3. The negotiation phase

Negotiating among institutional actors: the heart of co-management

The co-management plans, agreements and organisations are as good as the process that generated them. It is wise to invest in this process!

Critical challenges

  • to develop a partnership by which the benefits and responsibilities of natural resource management are shared in the most efficient and equitable manner possible, starting from a situation that may be neither efficient nor equitable. Also, sometimes:
  • to develop a partnership among people who do not share the same culture (e.g. values, attitudes, capacities, ways of working, reference systems, languages), which means overcoming serious communication difficulties.

What has to be remembered?

  • that there exist a multiplicity of good and poor NRM options (the terms good and poor referring to the goals and objectives to be defined, which themselves are many and varied);
  • that many institutional actors may have difficulties in getting their claims heard and accepted and that the discussion platform should offer them a fair means to do so;
  • that conflicts of interest between the institutional actors are inevitable but can be managed, and all the more so if recognised as early as possible (not every one has to share the same goals, a compromise among all those concerned is quite sufficient);
  • that all the institutional actors (and especially the professional experts!) need to adopt a mature, non-paternalist and non-ethnocentric attitude, and that they need to acknowledge the legitimacy of values, interests and opinions different from their own.
  • That— given the complexity of the ecological and social systems— the best approach is one of adaptive management (learning by doing);
  • that even when a satisfactory NRM solution has been found, it will not remain valid forever; the conditions in the given context will change and the NRM solution will need to change in response to them– something everyone has to be prepared for;

The negotiation meetings

Ideally, at the beginning of negotiations there are:

  • some reasonably well-informed and organised institutional actors
  • a discussion forum, a set of suggested rules and procedures, and a preliminary schedule of meetings and events
  • professional support on hand to facilitate the negotiation meetings and mediate conflicts, if necessary

No matter whether the institutional actors are many or few, whether they are organised formally or informally, whether they feel in basic agreement or oppose each other with strongly contrasting values and interests, they need to meet and discuss issues of common concern. The goal of such meetings is usually to achieve a broad accord on:

  • a long-term vision (ecological and social) for the NRM unit(s) at stake
  • a short- and medium-term strategy to achieve such a vision, including co-management plans for the natural resources at stake and complementary agreements to address socio-economic issues related to such resources
  • an evolving social institution (organisations, rules, etc.) to implement the strategy and ensure on-going reviews, as necessary

3.1 Agreeing on the rules and procedures of negotiation

All institutional actors are sent, in advance, a copy of the proposed agenda for the first of a series of meetings and an invitation for their chosen representative to participate. Reference is made to the name and process description already adopted during the social communication initiatives. The goal of the meetings to come may be set quite high, for example a series of meetings "…to understand the main challenges to our natural resources in the next twenty years, and prepare together to face them." It should be specified, however, that not only lofty goals but also substantive issues of relevance to the institutional actors will be part of the agenda. The convenors could be the Start-up Team and/or, as appropriate, some respected local authorities and personalities. The presence of a facilitator would be useful, and should be announced in advance.

Main qualities and tasks of a good facilitator / mediator

Facilitating meetings is a task firmly anchored in the culture of the actors concerned. As mentioned, many traditional societies do not need external facilitators and know well how to negotiate in a convivial manner as part of normal life. An external facilitator may be important, however, when there are strong power imbalances, unresolved conflicts or communication problems among the parties concerned, and when the parties belong to quite different cultural backgrounds.

An external facilitator should be:

  • recognised as independent
  • generally respected by all those involved
  • capable of relating with everyone on their own terms
  • able to listen
  • able to pose key questions (for example, on the root causes of the various problems and the feasibility of the options put forward)
  • capable of getting the best out of the participants and helping them to see a better future for themselves and their communities

Tasks of an external facilitator:

  • helping the Start-up Team and the institutional actors to identify and agree upon the rules and procedures of the negotiation meetings
  • being responsible for the logistics of the meetings (e.g., agenda, seating arrangements, translation services, discussion tools, etc.)
  • ensuring that the process takes place in accordance with the agreed rules, that the meetings' atmosphere is comfortable and that everyone has a fair chance to participate
  • checking out that the representatives of the institutional actors truly represent them (e.g., they are not merely self-appointed)
  • promoting the best possible communication among institutional actors, e.g., by re-phrasing points, asking questions, suggesting the exploration of new ideas
  • helping a group to be conscious of itself and of its goals, mission and opportunities
  • helping a group to broaden its range of options
  • pointing out the positive aspects of the process, i.e., when the actors' old habits have given way to more constructive attitudes, for example:
    • when the institutional actors actually talk to each other directly, if this was impossible before
    • when new points of doubt and self-doubt are raised
    • when the institutional actors clarify and enhance their perception of the others
    • when new information is brought to the attention of everyone
    • when an agreement that has a chance of being sustainable has been found.
  • avoiding stating his/her opinion on substantive issues and influencing decisions

