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 incredible 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. These elements, quite naturally, will push your discussions in an increasingly stable direction, aiding the establishment of good clarity and clear expectations among participants. Case Example 9 focuses on an SABMiller and GIZ collective action to catalyze groundwater sustainability in Lima, Peru, and reflects the importance of attentiveness to the structural and management aspects of effective collective action.

Structuring and Managing the Collective Action

Lima’s population of 9 million people is expected to grow to over 11 million within the next decade. Around 80% of Lima’s water supply comes from the Rimac basin, where a growing number of businesses are operating and where SABMiller’s subsidiary, Backus, has its main brewery. The growth in demand for water in the Rimac basin is unsustainable, depleting aquifers and effecting water quality. The rapid melting of the Andean glaciers, which are the source of the Rimac, means that the situation is expected to get much worse. This has generated water risks not only for businesses, but also for communities living in the watershed. Acknowledging the situation, Backus and GIZ entered into a partnership in late 2010, with a view to assess and address the shared water risks to the basin. This is part of the global Water Futures Partnership, which supports on-the-ground partnerships in a growing number of countries, focused on addressing shared water risks through public-private civil society collective action. The objective of the Peru partnership is to contribute to the improvement and sustainability of groundwater use in Lima, in order to meet the human and industrial demand in the lower watershed.

The partnership has followed a focused process involving several phases. The first phase consisted of a preliminary assessment of the water situation, stakeholders, and risks. In a second phase, and in close dialogue with the local municipalities, public-private investment projects have been identified that have high potential to address the identified risks. From these projects, an Aquifer Sustainability Programme has been developed with three overarching themes: improving natural and artificial groundwater recharge, reducing the demand for groundwater, and developing an aquifer monitoring and evaluation body.

One of the driving philosophies behind the partnership has been that, although Backus is a significant company, the partners need to generate the collective investment and advocacy among multiple businesses to stand a chance of reducing risk. One of the initial goals of the partnership has been to establish a group of private-sector actors willing to invest in improving the water resource situation. To do this, the partnership has: 1) helped create the case for a series of concrete investments to improve groundwater sustainability that can be presented to businesses, and 2) established the institutional architecture and processes to allow companies to join the partnership and co-fund projects in collaboration with the municipalities. As a result, interest in this initiative has grown rapidly outside the circle of the founding members of the partnership.

Roles within the partnership are split as follows: Backus provides leadership, co-financing of the infrastructure projects and management unit, and campaigns to raise public awareness. GIZ brings co-financing, facilitates the stakeholder dialogue between its public-sector partners and Backus, helps to develop institutional architecture, and provides WRM technical expertise in developing the Aquifer Sustainability Plan. Both partners play an equal role in all decision making.


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. Any process that involves seeking common ground or full-on consensus decision making requires at least some formal procedural backing. Partnership arrangements (where joint decision making or the sharing of resources will take place) typically require substantial structure backed by a memorandum of understanding or a contractual mechanism. You should, however, consider other factors, such as the parties involved and the collective action process objectives. The rank and type of the participants will also determine how formal the collective action should be. For example, if high-ranking officials are involved, more stringent guidelines or rules will typically be needed. This is often also true in more volatile situations (i.e., when the topic for discussion is the subject of serious debate), where a more structured conversation may be needed to keep participants on track and to ensure that all opinions are accounted for, rather than only those backed by the most assertive voices.


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. If you plan a consensus-building engagement, it will be important to establish how that consensus will be reached. Will it be through a voting system, by an advisory committee informed by community input, or through other means? If a formal decision is sought, especially one resulting in a government policy or regulatory framework, the question of authority must be asked: Do those involved in the collective action have the power needed to make or implement the decisions that are sought? You must ensure that whatever party has been made responsible for decision making (if decision making is, in fact, needed) has the proper authority to do so.


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. Time frames can vary from very short (e.g., for a one-time event or interaction) to semi-permanent (e.g., for the formation of a standing watershed management forum). Typically, more engaged forms of collective action will be associated with longer time frames. In particular, collaborative and integrative processes tend to involve multiple meetings of the engaged participants to: 1) establish a common understanding of needs and objectives, 2) explore and agree upon a course of action, 3) guide implementation, and 4) review performance information and adjust implementation actions accordingly.


Review and Incorporate Legal, Regulatory, and Policy Factors

Legal, regulatory, or policy aspects can constrain or enable your collective action. For instance, an explicit exemption from clean-water management requirements enshrined in statute may make it difficult to recruit exempted parties to a collective action. Moreover, national or local laws may impose conditions on any “convening” of interests to address water resource management, particularly if specific decisions will be taken by the participants. 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. Although you, as the collective action initiator, may have acted as a catalyst and provided the initial financial resources, ultimately your goal should be to participate as just one of a variety of actors. Your ability to exit as the prime mover and motivator of the collective action effort will depend on whether the interest and capacity of the other engaged parties have increased to the point where they can independently play their appropriate implementation role. Thus, an ongoing commitment to capacity building will be a key aspect of your overall approach. Avoiding, to the greatest extent possible, long-term dependencies on your resources will be critical. Case Example 10, portraying the CYAN Movement in the Corumbá-Paranoá Basin, Brazil, showcases a collective action where Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) and its partners have placed a high emphasis on capacity building from the outset of the process.

CYAN Movement in the Corumbá-Paranoá Basin, Brazil

On World Water Day in 2010, AB InBev, through its local company Ambev, kicked off the CYAN Movement project in Brazil. CYAN Movement is a broad, ongoing campaign to raise awareness about the importance of water conservation for its operations in Brazil and to drive positive change in threatened watersheds. Major actions and developments of the CYAN Movement have included:

  • Partnership with the University of São Paulo to compute “hydrological footprints”;
  • An awards competition for articles on the subject of water;
  • An Internet contest on the website Battle of Concepts;
  • Sponsorship of the mega-exhibition “Water” at the Oca Pavilion in Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo, open to the public for a year; and
  • The CYAN Bank project, which seeks to engage consumers online to raise awareness of sound water management practices and to encourage them (through incentives such as discounts from online retailers) to lower water consumption levels.

A centerpiece of the CYAN Movement is a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund to advance sustainable water management in the Corumbá-Paranoá Basin, which is the primary source of water for the company’s Brasilia brewery. The core objective of this project is bringing together local communities, employees, government agencies, and other stakeholders to preserve and recover springs, aquifer headwater, and replenishment areas. The project grew out of AB InBev’s recognition that the region lacked a water basin committee, which can serve as a key driver of local water governance in Brazil. The company also sought to drive positive change in a severely-degraded river basin as a means of addressing the perception that its presence was contributing to water-related challenges in that area.

For this project, AB InBev has placed a priority on local capacity building through implementing a model by which decision-making gradually transfers to other project partners as partner buy-in and capacity builds. This evolution should provide a basis for AB InBev to turn over the project to local partners, gradually changing its role from key driver to supporting partner and helping to ensure the long-term sustainability of the project. AB InBev hopes to use this project as a model on which it bases future collective action projects throughout the world.

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