2. The preparatory phase

A typical situation in the beginning

  • different social actors are concerned about a territory, area or set of natural resources; these actors may include local communities (including traditional authorities, elders, user groups for a particular resource, men and women, the youth), government representatives at different levels, NGOs, associations, individuals with special interests, local, national and trans-national businesses, and so on. The number of concerned actors is increasing as a result of recent historical processes such as the decentralisation of government authority, the privatisation of previously state-controlled economies, the emergence of new democratic institutions, the proliferation of businesses, NGOs, associations, etc.
  • there are different points of view on that territory, area or set of natural resources, as well as different interests and concerns and different assigned values
  • there is some (perhaps minimal) form of management for that territory, area or set of natural resources, even when it may hardly be discernable by non-local people
  • some or all social actors perceive environmental and/or social problems in need of solution.

What can be done to promote co-management?

  • the first task is a realistic assessment of the need for co-management and of the feasibility of the process.
  • if co-management is deemed to be needed and feasible, the next task is to identify the human and financial resources necessary to support it.
  • once such resources have been identified and secured, a Start-up Team should be established and assigned the role of promoting and facilitating the process through which stakeholders will negotiate a pluralistic and flexible management system (over time, such a system will need to respond to the changing needs of both the concerned ecosystem and society).
  • in real life the above tasks are not always undertaken, or not in the order mentioned above. For instance, the co-management process may be initiated to take advantage of a specific financial opportunity, to attempt to resolve a conflict or because of political expediency. Sooner or later, however, the specific needs, feasibility and resources available should be analysed in all CM processes.
  • the initial phases of the process may sometimes be long, difficult, costly and even arduous. Yet, the participants can look forward to a positive outcome that, in addition to the judicious management of natural resources, will bear upon some of the most important aspects of social life – such as equity, participation, culture and development.

2.1 Assessing the need for co-management and the process feasibility

'entitlement' to manage natural resources --- a socially recognised claim to participate in one or several management activities, such as planning, advising, taking decisions, implementing plans, sharing benefits, assuming responibilities, monitoring and evaluating results, etc.

Is co-management needed in the context at stake? The analysis may begin with a realistic evaluation of the existing NRM situation, including what is de jure (i.e. in accordance with existing laws and norms), and what is de facto (i.e. what actually happens on the ground). In other words, the analysis should cover the existing power system and entitlements to manage (for instance, who plans?, who advises?, who takes decisions?, who has access to the resources?, who benefits from the resources?, who evaluates whether NRM activities need to change?) but also the unrecognised claims.

Some form of consultation and the seeking of consensus among the main stakeholders in a given territory, area or set of resources can be recommended in all situations. Yet, depending on the particular context, initiating and devoting energy to a negotiation process may be more or less appropriate depending on the perspective of the particular institutional actors.

From the point of view of government agencies possessing legal jurisdiction over a territory, area or resources at stake, it may be more appropriate to pursue partnership agreements with other stakeholders (and prevent wasteful conflicts) when one or more of the following conditions apply:

  • the active commitment and collaboration of several stakeholders are essential to manage the territory, area or resources at stake;
  • the access to such territory, area or resources is essential for securing the livelihood and cultural survival of one or more stakeholders;
  • local actors have historically enjoyed customary/ legal rights over the territory or resources;
  • local interests are strongly affected by NRM decisions;
  • the decisions to be taken are complex and controversial (e.g., different values need to be harmonized or there is disagreement over the distribution of entitlements to land or resources);
  • the current NRM system has failed to produce the desired results and meet the needs of the local actors;
  • stakeholders are ready to collaborate and request to do so;
  • there is ample time to negotiate.

On the contrary, it may be inappropriate (or not yet appropriate) to embark on a CM process when decisions have to be taken extremely rapidly (emergency situation).