The first meeting among institutional actors may begin with an introduction by the members of the Start-up Team, who will describe their work thus far. It is important to be transparent about who is facilitating and financially supporting the Team's work and why. The participants (representatives of the institutional actors) may then introduce themselves and mention how they are organised internally and how they (themselves) have been selected as representatives. The facilitator and Start-up Team may then illustrate a proposed set of rules for the negotiation phase as well as procedures and a schedule of meetings. The discussion could then be opened to adjust and modify the proposed rules and procedures until a broad accord is achieved.

An example of a set of rules for the negotiation process

(Rules for negotiation processes are strongly dependent on the cultural milieu; it cannot be stressed enough that the set offered here is only an example, and that this example may be appropriate in some situations and entirely inappropriate in others)

  • all main institutional actors should be present in the meetings and participate via their formal representatives
  • participation is voluntary, but whoever does not come is taken as not being interested in taking part in decision-making; however, if more than X% of the institutional actors are not present for a meeting, the meeting will be adjourned
  • language should always be respectful (people should refrain from insults and verbal abuse)
  • everyone agrees not to interrupt people who are speaking (the facilitator will remind people of the need to be concise)
  • everyone agrees to talk only on the basis of personal experience and/or concrete, verifiable facts
  • everyone agrees not to put forth the opinions of people who are not attending the meetings (unless they are officially represented)
  • consensus is to be reached on all decisions (voting will be avoided as much as possible, as it always assures an unhappy minority…)
  • "observers" are welcome to attend all negotiation meetings. (The decision as to whether the meetings should be open or closed needs to be carefully evaluated vis-à-vis the specific context. In fact, the decision to allow closed meetings should be taken by the institutional actors themselves, rather than by their representatives.)

Procedural and practical aspects, such as the ones listed above, are generally easier to deal with than questions of substance (e.g., what uses of natural resources are allowed) and relationships among the institutional actors (e.g. who has a legitimate entitlement to manage the resources). In the first meeting, it is good to limit the discussion to matters of rules, procedures and logistics. An initial meeting in a calm and productive atmosphere is a good way to help the institutional actors to find out where they stand, establish working relations among themselves and start to "own" the participatory process.

When discussing who shall attend the next meeting, some people may object to the very presence of others and attempt to exclude them. The facilitator could help diffuse these potentially disruptive objections by ensuring that an inclusive approach at the discussion table does not mean that everyone present will share equally in entitlements and responsibilities for natural resource management. The people present at the meeting are representatives of social actors who have organised themselves to express their concerns. It will be the task of all representatives together to identify everyone's role and weight in terms of substantive issues and decisions.

3.2 Developing a common vision of the desired future

One or more meetings can be devoted to establishing a base of common interests and concerns among all the institutional actors. In such meetings, the participants are encouraged to discuss their long-term wishes for the NRM unit(s) at stake, i.e. the kind of environment, natural resources and living conditions they would ideally like to leave to their children and grandchildren. On this basis, the facilitator helps the participants to develop a consensus on a "vision" of such a desired future, with specific descriptions – as visual and concrete as possible – of the ecological and socio-economic situation in the NRM unit(s) (see Annex 1 for some guidance on visioning exercises and Annex 2 for an example of a rural community's vision of its desired future).

