Citizen participation in managing water: Do Conversatorios generate collective action?


A central challenge for effective watershed management is improving the welfare of residents who live in upper catchments while providing adequate environmental goods and services to people and areas downstream. A CPWF project, Sustaining Collective Action Linking Economic and Ecological Scales in Upper Watersheds (SCALES), addressed this challenge in three sites. This document is an evaluation of a project activity that intended to enhance collective action in one site: the Coello watershed of Colombia.

The SCALES project researched and fostered collective action. The Conversatorio of Acción Ciudadana (CAC) served as the collective action mechanism to promote civil society participation in public policy decisions. Supported by the Colombian constitution, the legal power of CACs enable communities to discuss policies and reach agreements with government authorities.

The objective of this review is to evaluate the impact of the CAC process. Evaluation methods included analysis of SCALES project reports and documentation on impact pathways, interviews and social networks. The intended project outcomes, as identified by the project implementers themselves, served as the starting point for the analysis. These expectations were contrasted with identifiable project outcomes. A social network analysis reviewed contextual conditions, mechanisms of intervention, and processes that led to the project outcomes. The evaluation also analyzed interviews with project participants.

Evaluation results show that the CAC process has the potential to become an international public good/method that can (a) facilitate community access to knowledge, technology and skills, and (b) enable them to participate in decision-making processes in managing water and other natural resources. Given the relatively short time frame between project and evaluation, impacts cannot be realistically assessed. Social change processes and associated impact require years to evolve and grow. Nevertheless, the project activities and outputs have laid important groundwork for longer-term economic, social and environmental impacts.


CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food, Sri Lanka. Impact Assessment Series, IA paper 06, 66 pp.

Citizen participation in managing water: Do Conversatorios generate collective action?

Published 1 January 2011