From the point of view of local communities who have customarily enjoyed full access to the relevant territory, area or resources, it may be appropriate to pursue a NRM partnership when:

  • powerful non-local actors are forcing their way into the territory or extracting resources with no respect to traditional customs and rules (in this case a partnership agreement with the national government or some NGO or research organisation may help assure some protection and respect of customary practices);
  • customary practices are falling into disarray and an open-access status has ensued with resources being extracted in an unsustainable manner.


It may instead not be advisable to enter into a NRM partnership when:

  • as a result, the local communities would be renouncing a customary status of unique rights with no expectable comparable advantage in exchange;
  • the political environment does not secure the safety of all negotiating parties.

Even when certain individuals or groups have determined that, for them, co-management is needed and desirable, they may wonder whether it is feasible in the particular context at stake. In this case, it may be expedient to ask the following questions:

Is co-management legally feasible?

Who has the mandate to control the land and resources? Can a pluralist approach be accommodated within the existing customary/ legal frameworks? Examine traditional and modern laws, regulations, permits...

Is co-management politically feasible?

What is the history of land management and resource use in the territory or area at stake? Examine current political will and stability, the capacity to enforce decisions, the confidence in the participatory process, the presence of phenomena such as corruption and intimidation...

Is co-management institutionally feasible?

Is there a chance of building a pluralistic management institution for the territory, area or natural resources? Examine inter-institutional relations and their possible conflicts, existing examples of multi-party resource management organisations and rules, the capacity of stakeholders to organise themselves and express their choice of representatives to convey their interests and concerns...

Is co-management economically feasible?

Are there economic opportunities and alternatives to the direct exploitation of natural resources? Examine local opportunities to reconcile the conservation of nature with the satisfaction of economic needs, examine the extent of poverty in the region, the availability of capital for local investments…

Is co-management socio-culturally feasible?

Are or were there traditional systems of natural resource management in the context at stake? What are (or were) their main features and strengths? Are those still valid today? Are the traditional NRM systems still in use? Regardless of whether the answer is yes or no, why? Who is keeping them alive? What is specifically sustaining or demeaning them? If they are not being used any more, does anyone have a living memory of the systems (for instance, are there elders who practiced them and still remember clearly "how it was done")?

Examine the current population status, population dynamics and structure, the main socio-cultural changes under way

Examine social and cultural diversity amongst the institutional actors and the history of group relations among them

Examine factors affecting opportunities for social communication, including:

    • language diversity
    • varying degrees of access to information
    • different attitudes, for example with regard to speaking in public or defending personal advantages
    • traditional and modern media currently used in the particular context

Feasibility conditions do not need to be absolutely ideal to decide to embark on a co-management process, but thinking about feasibility factors gives a good idea of the obstacles and hot spots to expect along the way.

An important question is also: "For all main stakeholders, what are the best alternatives to a negotiated agreement?" If some stakeholders are better served by the absence rather than the presence of co-management plans and agreements (e.g. if they currently enjoy undue benefits and/or have others bear some substantial management costs) they will have no incentive to enter into the process of negotiation. In such cases the feasibility of co-management is severely reduced and outright opposition to the CM process can be expected. Some special incentives, cajoling or even law enforcement and coercive measures may be needed to get all the stakeholders around the negotiation table (outsiders, however, should be very careful before assuming that a group is blocking negotiations to its unfair advantage. A local community, for instance, could rightly feel better protected by a firm and uncompromising stand than by entering into a negotiation as the weakest of all parties).

2.2 Assessing the human and financial resources available

People engaged in promoting and supporting the CM process need knowledge and skills in the ecological, social and economic disciplines. They also need the capacity to communicate with all the stakeholders concerned and to obtain and maintain their confidence and trust. And they need energy, passion, willingness, creativity, dedication and continuity. Their work is certainly not routine work… In other words, the co-management process needs "champions"!

Are such human resources locally available? Are there individuals willing to become part of a Start-up Team to prepare and launch the co-management process (see Sections 2.3-2.10)? Are there financial resources to support the co-management preparatory phase (including visits by the Start-up Team to the potential institutional actors, participatory assessment exercises and social communication initiatives)? Are there financial resources to support the negotiation phase (including meetings, independent facilitation and the technical support that may be required along the way)?