Checklist for procedures and logistics

  • Who will need to be present at the next meetings? (Who are the main institutional actors in NRM in our specific context? Have we missed out anyone so far? )
  • Should representation be formal (written affidavit) or accepted also in informal ways? (A written affidavit may be very inappropriate in a non-literate context, as it may allow the literate to dominate others within traditional communities.)
  • How many institutional actors need to be present to declare the meeting valid? (Consider that key stakeholders, including the local communities, should never be left out. Also consider, however, the possibility of coalitions among stakeholders who wish to boycott meetings and thus block the negotiation process.)
  • What language(s) shall we speak? Have arrangements been made for interpreters? (This is a fundamental issue to ensure a fair and equitable negotiation.)
  • Approximately, how many times shall we meet?
  • Where shall we meet and, at least approximately, when? (Consider the negative effect of certain meeting places on stakeholders. The meeting place should not intimidate anyone, and especially the representatives of the local communities. In terms of timing, consider the seasonal changes in workload of rural communities and the daily task schedule of the different actors, especially men and women.)
  • Is there a need for one or more facilitators? Could the facilitator be a local person, or should we call for a professional from outside?
  • How shall people be seated in plenary meetings? (Round arrangements, with or without tables, are generally preferable.)
  • Are facilities available for smaller meetings of working groups?
  • Are there financial resources to support the meetings? Who can provide those resources?
  • Who will be responsible for the logistics (e.g. send a reminder to the agreed participants, getting the premises opened, cleaned, etc.)?
  • Is there a need for rugs and mats, chairs, tables, lamps, boards, paper, cards, felt pens, sticking tape, pins, projectors, and/or other materials to support discussions and presentations? Will everyone feel comfortable using such presentation aids?
  • Social consensus on the vision of the future desired is extremely important for the negotiation of effective co-management plans and agreements. If conflicts and disagreements surface during the negotiation process, the facilitator will be able to bring everyone back to the vision they all wish to achieve. For this, it is useful to write up or draw the main features of the vision on a large sheet of paper (or other appropriate support) and pin it on a visible surface at the site of the negotiation. It is also a good idea to transform the vision into a charter of principles or other appropriate form of social contract (see Annex 2, again).

    3.3 Ritualising the common vision

    An agreement is legitimised when it is accepted and recognised as binding not only by the institutional actors who developed it, but also by society as a whole. The process by which such legitimisation is achieved, however, differs according to the importance of the agreement. A simple local rule is easily legitimised and easily undone. Instead, a common vision of the future desired by an entire community is a sort of constitutional agreement. In many cultures, this calls for a strong ritual, respected and acknowledged by the whole society. Such a ritual helps raise the common vision to the spiritual and symbolic level, making it valid in the long term and particularly difficult to disavow.

    The choice of the appropriate type of ritual is a culturally specific act, concerning the moral, spiritual and often religious values of the institutional actors at stake. Traditional practices are often at the heart of such ceremonies. When non-traditional actors and/or governmental representatives are involved, however, it is advisable that the institutional actors also produce and sign a written document. In this case, the ceremony held to ritualise the vision could include both a traditional ritual and a modern ritual (see, for instance, example box 6). The latter could be the public reading, signing and celebration of a document, such as a charter of principles for natural resource management and development approaches in the territory at stake.

    The common vision of a desired future is a most appropriate type of agreement to ritualise. If such a vision is ritualised it will, in fact, be regarded as intangible and sacrosanct. As such, it will be possible to use it as a common ground where all stakeholders can reconcile the controversies and conflicts that may present themselves in the course of negotiations. It cannot be said, on the other hand, when it is best to hold the ritual ceremony. In certain cases, the ceremony precedes the negotiation of specific plans and agreements. In others, the ritual does not come until after the agreements, as the partners need to see that something concrete can come out of their vision before committing the time and social capital necessary to celebrate a strong ritual.

    3.4 Reviewing the current socio-ecological situation and trends

    With the help of a facilitator, the institutional actors can analyse the present ecological, social and economic situation and trends in the context at stake, as well as their desirability and acceptability. The discussion can start on the basis of a short report illustrated by the Start-up Team (and possibly submitted in advance), although the report should not define the limits of the discussion. Other good starting points are participatory exercises such as land-use and historical mapping, trend analysis, group interviews with the local elders, a transect walk, etc. (see Annex 1 for a description of some of these exercises).

    Example Box 6
    Fusing the traditional and the modern to ritualise a co-management vision

    The Conkouati Game Reserve is situated in the coastal region of Congo Brazzavile and characterised by a diversity of ecosystems (savannah, forest, lake, lagoon, etc). From the early 1990s, the Congolese government and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) are supporting there a co-management process implemented by the IUCN. The process offered an opportunity to develop a common vision among local stakeholders for the future of natural resources, to agree on the basic elements of a management system (particularly the zoning plan) and to institute a multi-stakeholder management authority—the COGEREN.

