Water development and management should be based on a participatory approach (Dublin principal no. 2), involving users, planners and policy-makers at all levels. Water is a resource that affects all. True participation is ensured only when all stakeholders are involved in the decision-making. A participatory approach involving all stakeholders is the best strategy to achieve long-term accord and consensus. Participation means taking responsibility for and acknowledging impact of this sector on other water users and water ecosystems as well as committing to increasingly effective use and sustainable development of water resources.
It should be noted that participation does not necessarily result in consensus. Therefore, arbitrage and other conflict resolution mechanisms should be ensured. Governments should work to ensure participation of all stakeholders, in particular, vulnerable groups of the population. It should be admitted that today poor groups of the population would benefit least from a mere participatory environment without enhanced participation mechanisms. Decentralizing decision making to the lowest level is the only strategy to enhance participation. (GWP 2012b)
The relevance of participation for IWRM is explained mainly with three central functions, which increase the effectiveness of decisions:
- Participation increases the knowledge level of the actors with regard to the sustainable handling of water resources. This applies to the general public, for example in the management of water-specific technologies, but it also concerns individual stakeholders who are introduced to other ideas through an intensive exchange of knowledge and thus leading them to perceive the complex reality in a more differentiated way.
- Participation supports the integration of interests: An intensive exchange of information requires the involvement of concerned actors and lays the foundations for the necessary cooperation.
- Participation is one condition for ownership: Often, it is only through participation that decisions are made understandable and acceptable and can thus be implemented. Together, the three mentioned functions support a sustainable, comprehensive and cross-sectoral solution of water related issues. (BMBF 2012)