The initiators of a CM process – which may be local individuals (e.g. an enlightened politician), local associations and NGOs, government agencies (e.g. the agency managing a protected area) or conservation and development projects supported by donors – need to dedicate time and care to the process of assembling the necessary human and financial resources before embarking on the initiative.


2.3 Establishing a Start-up Team

A Start-up Team (or Initiation Committee, Launching Committee, etc.) is a small group of people (perhaps 4 or 5 individuals) who agree to be in charge of the CM preparatory phase. The group is usually selected by the initiators of the CM process—which may be an external project, a community leader, an enlightened government professional, an NGO, etc.— and/ or is self-selected on the basis of strong personal motivation. When the initiator is a donor-supported project, one or more project staff may become members of the Start-up Team (at times this helps assure the public perception of impartiality) but, as a rule, they should not be the majority.

Most importantly, all institutional actors should trust and feel capable of communicating with at least one person in the Start-up Team, even if they do not feel represented by him/her.

Some key characteristics of appropriate Team members are: diversity, credibility, personal motivation, and excellent communication skills.

Some key qualities of a good Team are: being active, efficient, fair, multi-disciplinary, and transparent in decision-making; acting on the basis of consensus and collaboration; being determined to launch but not to lead or dominate the CM process.

The tasks of the Start-up Team

The Start-up Team is entirely responsible for one phase of the process only: the one in which the partnership is prepared and rooted in the local context. After that, the stakeholders themselves need to take control.

During the preparatory phase, the main tasks of the Team consist in:

2.4 Gathering information and tools (such as maps) on the main ecological and social issues

The Start-up Team may wish to begin its work by gathering existing information and tools to describe the main ecological and social issues (problems, opportunities, history, conflicts, power relations, etc.) as well as descriptions and delimitations of the territory, area or natural resources of interest. Maps (including old maps) are particularly valuable tools in this sense.

A preliminary outline of the issues at stake can be summarised in a short report, in writing if appropriate, to be offered to the institutional actors at the beginning of the negotiation process. The report may summarise the particular NRM context from various perspectives (historical, social, legal, political, institutional, etc.). Such reports benefit from inputs by various social actors, which can be gathered during the preparatory phase (see later). Yet, the members of the Start-up team should refrain from stating or rephrasing the positions of various parties and give only a matter-of-fact account. If there are controversies, the report may mention them, and say what they are about. Preparing such a preliminary report, however, is not always appropriate. It should definitely be avoided when there is only the slightest hint that the social actors may be intimidated or upset by it.

Not only the report, but also the maps and other relevant data and information must be made available to all stakeholders, particularly to local communities who may otherwise be deprived of the information they contain. In fact, the Start-up Team may wish to set up a small reference library at the disposal of all institutional actors during the negotiation phase.

Example Box 1
A Start-up Team centred on a key individual

The Nta-ali Forest Reserve is located in the South-West Province of Cameroon. Its initial vocation was the protection of forest ecosystems. Over the years its status was modified into a productive reserve, but a zone of integral protection was maintained. In early 1998, the Korup Project, with GTZ financing, initiated a co-management process for the Reserve. After an initial assessment of process feasibility, the project set up a Start-up Team. The main task of the Team was to help the stakeholders get ready for their involvement in the negotiation phase. To do so, the members of the Team had to possess certain capacities. In other words, the project identified a number of criteria to guide the choice, from acceptance by all stakeholders to personal motivation and sincere appreciation of the co-management approach. The project then went on to identify and contact a number of individuals who appeared to meet the chosen criteria.

