Building Local Partnerships
A Guide for Watershed Partnerships
Why build a local partnership.
Partnerships are a key to effective watershed management. Through a partnership different
people and organizations work together to address common interests and concerns.
terms such as "teams," "alliances" and "groups" can be used
instead of partnership. What you call your organization and how it's structured is up to
the group. In fact, effective organizations are as unique as the watershed itself.
A partnership is the easiest way to develop and implement a successful watershed
management plan because everyone is involved from the beginning. That means the ultimate
plan will truly have the consensus of all parties who have a stake in the watershed.
In addition, partnerships often result in:
More efficient use of financial resources
A spirit of sharing and cooperation
Fairness which minimizes the potential for negative social and
More creative and acceptable ways to protect natural resources
Field trips and tours
Meetings and workshops
Cleanup and restoration days
Educational programs for schools, civic groups, and other local
Partnerships can also be challenging. It takes time and skill to create successful
partnerships. Maintaining motivation and enthusiasm is another challenge, especially if
positive results don't happen quickly. All the relevant stakeholders must believe their
efforts are needed.
As you build a local partnership, you will encounter these and other challenges.
Remember, the benefits of partnerships usually far outweigh the challenges.
Who should be included?
In short, anyone with a stake in the watershed management plan (see list right) should be
involved. Success depends on involving a good mix of people and organizations in the
partnership to put together and implement the plan.
You will need to find people to play a number of roles. These roles include:
Some people who live outside the watershed may even have an important role to play because
they benefit from or impact water or other natural resources within the watershed.
Partners & Contributions
Human interest stories
Understanding of local information
Ability to get information out
|Landowners & Managers
Linkage with landowners
Prestige for partnership
Funding for programs
Sponsor field days and
Donate equipment and services
Funding for programs
Existing communication channels
Awareness of problems and
Committed and knowledgeable
|Local Elected Officials
leadership and credibility
Land use and resource
Financial support for projects
|Local Government Agencies
Policies and decisions that affect
Logistics, equipment, and related
Data collection and analysis
|Chambers of Commerce
goals for local
Concerns and interests of
efforts in the future
Time and energy for
values and beliefs
Ability to shape future generations
Source of information
Interest and concern for health
Ability to mobilize and motivate
Ability to appeal to higher values
Credibility and legitimacy
Time and talent for
Understanding of local conditions
Credibility in community
Interest in and concern for
How to build a successful partnership.
Building a successful partnership takes skill, time and patience. Here are some specific
strategies to help.
Keys to successful partnerships
Establish a sense of need and direction - All partners need to know they're working toward
a worthwhile purpose. They also need to know what is expected of them.
Select partners based on existing and potential skills, not personalities -
Partnerships will need technical or communications, problem-solving, and interpersonal
Pay particular attention to the early meetings and activities - First impressions mean
a lot. People are often skeptical at the first meeting and may be suspicious of other
Set some ground rules - The group will probably need to set some specific ground rules
related to meeting participation, discussion, confidentiality, constructive feedback, and
Start with a few short-term tasks that have a good chance for success - Be sure that
early projects are realistic and will be seen as "winners" in the eyes of the
Challenge the group regularly with fresh facts and information - New information (that
you will be gathering as a partnership) will help to better understand your situation and
improve your effectiveness.
Spend time together - It will take time to get the partnership working effectively.
Spend time (outside of meetings if possible) to get to know each other.
Use the power of positive feedback, recognition, and reward - People respond to
positive incentives in the partnership setting just as they do as individuals.
Identify, involve the "right" people
All people with a stake in the watershed (stakeholders) should feel welcome to become a
partner. Use the list to start. In addition, consider the following three distinct groups:
Those who are BOTH affected by and interested in watershed
Those who ARE affected, but NOT interested
Those who are NOT affected, but ARE interested
While each partner should understand and agree to their own roles and responsibilities,
all partners should be able to take part in any decision or activity where they have
interest and expertise.
Leadership comes from within
Leadership should emerge from among the members of the partnership. Someone will have to
take the initial responsibility for getting members together. Once members are together,
however, consensus will be necessary regarding leadership.
Leadership or coordination involves the ability to get people to voluntarily commit to
goals and accept responsibilities. A top-down approach will not generally work.
The initial meeting(s) are critical to success. General meeting strategies and
specifics for the first meeting are in the Leading
& Communicating guide.
Build a common purpose
An important way to build a partnership is to develop a clear sense of your purpose
through a statement. Partners should develop a concise purpose statement that defines
general goals and responsibilities.
"The Blue Lake Watershed Partnership is dedicated to protecting the lake's quality of
life and the economic vitality of land users in the watershed."
