Partnership building is a key aspect in development. Much literature is available on how to build partnerships in development. However, partnership building has not been an easy task, because most effective partnerships operate consciously or unconsciously according to three core principles; equity, transparency and mutual benefit. Partnership has been defined as; “an ongoing working relationship where risks and benefits are shared.” Therefore, partnerships collapse if the said principals are violated either by both or one party. Thus, it is imperative that we look at how successful partnerships can be built in development processes. One may argue that brokering is the key to partnership building. However, in a multi-disciplinary scenario where multi-stakeholders come together for a common objective poses many challenges to brokering partnerships. The questions that arise out of this situation are: “What are the strategies to build partnerships in multi-stakeholder set-up, and what are the lessons that can be learned from doing so.” The following case-study attempts to discuss the lessons of building partnerships in a natural resource governance process by means of facilitating interactions among a wide range of stakeholders.
Urani is a lagoon situated in the eastern province of Sri Lanka, where two ethic communities; Muslim and Tamil fishers are engaged in fishing. Sustainable Lagoons and Livelihoods Project (SLLP), jointly implemented by Practical Action and Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DFAR) developed an institutional framework for fisheries governance. This institutional set-up comprised of all stakeholders from all decision-makings levels is called a Co-coordination (Co-governance) committee, which decentralizes decision making to manage the Urani lagoon’s social-ecological system to ensure sustainability of the lagoon’s resources as well as livelihoods of lagoon-dependent communities. Lagoon fishers are an integral part of this institutional structure, being represented by way of Lagoon Fisheries Management Committees (LFMCs), with two LFMCs representing 147 lagoon fishers in Urani. The whole process is backed by 2013 No.35 Amendment to the1996 No.02 Fisheries Act. Thus, this may be described as a law making process because, the instructional framework is legally decentralized in which the stakeholders can develop their own rules and regulations to govern the whole lagoon ecosystem, which finally, becomes the law in Sri Lanka. The LFMCs are also legally backed by the same Act, in order to be equipped with better barging power in the co-governance process.
Multi-stakeholder facilitation has been the key strategy in co-coordination meetings, which facilitated interactions and communications among different stakeholders in Urani lagoon. Because this is a legally decentralized platform, stakeholders are represented from top to bottom and vice versa. The initial multi-stakeholder facilitation process was a very challenging exercise, due to bureaucracies, power, politics etc. Therefore, the facilitation process was slow at the beginning. At the initial meetings, the dominant groups; often the top level government stakeholders, wanted to play a leading role in decision making. Therefore, at initial meetings the multi-stakeholder process focused on developing values/principles; a common frame-work for this process while reaching consensus on its purpose which is “to bring about policy change, share risks, and find innovative and synergistic ways to pool resources and talents, based on each participant’s strengths”. This was the most challenging aspect of the process, but the legal Amendment (2013 No.35 Amendment) proved to be very helpful. Next, developing a steering committee was a temporary strategy used to ensure that the top level stakeholders feel valued and respected in the process. Working groups were formed to perform detailed work on objectives of the co-coordination committee. Working groups are effective in developing detailed action plans, carrying out studies and collecting information or data etc. However, throughout the facilitation process, inclusiveness was ensured to accommodate all necessary stakeholders. There were two other aspects that the project ensured in facilitating; the requirement to be conflict sensitive and the need to be cognizant of power structures among multi-ethnic stakeholders were vital. Finally, monitoring and reviewing was a key component in the process which was at beginning the task of the steering committee, but after the rules, regulations and actions plans were agreed upon for the social ecological system of Urani, these became the basis for the operation of the co-governance committee, and all stakeholders began reviewing the plans accordingly.
Initially, the SLL project led the facilitation process and this was incrementally handed over to DFAR which is at present operating the process. One of the key results is the strengthened service delivery for lagoon development due to partnerships and joint work apart from the law making process. One good example is the alternative livelihood development actions, which was a requirement identified by the lagoon fishers. They included this action in their lagoon development plans and proposed eco-tourism, which were discussed in the co-coordination committee meetings. The decision was made when the IFAD (International Fund for Agriculture Development) and CCD (Coast Conservation Department of Sri Lanka) led project “Participatory Coastal Rehabilitation and Development Project” started working with LFMCs to develop eco-tourism. Before this intervention, lagoon fishers had been operating eco-tourism with limited facilities and had proposals to improve it, but lacked the capacity to do so. The IFAD-CCD project provided infrastructure and capacity building for the fisher communities. The infrastructure development actions included building two multi-purpose community centers for the two LFMCs which are used to greet the foreign visitors as well as to hold their LFMC monthly meetings, while capacity building provided necessary training and exposure to running eco-tourism as a group enterprise. This outcome did not result from brokering. Noteworthy too, is that the adoption of an appropriate facilitation process to promote interactions among stakeholders resulted in a governance system that is based on core principles of equity, transparency and mutual benefit.
Currently, both LFMCs run the eco-tourism business very successfully. During the last year, one committee was able to run 600 tours in the lagoon and charged 2,500 LKR (17 USD) per tour. The fishing crafts (only non-mechanized are allowed in the lagoon) belong to the LFMC. Out of Rupees 2,500, 1200 Rupees goes to the tour operator, and 600 Rupees goes to the LFMC, while Rupees 500 is allocated to the craft for repairs etc. The money that goes to each LFMC is used to run a micro finance program for the fisher community and one LFMC claims that they saved 800,000 LKR (5,500 USD) last year.
The operation of this system is driven by each committee’s own set of values, which are discussed and agreed upon by majority vote in the LFMC meetings. However, tours are operated on rotation basis and priority has been given to the young people who might otherwise be resource abusers who are liable to exert excess pressure on lagoon fishing. It turns out that this system operates as a means to reduce excessive fishing pressure on the lagoon as well.
Many lessons have been learned by the Urani lagoon work. The foremost lesson is that multi-stakeholder facilitation leads to building successful partnerships. The experience gained by the Urani project confirmed that multi-stakeholder partnerships promote the development of focused and holistic action plans which foster the sharing of skills and innovation. Also, multi-stakeholder partnerships promote ownership and commitment for action. They enable participants to gain a better understanding of the need for change, feel ownership for a proposed plan of action and create a platform for peer pressure to ensure delivery of outcomes. It is also evident that when implementing this process, measurable goals and objectives are difficult to enforce but are essential for a successful multi-stakeholder process.
Another lesson is that intentional brokering is not necessary to build partnerships. Also, when partnerships are facilitated in a multi-stakeholder process, such partnerships better match the needs and context or prevailing system. Furthermore, multi-stakeholder processes require monitoring and evaluation, which results are shared widely by all stakeholders. Yet another lesson is that when partnerships are correctly facilitated, successes and failures are discussed, and alternatives are proposed from multi-disciplinary points of view. This factor contributes significantly to sustaining lagoon resources and livelihoods of lagoon-dependent communities on a long term. This model promotes trust and encourages further partnerships outside the core partners. Finally, it is clear that the adoption of a right facilitation process builds interactions among stakeholder which lead to collaborative actions vital for collaborative governance of natural resources and livelihood development.