It soon became evident that the Divisional Delegate of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MINEF) for Mamfe possessed all the qualities to effectively play the role of Team Leader. The project thus requested his assistance to animate the Start-up Team, which, besides him, was to comprise two other members. The choice of the MINEF Divisional Delegate may appear inappropriate in view of its professional role. Yet, several points appeared in favour of the choice:

  • His dual "nature" as both belonging to the local community (as native of the region surrounding the reserve) and to the government (as local responsible officer for the Ministry of Environment and Forests)
  • His social status as local "elite" recognised by both the local communities and the other stakeholders. By virtue of this position that he consolidated through the activities of his association (Nchang Youths Development Association), he often plays the role of mediator between the local population and the forestry administration. In this way, he relates two distinct worlds (and actually "embodies" both of them).
  • His capacity to mediate between the culture of the governmental agencies in charge of conservation and the local indigenous culture. He has a mastery of the two systems and can translate the preoccupations expressed by one side to the other.
  • The confidence he had already won from the local communities, the timber companies operating in the area and the environment and forestry administration.
  • His willingness and readiness to engage the local communities in a co-management process.
The two other members of the team were staff of the Korup project, chosen in view of their capacity to set up social communication initiatives, master the phases of the co-management process and provide logistics and technical support to the Team Leader. The Start-up Team remained operational for about 6 months. During this period its main functions were to facilitate the circulation of information among the stakeholders, spark up dialogue and provoke a social discussion on the phenomena and trends affecting natural resources and the measures needed to avoid their depletion. Through such initiatives, the Start-up Team succeeded in uniting all the conditions favourable for the holding of a first meeting among all major stakeholders. The meeting was organised on 1-2 December 1998. The 48 participants represented the local communities (26 individuals), the local government (4 individuals), the forests administration at local and national level (9 individuals), other local administrative departments (3 individuals) and the Korup and WCS project (6 individuals). The meeting was facilitated by the Korup project, and the debates developed in an open and candid spirit. In particular, the representatives of the local communities freely expressed their views and contributed to the definition of problems, issues and solutions.

As a result of this first meeting, a "declaration of principles" was issued and a Core Team of the co-management process, including five members representing the various stakeholders, was set in charge of facilitating the negotiation of the Nta-ali co-management plan. As of August 2000, the process is on-going. Information generated in a participatory fashion has been utilised to prepare a zoning plan of the area. Meetings to discuss the zoning and other issues are regularly held among local residents and forest administrators.

2.5 Identifying in a preliminary way the natural resource management unit(s)

On the basis of the preliminary ecological analysis, the Start-up Team can identify some possible natural resource management units (e.g. a water catchment area, a forest patch, a rangeland, a lake, a fishery area). Ideally, such "units" would make ecological sense (for instance they would comprise the essential elements of an ecosystem), but also social sense (for instance they would fall within a given administrative unit or community). When this coincidence of ecological and social units is not possible, the number of relevant social actors increases and the negotiation process becomes more complex. It is also possible to envisage a series of "nested" NRM units (for instance a micro-catchment nested within a river basin watershed, itself part of a larger island ecosystem).

'At what "level" should negotations be held?' --- In general, it is best to negotiate at the local level, among the communities, agencies, organisations and people involved in NRM activities - all the while maintaining links with other levels (e.g. larger ecosystem, administrative units, region, country)

When the NRM units are fairly small, the actors who negotiate the co-management plans and agreements are likely to be the same ones who will implement the related activities. This is often conducive to good management. In fact, many professionals would maintain that the best management level is the lowest possible one with the authority and capacity to take decisions (a criterion that often goes under the name of "subsidiarity").

It may be useful to recall that traditional societies are often characterised by a remarkable coincidence between a distinct body of natural resources and the social unit (local community) related to those resources. In more than one way, in fact, the territories, areas and natural resources under the care of a local community naturally "identify" an NRM unit.

