the issues within the government and built the capacity of all role-players.

In 2009, a drought in the region catalyzed engagement of the horticulture industry and other role-players with the government, as the lake dropped to levels last seen in 1941. As a result of the drought and the existing experience with the collective action platform, and with the high-profile involvement of the Prince of Wales’s International Sustainability Institute (among others), the Imarisha Naivasha Initiative was established under the auspices of the prime minister’s office. This initiative is a legal vehicle for coordinating water management initiatives around the lake and in the upstream catchment that is supported by the industry around the lake, in order to support the vision of the Lake Naivasha Basin Integrated Management Plan (facilitated by the Kenya Wildlife Service). Importantly, the management board has only 3 of the 11 seats taken by government officials, while the remaining seats are filled by representatives from the lake, upstream farmers, and other growers around the lake. The ongoing activities of the industry over the past decade facilitated the establishment of the Imarisha Board, which includes the regulatory authorities that have a mandate to ensure effective management of the lake going forward.

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