Negotiating water

As many contributions to his blog have demonstrated, water is a hotly contested resource. In most cases of water resources management there are many parties involved, each having different problem perceptions, interests and preferences. Since hierarchical interventions are often impossible or considered ineffective,  many water governance scholars are interested in the question how to manage multi-actor decision making processes.In such processes parties may be able to find common ground and reach a consensus on some issues, but need to negotiate others. That is why the literature on negotiation analysis is highly relevant to the solution of most water issues.

Negotiation analysis often distinguishes between distributive negotiations, which are about distributing benefits (‘sharing the pie’ ), and integrative negotiations which focus on jointly generating benefits ( ‘enlarging the pie’ ). Issue-linkage is an example of an integrative strategy which may generate benefits for all parties involved: if one basin state is primarily interested in water allocation, and another more in issues of navigation, they may be able to reach a package deal which makes them both better off as compared to the status quo.

One of the promising approaches in the field of negotiation analysis is the Mutual Gains Approach (MGA) which is developed by Lawrence Susskind. This approach, among other things, pays attention to the conditions which are necessary for creating value for the parties involved (hence mutual gains). It addresses issues such as the selection of relevant stakeholders and the composition of the negotiation agenda.  Although the MGA is a generic approach, which in principle can be applied to all cases in which parties with different interest need to reach an agreement, it has recently inspired a new collaborative research initiative on water issues, called Water Diplomacy. On the project  web-site one may find an Aquapedia with information on case studies of water diplomacy and a public forum where water diplomacy issue are being discussed.

The theme of water diplomacy will also be discussed at an international research conference on water diplomacy, which will be organized by the USC Center on Public Diplomacy in Los Angeles (University of Southern California) on Monday, February 27, 2012.

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