    The vision of the future was facilitated and developed through a series of meetings between stakeholders and IUCN staff and partners. It was then legitimised and ritualised during a ceremony organised on 8 May, 1999. The adopted procedure stemmed from the usual ones performed at village, administrative and political ceremonies. This one was characterised by a mixe of traditional and modern practices. On the one hand, there were prepared speeches, banners, tee-shirts, slogans, etc. On the other, there were songs during which spirits were invoked, oaths taken by the local traditional land authorities (fumu si or chefs de terre) and dances performed—the same dances usually exhibited during the supplication of spirits for the fertility of women and natural resources (cianga). In order words, there was a fusion of rituals: a modern ritual dominated by the signature of the charter on the management of natural resources and a traditional ritual characterised by fertility cults offered to clan spirits.

    The patrimonial mediation method (see a summary of it in the Overview session of this volume) was utilised by the IUCN staff and partners but, contrary to the classical procedure, the ritualisation of the common vision was organised not immediately after the agreement on the long-term vision, but later on, at the same time as the legitimisation of agreements and the multi-stakeholder management authority. There were at least three reasons for this:

    1. Essentially, a vision is an anticipation on time. The local stakeholders do not have the habit of projecting, and avoid speculating on future events : a visioning exercise is not familiar to them.
    2. The vision appears to people as an abstraction, similar to the promises of the political parties, which the local populations receive with considerable scepticism.
    3. The most important ritual in recent years, namely the hand washing ceremony of the political class in June 1991, has not been respected despite its "sacred" value: the armed conflicts that brought the country to mourn many deaths were evidence enough of the violation and transgression of oaths.

    By organising the ritual only after the specific agreement had been made the project departed from abstract considerations and reasoned on concrete and transparent engagements, a fact which re-assured the local stakeholders.

    A few methods and tools that can be useful in facilitating the development of a situation analysis among several partners are listed below:

    Methods and tools for situation analysis

    • Brainstorming. This is a crucial technique employed to gather the views and perceptions of a group of people on a specific subject. It is based on a freewheeling offering of ideas started by an open-ended and somewhat provocative question put forwards by the facilitator, such as "What main problems do you face in managing natural resources?" "What obstacles forbid you to live in the ideal community you visualised for your children?" "What are the key resources in the area, the "good points" about local life and culture?" Opening statements and questions should be general and non-leading, i.e., should not stress or overemphasize a point of view that could bias the participants. It should be clear that brainstorming is a free and non-committal way of exploring ideas, i.e., no one commits him or herself to something simply because he/she mentioned it in a brainstorming session. Usually people offer ideas orally, one after another, and the facilitator draws relevant pictures or writes the ideas up on a board. The clarifying, grouping and re-phrasing of these ideas is then done through general discussion. The result is a consolidated and hopefully coherent and exhaustive list of items (problems, resources, etc.)

    If all the participants in the exercise are literate, it is also possible to utilise a structured brainstorming exercise. In this case the facilitator asks the question, leaves time for people to think individually and then asks them to write their replies in large letters on colour cards and to describe them, one by one, to the rest of the group. After each idea card has been presented, it is pinned up on the wall and the group decides where it should be set, to cluster with related ideas. The final result is a series of "card clusters", each dealing with a main subject. Each cluster can later be assigned to a sub-group, which will clarify it, rephrase it and explore it in detail (see also Annex 1).

    • Problem analysis. Depending on the questions posed to the group, the stakeholders may have identified a list of issues (such as "management of the watershed") or problems (such as "deforestation in the watershed"). In all cases, issues and/ or problems and/ or anything that requires action and change need to be analysed by the institutional actors with the help of the facilitator.

    "Clarifying" means obtaining a coherent common understanding of the issues/ problems at the present moment. In particular, can everyone agree on what constitutes a "problem" and thus by definition requires change? If people disagree on this point, a helpful question may be "Is this blocking/ impeding/ slowing down the achievement of the common vision of our desired future?"

    "Analysing" means setting the issues/ problems within a meaningful context of root causes and consequences, in particular with respect to the vision of the ideal future agreed upon by everyone. Such an analysis is vital to direct energy and resources in an effective way. Can everyone see the same causes and consequences for a given issue or problem? A good analysis is comprehensive and investigates several dimensions of a given context, but can be completed in a reasonable amount of time and, most importantly, is understood by everyone. Graphic conceptual frameworks are very useful to organize and communicate a situation or problem analysis (see below).