A carefully worded statement will serve as a yardstick for decision making, for
measuring progress and will provide motivation for high quality. Make sure all partners
are comfortable with the statement. Steps include:
Ask for ideas from all partners
Discuss the ideas and draft a statement
Revise draft based on discussion
Write a final statement based on consensus
Solicit statements of commitment from all partners
This process may not be easy and will take time. Potential conflicts need to be
discussed and resolved. Remember, it's important to keep the statement general enough to
encourage widespread support, but specific enough to identify goals and measure progress.
Establish attainable goals
To accomplish the purpose statement the group will need to set short- and long-term goals.
These goals should include general strategies (e.g., increase support of watershed
protection). Goals for more specific activities will also be needed (e.g., series of
newspaper articles, tree planting, etc.).
Focus on the future in setting clear and attainable goals. Partners should assume
specific responsibilities to accomplish within a definite time frame. Partnerships often
get stuck at this stage because past experience dictates what a group believes they can or
cannot do. Do not let the past dictate the future.
Make best use of talents
Build the partnership around members' interests and strengths. Each member needs to
contribute their unique talents. For example, some may be responsible for public contact
while others will gather resource information.
Individuals can provide new ideas and approaches. Yet, the group shares responsibility
for decisions and actions, as well as for successes. All members also should be able to
express their opinions and offer constructive criticism.
Encourage communication and participation
Successful partnerships are built on clear and open communication. Discussion both during
and outside meetings should be honest and open. Partners need to listen to each other and
provide constructive feedback. See the Leading
& Communicating guide for details.
Balanced participation will also promote a spirit of trust and cooperation. Because
each partner has an interest in the success of the partnership, each should participate in
discussions and decisions.
It is also important to agree on decision-making procedures that encourage
participation. Most effective decisions are made by consensus. This doesn't mean that
everyone will be completely happy; but that everyone can live with the decision and feel
decisions are fair.
Set up a flexible organization
There is no single partnership structure that will work in every watershed. Instead, your
group should determine how formal the partnership needs to be. Partners could meet on a
regular basis or only be contacted as needed.
Some division of labor and delegation of responsibility should be set up to take
advantage of resources and expertise. Build on existing community organizations, such as
informal groups of land managers, formal organizations and other community organizations.
Your local soil and water conservation district, natural resource agencies, extension,
conservation clubs, Chamber of Commerce, service organizations (e.g., Lions Club or
Jaycees) or a local business can provide valuable advice on organization and facilitation.
Subcommittees could be formed for activities such as media relations, fund-raising or
demonstrations. Assignments might depend on the scope of the activities, goals and
interests. They could also be organized to deal with specific resource management areas,
such as soil erosion, recycling, manure management, storm sewer management or septic
It may also be necessary to include representation from more than one county depending
on watershed boundaries. If the watershed is too large, the group may want to subdivide it
into smaller watersheds with their own partnerships.
Why partnerships succeed.
Partnerships are successful for a number of reasons. Your challenge is to determine what
motivates people and make sure these motivations are met.
Some individuals may contribute because their jobs involve such cooperation. Many
people also enjoy working with others and meeting new challenges. They also may see the
potential for professional and personal growth, as well as a sense of accomplishment.
External factors can also motivate partnerships, including public expectations and
organizational mandates for cooperation.
Informal, social interaction can provide the glue that holds a partnership together.
Encourage these types of interaction and build on the motivations.
Why partnerships fail.
Most people agree with the notion of partnership, at least in principle. However,
partnerships may be unsuccessful for a variety of reasons.
Lack of commitment
Worry about lost independence
Lack of credit for own contributions
Power struggles or turf battles
Partners that do not agree on realistic roles and responsibilities
Differences in cultural and personal values
How partnerships develop.
Successful partnerships take time to develop. Expect some highs and lows.
There are four main stages. These stages can be compared to how we learn to swim. Each
involves specific feelings and actions. If you understand and prepare for these different
stages, you will find it easier to move through the difficult stages to reach success at
1. The forming stage
When a partnership is forming, people cautiously explore each other. Members are like
hesitant swimmers. They stand by the side of the pool and stick their toes in the water.
Feelings at this stage include excitement and optimism mixed with skepticism and anxiety.
Defining the job at hand and discussing how to accomplish it
Deciding what information needs to be gathered
Discussing concepts and issues
Identifying all the barriers to getting the job done
2. The storming stage
This is often the most difficult stage. Partners become impatient and begin arguing. They
are like new swimmers. After they jump in the water, they are afraid they might drown and
begin thrashing around. Feelings include resistance to change and negative attitudes about
the success of the partnership. Signs include:
Arguing about less important issues
Becoming defensive or competitive (choosing sides)
Developing unrealistic goals
Increasing tension and jealousy
3. The normalizing stage
People accept their role in the team, as well as ground rules (or norms). Conflicts are
reduced and competitors become more cooperative. Like experienced swimmers, people realize
they aren't going to drown and they help keep each other afloat. Feelings include
acceptance of team membership and relief that things seem to be working out. Some
Achieving harmony by avoiding conflict
More friendliness and sharing of problems
A sense of team cohesion and common goals
4. The performing stage
By this stage, the partnership has become an effective and close-knit unit. People begin
to really work together. Like a winning relay team, the partnership works together well.
