|Investigating stakeholder engagement cycles and identities within water resource management, using narrative techniques
This Water Research Commission funded research project, undertaken by The Narrative Lab during the course of 2012 and 2013, investigated the social dynamics of stakeholder engagement and volunteerism using narrative techniques at two study sites in the Western Cape, namely the Wilderness and Swartvlei estuaries which are situated on the Garden Route, close to the towns of Wilderness and Sedgefield.
In particular the study aimed to understand why citizens choose to engage with water resource challenges, how they translate that engagement into action and participation and how such engagement may be cyclical in nature. The study investigates how citizens become and remain engaged in the decision making regarding the management of the natural resource and to determine, (a) if they feel they are empowered, (b) if they have sufficient knowledge as well as (c) guiding principles on how to act or start an active engagement process.
The terms ‘stakeholder management’ and ‘stakeholder engagement‘ are easily entwined with each other and used interchangeably when describing any process whereby an entity interacts and communicates with people or entities who are affected by a course of action or project. There is a nuanced difference between the term describing a broader, more inclusive, and continuous process between a company and those potentially impacted that encompasses a range of activities and approaches (IFC, 2007) and the term referring to the way in which stakeholders engage with a water resource challenge.
The focus of this research study was to investigate latter form of stakeholder engagement, i.e. the way affected individuals, groups, parties and entities choose to engage with a water resource challenge. In other words, stakeholder engagement refers to the manner in which citizens and representatives of stakeholder groupings come to the decision to participate and remain involved in alleviating the challenges associated with water in their locality.
This focus then also encompassed the traditional process of stakeholder engagement whereby an entity engages with stakeholders through a structured process of interaction and communication, but the primary intent was to understand how to create and sustain levels of engagement amongst stakeholders with a water resource challenge.
Two study sites were chosen in the Western Cape, the Swartvlei and Wilderness lakes systems near George. The study sites were chosen because of a recent track record of stakeholder engagement levels and events that were of interest to the project team. In particular, relationships between citizen stakeholder groups and the managing agency, South African National Parks, had become fragmented and had deteriorated significantly regarding the management of the lakes systems. In particular, engagement issues revolved around the opening and closing of the estuary mouths at Swartvlei and Wilderness. Flooding of houses and properties was of significant concern to local stakeholders when the mouths were not being manually opened in time by SANParks.
OBJECTIVES AND AIMS
The main aims of the research were to:
1. Generate a body of knowledge on stakeholder engagement cycles within Integrated Water Resource Management in South Africa by investigating the history of engagement within selected communities.
2. Understand the dynamics that drive the cyclical nature of engagement and how to overcome them so as to create sustainable engagement levels in communities.
Additional aims of the study included:
• Establish what the High Potential Opportunities (HPO) are that present the ideal starting conditions for the creation or emergence of sustainable engagement.
• Investigate the influence of the following concepts/notions on stimulating and sustaining engagement: Salience, Agency, Social Learning, Identity Formation, Resilience, Leadership and Adaption amongst others.
• Investigate the role of identities in stakeholder management and engagement, with particular reference to the volunteer identity.
• Establish how sustainable helpful engagement identities can be stimulated in diverse stakeholder groupings that would transcend physical and social boundaries.
The study used a qualitative methodology that focused on the application of narrative techniques to uncover the stories of engagement at the study sites. Stakeholder maps, historical timelines and engagement themes were generated through the collection of narrative material from respondents in interviews and workshops. Fieldwork was conducted by The Narrative Lab team in conjunction with a locally based Masters student, Aneri Vlok, who submitted her Masters dissertation based on the study.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
The outputs of the Stakeholder Mapping and Historical Timelines were of particular interest to the research team as well as stakeholders who are residents and representatives of stakeholder groupings in Wilderness and Swartvlei. Firstly, the stakeholder maps for the respective study sites are larger than residents had assumed. Through the dissemination of the maps citizens experienced a broadening of their own assumptions of who the stakeholders were at the study sites. They were also able to position themselves and their agendas within the context of other affected stakeholders who also have legitimate benefit sharing needs of the estuaries.