2.6 Identifying in a preliminary way the institutional actors to participate in natural resource management

'institutional actor' (stakeholder) --- a community, a public entity, a group or an individual who organises itself, takes action to gain social recognition of its own interests and concerns and is willing to assume some task and responsibility for a given NRM unit

Usually, several communities, organisations, social groups and individuals possess a direct, significant and specific stake in the identified NRM unit(s). In other words, there are many "potential institutional actors" in natural resource management. Among them, only some will be willing and capable of investing time and resources, organising themselves, taking action to get their interests and concerns socially recognised and will be ready to take on some NRM responsibility. These are the true "institutional actors" in co-management plans and agreements, the ones that the Start-up Team needs to identify, contact and involve in the process. And, in case of nested NRM units, such true actors need to be identified at each level (e.g., in our prior example, for the micro-catchment as well as for the river watershed and for the island as a whole).

How can the Start-up Team identify the potential institutional actors in a specific context? There is no recipe for that, but a checklist may help.

Identifying potential institutional actors: a checklist

  • Are there communities, groups or individuals actually or potentially affected by the management decisions? Are there historic occupants (e.g., indigenous communities or regular transients) and traditional resource users with customary rights of ownership or usufruct? Are there recent migrants? Non-resident users of resources? Absentee landlords? Major secondary users of local resources (e.g., buyers of products, tourists)? Are there local associations or NGOs concerned with natural resources? Are there businesses and industries potentially impinged upon by the NRM decisions? Are there research, development or conservation projects in the area? How many employees (national and international) live in the area because of such projects? Are these people active in natural resource management?
  • Who are the main traditional authorities in the area at stake? Are there government agencies officially responsible for the management units or resources at stake? Are there respected institutions, to which people have recourse in connection with a variety of needs and circumstances?
  • Who has access to the land, area or resources at stake? Who is using the natural resources at present? In what ways? Has this changed over time?
  • Which communities, groups and individuals are most dependent on the resources at stake? Is this a matter of livelihood or economic advantage? Are these resources replaceable by others, possibly in less ecologically valuable or fragile areas?
  • Who upholds claims, including customary rights and legal jurisdiction over the territory, area or resources at stake? Are there communities with ancestral and/or other types of acquired rights? Are various government sectors and ministerial departments involved? Are there national and/or international bodies involved because of specific laws or treaties?
  • Which communities, groups or individuals are most knowledgeable about, and capable of dealing with, the territories or resources at stake? So far, who has a direct experience in managing them?
  • What are the seasonal/ geographical variations in resource use patterns and user interests? Are these interests geographically and seasonally stable (e.g., are there seasonal migration patterns)? Are there major events or trends currently affecting local communities and other social actors (e.g., development initiatives, land reforms, migration, important phenomena of population mobility or natural growth or decline)?
  • Are there other co-management initiatives in the region? If so, to what extent are they succeeding? Who are their main partners?

At times, the "potential institutional actors" are not clear about their own interests and concerns in an NRM unit. Even more often, they are not organised to communicate and promote them and/or are not willing to take on NRM responsibilities. For their preliminary stakeholder analysis, the members of the Start-up Team may begin with a list of social actors obviously possessing major interests, concerns, capacities and / or comparative advantages in natural resource management. Through contacts and meetings with them, that list will be modified. It is likely that not all the ones initially identified may be willing to organise and invest time and resources in management, but new and possibly less obvious social actors might be.

A fairly usual dilemma in stakeholder analysis presents itself when the Start-up Team discovers a variety of different interests, concerns and capacities vis-à-vis natural resources within one and the same potential institutional actor (let us say a community in the vicinity of a forest). Should one or several institutional actors be invited to participate in the negotiation process? There is no simple answer to this question. The Start-up Team may wish to explore the pros and cons of the dilemma with the most directly concerned people and groups as part of their own process of self-organisation (see below). For instance, a united community has more weight at the discussion table than several people who cannot agree on a common position. And yet, the community may be willing to speak as one voice on certain occasions and as many on others… In other words, the people who find themselves united as "one stakeholder" for some decisions may need to split and regroup on another one. This phenomenon, at times referred to as "multi-culturality" of stakeholders (see Otchet, 2000), should be acknowledged and recognised as normal.