Feelings include new insights about the partnership and each member's roles as well as
satisfaction with the partnership's progress. Some activities are:
Ability to work through problems
Closer attachment to the partnership
How to build consensus.
It's important to recognize and overcome obstacles to establishing and maintaining a
successful partnership. These include:
Lack of time or other resources - Many partners will also have other
commitments. They may not view this as an important use of
their time or other resources.
Low levels of commitment or interest - This can happen if the effort gets
bogged down or partners aren't kept active.
Individualism and the "American way" - To many the idea of
working together is contrary to beliefs in self-sufficiency and
competition. Some people tend to feel it is a sign of strength to be able to solve problems on their own.
Loss of autonomy or recognition - People (especially those who represent
organizations) worry that a partnership means a loss of
freedom or control over their own priorities and activities. Some also worry they may not
get enough credit for the work they do with a partnership.
Conflicting goals or missions - Because partnerships generally involve
diverse members, including businesses, government
agencies and advocacy groups the organizations often have different goals and expectations.
In fact, some see partnerships mainly as a way to pursue their own agenda.
Blaming others or feeling blamed - It is a natural tendency to blame
others for problems. Partners may blame each other for lack
of progress. This may lead to the perception that they are being unfairly criticized.
Overbearing or dominating partners - Some partners (often those with
authority or expertise) have too much influence over a
partnership. Such "experts" often discourage discussion or criticize others' ideas.
Reluctant partners - Most groups have one or more members who never speak.
Problems arise unless these partners are
encouraged to be active in some way.
Feuds and competition between partners - Partners who have long-standing
feuds may attempt to continue the feud in the
partnership. These tend to be based on past problems.
Unquestioned acceptance of opinions as facts - Some people try to present
their own personal opinions or values as facts
(without supporting evidence).
Rush for accomplishments - Some partners may push to "do
something" either because they are impatient or are pressured from
elsewhere. These partners often reach their own conclusions before the rest of the group
has time to carefully consider all options.
Attribution and criticism - People often assign (or attribute) negative
motives to others when they disagree or don't understand
the other position. This delays seeking real explanations for problems.
Digression and tangents - People tend to drift off the subject. Some
digression may be useful if it promotes new ideas, but
often it wastes time. Unfocused discussions can result from poor leadership.
Floundering - Partnerships may have trouble starting and finishing
projects. They get stuck in a rut. Some partners may resist
Lack of Flexibility - Some partners may have just one way of doing things
and seem unable to adapt to change.
Dealing with difficult people.
Do nothing. Ignore the problem if it is only an occasional issue.
Talk informally with disruptive
partner(s) outside the group
Discuss general concerns at the beginning of a meeting without
For particularly disruptive behavior, it may be necessary to
confront the partner(s) outside of the group in a more assertive
As a last resort (once other approaches have failed) the leader
may need to
confront the person in the presence of the group.
constructive feedback, but in an objective and assertive
Regardless of how cooperative the people in your partnership are, some problems will
ultimately arise. There are several ways to overcome obstacles:
Anticipate and prevent obstacles whenever possible. This often works
best by spending time up front getting to know each other, establishing ground rules, and
agreeing to individual roles and responsibilities.
Think of each problem as a group challenge (rather than as an
individual problem). We have a natural tendency to blame individuals for problems. The
truth is that many problems occur because the group lets them happen.
Be careful with difficult people. When problems occur with a particular
person, take care not to over-react. Some behaviors are only a minor disruption. On the
other hand, certain behaviors are very disruptive and slow progress.
One of the best ways to overcome obstacles is to build consensus. Effective consensus
decisions share the following characteristics:
Total participation - All major interests are identified and brought
All partners are responsible - Everyone helps plan activities and offers
suggestions to make them more effective.
Partners educate each other - They spend time discussing the history of
the issue, their perceptions and concerns, and ideas for
People are kept informed - Partners keep their own groups and the rest of
the people who live in the watershed informed.
A common definition of the problem is used - Partners discuss and agree on
a constructive definition of the problem.
Multiple options are identified - Partners seek a range of options to
satisfy their respective concerns and avoid pushing single
Decisions are made by mutual agreement - Partners don't vote; but modify
options or seek alternatives until everyone agrees that
the best decision has been reached.
Partners are responsible for implementation - The group identifies ways to
Ways to maintain consensus:
Actively involve a broad range of stakeholders and citizens as
planning and implementing the watershed
Ensure each partner has the opportunity and responsibility for
Document, publicize and celebrate the successes through an
recognition program and communication campaign.
