Selecting Collective Action Engagement Level



Levels of Engagement and Selecting Level of Engagement profiled four collective action engagement levels for structuring collective action activity. These engagement levels represent substantially divergent commitments and serve substantially different purposes. For collective action to be successful, you must explicitly match collective action areas and outcomes with the associated key interested parties, and with the engagement level that will most effectively support the effort. As described in Selecting Level of Engagement, selecting from the engagement options— informative, consultative, collaborative, and integrative—involves the exploration of three controlling factors: external-party dependence, external-party interest and capacity, and internal-company interest and capacity. This appendix describes in detail each of the controlling factors and outlines questions for each factor, whose aggregated answers will support identification of your collective action requirements and the corresponding appropriate collective action engagement. The worksheet below provides space to document your answers. The results obtained here can then be fed into your collective action development in Designing Collective Action Engagement.

External-party dependence: This is the controlling factor for collective action engagement selection. Answering the following four questions will help you characterize your external-party dependence landscape, and develop an understanding of the collective action engagement best suited to these conditions. The interested-party analyses conducted under Identifying and Characterizing Prospective Participants should provide the information you need to make an assessment of your level of interested-party dependence.

  • What degree of direct control is held by external parties over the conditions that affect achieving the stated objectives? For example, external parties may have standing, or may otherwise have the ability to influence the system of water governance critical to the quantity or quality of available water.
  • What degree of leverage is held by other parties for the decisions needed to achieve the stated objectives? For example, is a permit required to construct a treatment works, and do the external parties have standing in the review and approval process?
  • What degree of dependence do the stated objectives have on the actions and resources of other parties? For example, is water conservation behavior by other industries, community residents, or other water users a necessary condition to reduce the risks of supply disruptions, provide for further local economic growth, or ensure the general health of local community residents?
  • What degree of risk is present in the absence of potential collective action efforts (essentially, is acting alone an option)? For example, would increasing the rate of withdrawal from groundwater in the absence of consultation with the local community (even if no consultation is required and no specific negative external effects result) generate a perception of abuse, or of preferential treatment?

A high response to any one of the four dependency questions should lead to serious consideration of a more engaged form of collective action, such as collaborative or integrative. Low or medium responses to all of the questions indicate that a less engaged collective action—informative or consultative—can fully support your purposes, even as you may choose to use a more engaged form.

External-party interest and capacity: These are key factors that will enable or constrain the collective action engagement options available to you, at least at the outset of the process. As more engaged (collaborative or integrative) levels of collective action are desired, the demands on the interest and capacity of external parties will be greater. Low interest or low capacity will not support, for example, collaborative collective action, and will signal a need for the cultivation of interest or capacity if the dependence dynamics are such that joint purpose or joint action is desirable or needed to address water-related challenges.

Overall, you must assess to what extent the interested parties are likely and able to participate or invest productively in the collective action you would like to take, understanding that, like you, they must set priorities and make choices about where to invest their time and resources. Answering the following five questions relative to your water management challenges and corollary action areas will help you more fully explore these considerations.

  • To what degree is there a shared understanding of the facts? For example, interested parties may or may not accept that water scarcity is a current or future reality, and that conservation measures are needed to solve the problem. Here, both the problem and the solution require objective clarity sufficient to
    generate acceptance that action is needed. Alternatively, a (high) degree of uncertainty may exist surrounding the problem or solution (e.g., current drought conditions could be a short-term aberration from a much more wet norm), leaving motivation for engagement low.

  • To what degree is there a shared reality or perception of risk among parties? For example, external parties are equally affected by low source-water quality, or alternatively, there is substantial varying tolerance for water quality, depending on the intended use (e.g., drinking versus irrigation water).
  • To what degree is there a shared perception of responsibility among parties? For example, interested parties understand and accept their contribution to the problem or their need to participate in the solution.
  • To what degree is there a perception of shared benefit among parties? For example, is the distribution of benefits that are realized from meeting the objectives equitable, or is the perception that distribution is skewed to only a few parties?
  • What is the financial or technical capacity of interested parties? For example, interested parties have, or have independent access to, the data and expertise needed to participate effectively in the collective action process.

Internal-company interest and capacity: These conditions will enable or constrain your collective action engagement options. They speak to the basics of whether your organization can support effective convening and 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 independence can substantially inhibit the available engagement options. Answering the following three questions will more specifically profile your internal capability to support the desired level of collective action engagement.

  • What level of commitment (time, money, and responsiveness) exists in support of the collective action effort? More engaged forms of collective action—collaborative and integrative—will require high commitments of time, financial resources, and responsiveness. In particular, an organization’s capacity to be responsive to the interests and needs of other participants must be aligned with the collective action engagement selected. Collaborative and integrative processes will create and have high participant expectations for responsiveness in the form of joint decision making, the adjustment of individual objectives to accommodate the interests of others, and the establishment of a shared sense of common purpose going forward.
  • What is the current quality of the relationships with the parties that are affected by pursuit of the objectives? Effective collective action, particularly the more engaged forms, requires a strong sense of trust among participants, and a willingness to understand other parties’ interests and make compromises when needed. Relationships can range from high trust and cooperation to low trust and hostility, and these conditions will affect at least the starting point for collective action activities.
  • What level of experience exists with collective action initiatives? Collective action initiation and management often requires the development of new staff skills and capabilities, along with the refinement of these through experience working with external parties. An organization with limited collective action experience will most likely be ill-prepared to initiate a complex, multi-interest, consensus-oriented collective action, and will run the risk of inadvertently undermining working relationships.


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