    • Conceptual frameworks . A conceptual framework is a schematic illustration of the relationships between an issue or problem, the phenomena contributing to creating and maintaining it, and the consequences arising from its existence. Usual forms may be a graph of boxes and arrows or the drawing of a problem-causes-effects tree (see Annex 1). Ideally, a conceptual framework is coherent and comprehensive, for instance able to accommodate the potentially multi-sectoral nature of problems, but it is also simple. If possible, it includes some consideration of the time dimension (history, seasonality, processes of social and environmental change, etc.).

    A conceptual framework can be produced collectively during a meeting to analyse the existing situation. Once a problem has been identified, the facilitator asks what are its causes and consequences. The participants in the exercise draw symbols and / or write names or very short phrases on cards and pin them on the drawing of a tree. The main problem is usually pinned over the trunk and the causes and consequences close to the roots and branches. Alternatively, cards can be spatially arranged on a board and connected by lines and arrows. Dealing with movable cards is better than dealing with a single drawing on a sheet of paper, as cards can be moved and changed much more easily at the suggestion of the participants in the meeting. In this way, the collective thinking of the group can be developed and expressed. The discussion on the conceptual framework should continue until everyone is satisfied that all the main causes and consequences of a problem have been identified, and no more ideas are offered or corrections requested.


    • Breaking down large problems/issues into smaller or sectoral components. A problem that is too large and complex is often very difficult to analyse, and even more difficult to treat. One way of overcoming an impasse is to break it down into smaller sub-issues or problems and to assign them for discussion to sub-groups and task forces of the participants in the meeting. Time, however, should be set aside for common discussion of the overall strategic view.
    • Analysing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats/limitations (SWOT). SWOT is a powerful tool a group can use to assess an issue of concern, in particular a project, an organisation or a public service, and to identify opportunities for action and change. Basically, it is a group brainstorming on the positive factors (strengths), the negative factors (weaknesses), the possible improvements (opportunities) and the constraints (threats and limitations) related to the initiative or entity at stake. Usually the results of the session are listed on a four-column matrix, drafted on flipcharts on a wall.

    At times, participants have different opinions or express contradictory statements. In such cases, the facilitator can ask further questions to deepen the arguments, but a consensus among group members is not necessary. Contrasting views and alternative options can be listed on the same column in the matrix. In particular circumstances, it may be necessary to gather more information once the meeting is over, information that will be communicated to the whole group in the next meeting (see Annex 1 for details).

    3.5 Agreeing on a strategy towards the common vision

    When institutional actors have had time to discuss current issues and trends, the common vision of the desired future is recalled and compared with the present situation. What are the main points of difference? Do the trends identified and discussed indicate that society is moving towards or away from the common vision? What are the key problems and obstacles blocking progress towards the common vision? What opportunities, resources and assets can be relied on? After a realistic discussion of these points, the facilitator may ask the institutional actors to focus their attention on identifying the components (dimensions of work, key performance areas) of a strategy to achieve the common vision from the present starting point. Basically, these would be the areas in which it is necessary to act in the short to medium term in order to achieve some tangible results and change (objectives). Such results will constitute the building blocks of the common vision i.e. will help transform the desirable into the possible and/or real.

    Some of the components will deal directly with natural resource management, whereas others will bear upon it in more indirect and complementary ways, i.e., via interventions geared towards economic development, health, education, social organising, governance, culture and so on (see the example in Annex 3). Indeed, it would be neither effective nor wise to conceive a management plan for natural resources in isolation from the socio-economic reality in which they are embedded. Coordinated interventions in several sectors are also important to allow an equitable distribution of the social costs and benefits of sound natural resource management.

    At this stage it is not yet necessary to clarify the details of what needs to happen, but just to specify:

    • the key areas or problems that need to be tackled (i.e., the components of the strategy); and
    • the broadly desirable outcomes (objectives) for each such component.

    If the discussion proceeds well, the facilitator may challenge the participants not only to identify the main components of the strategy, but also to understand and evaluate the links among them, so as to assemble a coherent overall plan. If at all possible, the result of the discussion should be summarised on a sheet of paper and posted on the wall on the meeting premises, possibly next to the description of the agreed vision of the desired future.

    Comments and feedback on this page, or this publication, are welcomed. These should be may be sent by e-mail to the authors at: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]

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