Characteristics of Effective Collective Action
Collective action engagements move you into a realm where knowledge, experience, lexicon, needs, interests, and perspectives can vary greatly and can quickly lead to miscommunication about or misinterpretation of your goals or intentions. This drives a need to establish clarity among all participants regarding the scope, goals, roles, decision processes, and time and resource commitments of the engagement.
Support Interaction and Responsiveness
Effective, engaged dialogue among participants requires careful cultivation and attention to process-related details.
Establish Transparency and Accountability
Transparency and accountability should work in support of effective interaction and responsiveness. Transparency focuses on making collective action activities easily known to all directly engaged parties and general community members, as well as making the information used and produced by collective action participants available in a timely manner.
Build in an Ability to Adapt
Collective actions rarely evolve as anticipated. New information, changes in perspectives, the introduction of new challenges, changes in the composition of participation, or changes in the surrounding institutional and political context will likely require alterations to objectives, process approach, or timing.
Collective Action Structural Elements
To be effective, your initial process efforts should be viewed as an iterative activity conducted through informal engagement with prospective interested parties. Your informal engagement will simultaneously serve three purposes: It will help you create a collective action process that is highly responsive and credible to the engaged parties; it will act as the participant recruitment phase of your collective action process; and it will provide an opportunity to create familiarity and build trust among collective action participants. Although initially informal, your external discussions should cover at minimum the structural elements identified below.
Establish the Degree of Formality
The formality of interactions can range from informal conversation platforms to binding legal agreements with meetings convened by a neutral party. The type of process generally determines the degree of formality.
Establish a Decision-Making Approach
The collective action level of engagement and the process objectives will help inform what type of decision-making approach you need, but the engagement’s other structural elements must also be fully considered when developing a decision-making framework.
Establish Commitments and Set Responsibility Boundaries
In structuring an effective effort, it is also imperative for you to establish commitments for participation and to set boundaries for the responsibilities of each party.
Establish a Process Time Frame
Establishing an explicit time frame for your effort is important both for setting internal and external expectations, and for understanding the nature of resource needs.
Review and Incorporate Legal, Regulatory, and Policy Factors
Legal, regulatory, or policy aspects can constrain or enable your collective action. Understanding the legal, regulatory, and policy context is thus important to understanding potential procedural requirements, as well as the motivations and expectations of collective action participants.
Establish Closure Expectations
The ultimate success of almost any collective action will include full ownership and a strong capacity to execute responsibilities on the part of all engaged parties—essentially, the “gap” in the water system that led to the collective action will have been systemically and sustainably addressed. When defining an endpoint, you are determining at the beginning of the process how long it will proceed, and what will signify a successful outcome.