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C5.3 Consensus building


Consensus building is a strategy or approach that is used for intersectoral water policy dialogue. It is best used in situations of low to medium conflict and tension. However, it can sometimes be useful where parties are in major conflict and have unsuccessfully tried legal or other high-cost approaches.

It usually includes the following steps:

  • Starting by defining the problem rather then proposing solutions or taking stands;
  • Focusing on interests;
  • Identifying numerous alternatives;
  • Separating the generation of alternatives from their evaluation;
  • Agreeing on principles or criteria to evaluate alternatives;
  • Expecting agreements to go through refinements;
  • Documenting agreements to reduce the risk of later misunderstanding;
  • Agreeing on the process by which agreements can be revised and the process by which other types of disagreements might be solved;
  • Using the process to create agreement;
  • Creating a commitment to implementation by allowing all stakeholders to participate in decision making;
  • Accepting the legitimacy of feeling.

Associated tools are:

  • Joint training, which brings parties in conflict together to jointly learn about dispute management, consensus building or IWRM;
  • Policy dialogue, which brings stakeholders together with some end in sight, e.g. to write major policy or regulations. This follows the principle that participation in policy formulation (in a facilitated series of meetings) will yield less conflict and more rapid implementation;
  • Strategic Conflict Assessments, which can be used as early intervention systems for intervening in ripened conflict, and for designing systems to prevent conflict. In situations of relatively low tension, but competing interests, such as in early IWRM institutional design efforts, these assessments can be done collaboratively. They help parties to learn about each other, and create realistic expectations toward the process. Participating in strategic conflict assessments can change the views of senior officials in complex situations;
  • Interest-based negotiations, which are sometimes undertaken by unassisted individuals, but more often use a neutral party to create and manage the process. Such negotiations have been successfully used in many situations, including project construction claims settlements, agreements to cost sharing and allocation formulae, regulatory implementation, operations of water infrastructure and realignment of purposes and use, and planning for IWRM.

See tools C1 (demand and resource assessment) and C4.2 (communication with stakeholders).

Lessons learned

  • Consensus building is most useful in low to medium conflict situations where the parties have some familiarity with each other.
  • It is a good first step tool in new problem areas.
  • It can be used at local, regional, provincial or even national levels.
  • It is an effective tool for raising the awareness of issues.

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