The history of engagement at the study sites dates back to the 1800s where the project team were able to establish that the opening and closing of the river mouths, originally performed by local farmers, became an issue as management agencies established themselves and began managing the estuaries.
Certain events are key to sparking increased levels of stakeholder engagement in relation to water management. These events were highlighted in emergent engagement themes that were extrapolated from the narratives contributed by participants in the study.
Specifically, the themes that spark the psychological and emotional engagement that transforms into active participation are:
• The role of key individuals and changes in personal within Water Forums
• The reason why people choose to engage
• The continuity of a forum
• Access to the natural resource
• Housing and Land Development
• Droughts and Flood
• Management of the Lakes
A key finding of the study was that citizen engagement levels are highly individualised and variable in nature, driven by complex individual and social dynamics. While engagement may not seem to be cyclical over time, it is certainly variable and the study has identified issues and discourses (themes) that affect engagement levels. Another key finding was that citizen stakeholders seem to be limited in their overall view of the stakeholder landscape and the history of engagement at the study sites. These partial viewpoints, while valid in their own right, are not the whole picture and citizens can benefit from stakeholder mapping and historical timeline activities that bring more people into the fold.
Swartvlei and Wilderness are unique in the sense that there exists a large cohort of retired people, many of whom have engineering backgrounds, who reside in the areas. These retired people are highly engaged and involved in the water resource challenges and are very vocal with regards to the shortcomings of SANParks in the area. Unfortunately, the retired community and SANParks officials have not yet found a way of working alongside each other constructively.
One of the key outputs of this study was the development of a user-friendly Citizen Engagement Guide (Appendix 2). The Guide was developed to equip average citizens with the narrative techniques utilised in this study so that they themselves could begin gathering material to characterise and understand the nature of engagement in their own areas, wherever they may be.
OBSERVATIONS & REFLECTIONS
While the results of this study are not exhaustive, there were some key observations that emerged from the project:
• For many citizens, engagement is not percieved as an issue worthy of spending time on being addressed or spoken about. For these people, the water challenge is the issue.
• There are subtle and sometimes direct identity dynamics at play in stakeholder groupings that influecen the way in which individuals choose to get involved.
• The socio-economic status of individuals plays a role in the extent to which they get involved as well as informing the nature of their concern regarding the natural resource.
• It is particialry difficult for representatives of a single stakeholder grouping to fully appreciate and understand the identity, mindsets, priorities, values and agenda of those in another stakeholder grouping. This seems to be due to the fact that representatives of stakeholder groupings socially interact with those mainly from within the same grouping.
In reflection, the project team felt the ethical burden of conducting stakeholder mapping and historical timelines. The power of deciding who is included in a stakeholder map is the power of inclusion and exclusion. The same is true of representing the history of a location, although different in that history is ultimately subjective and depends on how certain people prioritise the importance and significance of certain events over others.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
The project team recommends that more work be done on applying the methods of stakeholder mapping and timeline analysis in WRC funded projects in order to establish solid literature on how to conduct and apply the methods.
We recommend that further research be conducted on stakeholder engagement as the project did not adequately characterise the cyclical nature of stakeholder engagement. Our experience was also that the complexity of engaging with engagement, so to speak, is interesting and should be of interest to management agency stakeholders who seek to engender greater co-management of our natural resources.
Please note that this report contains verbatim quotes from the interviews conducted by the researchers. These are rendered in italics with the reference to the specific interview appended in brackets with an ‘I’ followed by the interview number.
|Document Type:||Research Report
|Document Subjects:||Water Resource Management/IWRM - Planning and development, Water Resource Management/IWRM - Water Governance
|Document File Type:||pdf
|Research Report Type:||Standard
|WRC Report No:||2076/1/13
|Authors:||Choles A G; Govender N; Vlok A
|Organizations:||The Narrative Lab
|Document Size:||2 004 KB