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Spark did an analysis of the networks among water stakeholders in the arid west, where a lack of water is a longstanding challenge. The decision-making opportunity that the analysis informed was focused on how a specific water roundtable could more effectively bridge across interests to develop a strong advocacy voice on behalf of their water basin.
From the analysis, we discovered that stakeholders with a strong interest in protecting the water needs of the agricultural system were loosely connected at best to other stakeholders, but had a generally positive view about working with others on the problem. Stakeholders with a strong interest in keeping water in the rivers to protect the natural ecosystems were tightly connected to each other, but not to stakeholders with other interests. Stakeholders focused on municipal water needs, particularly those associated with major metropolitan areas were loosely connected to other stakeholders and had largely negative feelings about engaging in collaborative processes.
The water stakeholders who helped interpret the information used their historical knowledge of the water policy system to explain the findings. Historically, many agricultural stakeholders could rely on the legal and policy system for allocation of water to meet their needs. It is a relatively recent problem driven by demand, and changes in policy for them to have to rely on multi-stakeholder collaboratives to meet water needs, which requires them to participate in ways they haven’t before. This resulted in their level of disconnect to the network, but openness to collaboration.
The environmental stakeholders largely lacked either policy or legal mechanisms to get their needs met, which made it necessary for them to mobilize large coalitions of supporters to place political pressure on decision-makers to keep the environment’s interests in mind. This resulted in a tight-knit community of stakeholders.
Stakeholders from large municipalities were uniquely positioned with a legal and policy system that supported meeting their needs, the resources to expand their access to water if/when needed, and the pressure of increasing demands to propel them forward on acquiring the water they need. This positioned them to be much less dependent on collaborative processes to get their needs met and less likely to feel that compromises were an option, thus their less connected networks and less focus on the collaborative process.
A fourth group emerged from the analysis as well (one that no one expected) but once identified, everyone saw as highly useful. These were stakeholders who had a strong interest in a specific water need such as agriculture or the environment, but were equally interested in compromise and collaboration in order to balance the needs. They were connected to all of the other interests, serving as brokers and natural mediators.
As a result of the analysis, the water stakeholders worked together to create a different way of surfacing critical issues at their roundtable, leveraging the stakeholders who wanted to balance the needs, and ensuring they could get to tough decisions that were followed by well-defined actions.