Designate an effective and respected project leader who can
activities of the partnership.
Identify and manage conflicts early in the process
Make sure activities are exciting and fun to maintain interest
Partnerships do not naturally develop to their highest potential without some help. Three
exercises that can be used to build a more successful partnership follow.
Exercise 1 - Member Introductions
This serves as a warm-up activity for the group during the first meeting. Simply go around
the room and ask each person to share the following information about themselves: name;
job; affiliation (who they represent); how long they've lived in the area; and
expectations for the partnership or meeting. It could also be helpful to ask each person
about their perceptions of the most important watershed management issues.
Exercise 2 - Responsibility Matrix
This can be used to match people with responsibilities for developing and implementing
your watershed program. This exercise is best used after a plan has been developed.
The objective is for partners to assume responsibility for the main tasks. Draw a chart
(or matrix) on a flip chart. First the partners identify all the tasks that need to be
carried out. List these down the chart (as rows on your matrix). Across the top, label the
three columns (Leader, Group and Partner). Considering one task at a time, the group
decides who has primary responsibility for completion of each task. If it is a partner,
the person's name is listed.
Exercise 3 - Dealing with Disruptive Group Behavior
Through this exercise, the group decides how to deal with problems that arise. This may be
most helpful if the partnership seems to have stalled or conflicts have arisen.
The group's first step is to list (brainstorm) types of disruptive behaviors (see
Leading & Communicating guide).
Remember, there are no right or wrong answers in brainstorming. List all ideas on a flip
chart. Continue until everyone has listed all their ideas.
Use consensus to reduce the list to two or three of the most important types of
disruptive behavior. Discuss responses for each of these. Three types of responses might
be: preventive, minimal intervention (discussion), and higher intervention
(confrontation). Using a flip chart, put these as headings on three columns.
Then brainstorm possible responses for each and write them in the appropriate column.
When the list is complete, discuss the pros and cons of each activity. As a group, decide
which options are the most appropriate for each of the main disruptive behaviors.
Sources of information.
To start down the road toward an effective local watershed partnership, you may want to
read some of these other guides from the Conservation Technology Information Center by
calling 765-494-9555. See our catalog
to order this online.
Getting to Know Your
Leading & Communicating
Putting Together a Watershed Plan
Reflecting on Lakes
Groundwater & Surface Water: Understanding
Wetlands: A Key Link in Watershed Management
Guide to Information and Resources
Nonpoint Source Water Quality Contacts
The author acknowledges the following sources of information that
were used in developing this guide. You may also find these publications helpful. Most of
these can be found through your local bookstore.
Creating the High Performance Team.
Steve Buchholz and Thomas Roth, 1987, New York, NY: Wiley.
Solving Community Problems by Consensus.
Susan Carpenter, 1990, Washington. DC: Program for Community Problem Solving.
Team Building: Issues and Alternatives.
William G Dyer, 1977, Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
The Team Handbook: How to Use Teams to Improve Quality.
Peter R. Scholtes and Associates, 1988, Madison, WI: Joiner Associates, Inc.
The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization.
Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith, 1993, New York, NY: HarperCollins.
About this guide....
This guide is one of a series for people who want to organize a local partnership to
protect their watershed. This series will not solve all your problems. They were designed
to provide guidance for going through the process of building a voluntary partnership,
developing a watershed management plan and implementing that plan. Because the
characteristics of each watershed are unique; you may wish to select and use the portions
of this guide that are applicable to your particular situation.
Although the series is written for watershed-based planning areas, the ideas and
process can be used for developing other types of plans (such as wildlife areas) to match
the concerns of the partnership. Regardless of the area, remember a long-term, integrated
perspective - based on a systematic, scientific assessment - can be used to address more
than one concern at a time.
Special thanks to Dr. Thomas J. Hoban, Associate Professor, North Carolina State
University, who dedicated long hours to writing this guide. Without his help this guide
would not be possible.
Special thanks also go to the following professionals who carefully reviewed this
guide. Their experience and thoughtful guidance enriched it. Their time and insight is
US EPA, Region 5, Water Division
USDA SCS, Office of Public Affairs
Puget Sound Water Quality Authority
National Pork Producers Council
Planner, Swan Creek Watershed
Farmer, Indian Lake Watershed
TVA, Middle Fork Holston River Watershed
Coordinator, Eel River Watershed
US EPA, Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds
The Know Your Watershed campaign is coordinated by the Conservation
Technology Information Center (CTIC), a nonprofit public/private partnership dedicated to
the advancement of environmentally beneficial and economically viable natural resource
systems. It provides information and data about agricultural and natural resource
management systems, practices and technologies. The center was established in 1982 under
the charter of the National Association of Conservation Districts.
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