But, are interests and a willingness to participate sufficient to take on a management role? Shouldn't the Start-up Team also ask: "Who are the social actors entitled to manage the unit(s) at stake?" It certainly should. And yet, the understanding of what constitutes a legitimate entitlement is an evolving socio-political phenomenon, best approached in a participatory way. The Start-up Team could begin by asking the potential institutional actors whether they consider they have a fair claim to participate in the management of natural resources and, if so, on what grounds. In this way, the Start-up Team will obtain a list of factors and characteristics that at least some people recognise as legitimate "roots of entitlements" in the local context. Some examples of such factors and characteristics are listed in a box in the following page.

The roots of entitlements: examples of grounds on which to claim a role in natural resource management

  • existing legal rights to land or resources, whether by customary law or modern legislation (e.g., traditional tenure and access rights, ownership, right of use);
  • mandate by the state (e.g. statutory obligation of a given agency or governmental body);
  • direct dependency on the natural resources in question for subsistence and survival (e.g. for food, medicine, communication);
  • dependency for gaining basic economic resources;
  • historical, cultural and spiritual relationships with the concerned territory, area or natural resources;
  • unique knowledge of and ability to manage the concerned NRM unit(s);
  • on-going relationship with the territory, area or natural resources (e.g. local communities and long-time resource users vis-à-vis recently arrived immigrants, tourists, hunters);
  • loss and damage suffered as a result of NRM decisions and activities;
  • level of interest and effort invested in natural resource management;
  • present or potential impact of the social actor's activities on the land or the natural resources;
  • opportunity to share in a more equitable way the benefits of natural resources;
  • number of individuals or groups sharing the same interests or concerns;
  • general, social recognition of the value of a given point of view or value (e.g., based on traditional knowledge; based on scientific knowledge; aiming at "sustainable use"; aiming at "conserving natural and cultural heritage"; following the "precautionary principle", etc.);
  • compatibility with national policies;
  • compatibility with international conventions and agreements.
  • Not all societies or groups within a society recognise all NR management claims from all social actors. They may recognise some but not others. They may recognise claims only in combination with others (e.g. dependency for survival + long-term relationship with the resources + uses based on traditional technology and practices). Some social actors may recognise their respective claims, but other actors may deny them.

    Given such a multiplicity of possible views, how can resource management claims be assessed vis-à-vis one another? Who can determine their respective value and "weight"?

    Towards empowered and responsible institutional actors: a schematic view

    Ideally, this would be done via a socially endogenous process, i.e. a socio-historical development in which groups and individuals organise themselves to express their interests and concerns (and thus define themselves as "institutional actors"), prompt society to recognise their claims as "entitlements", participate in negotiating an equitable division of benefits and responsibilities, and learn-by-doing in natural resource management (see the following schematic view). In this process, the institutional actors with socially recognised entitlements may also be subdivided between "primary" and "secondary", and thus accorded different roles in natural resource management.

    'Who are the "primary" and "secondary" institutional actors?' --- This question cannot be answered outside of a specificcontext. Yet, some social actors are in the frontline of needs, knowledge, and comparative NRM advantages pretty much everywhere. Such actors can also claim a unique historical relationship as users, managers, protectors and 'producers' of the natural resources at stake. Such actors are the local communities.

    In many contexts, such a process will evolve with great difficulty, if at all. It may be blocked by individuals with vested interests, or by too strong a power imbalance among the social actors involved (e.g. big business and national and local administrations versus a traditional community). It may lack the human or financial resources it needs to take off. It may be impeded by a history of violence and bitter fights among relevant groups and factions. Or it may just be foreign to the local context because of a weak tradition of participatory democracy in the country.

    Promoting and supporting co-management in a specific context means helping the afore-mentioned process (organising, negotiating and learning-by-doing) to start, and to develop in a fair way. In particular, it means helping local communities to identify and overcome obstacles such as the ones just listed above.

    Comments and feedback on this page or this publication are welcomed. These should be may be sent by e-mail to the authors at: gbf@cenesta.org, taghi@unforgettable.com, cogestion.iucn@camnet.cm, reseau.cogestion@camnet.cm

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