Sensing the participants were getting a little restless after several hours of discussing policy challenges for the integrated management of water resources in the Lake Naivasha Landscape, Joan Kimayu, a lead facilitator with the Strengthening Rural Institutions Program at the World Agroforestry Centre, wondered what she could do to make a group of government officials stand up and get moving. Improvising slightly, she decided to have each of them give a “Landscape Oath,” stating, “I, [insert name] am a landscape champion.” Initially, each one hesitated and reluctantly stood up to make the vow. However, by the end of the third day of meetings, over 40 participants enthusiastically stated the oath, emphasizing their commitment to the process of making integrated landscape management a reality in their community.
Although this is a seemingly simple or unimportant action, it highlights one of the key outcomes of a participatory policy making process: strengthened ownership and support for policies among all stakeholders. Participatory policy making is a broad term used to describe many different means of facilitating the inclusion of individuals and groups in the design of policies that impact them. By including diverse stakeholders in this policy making process, it is hoped that the policies created are better informed, more equitable and easier to enforce, while at the same time enhancing the transparency, accountability and capacity of the government and empowering civil society.
In April and May, we held participatory policy dialogues in five landscapes in Kenya: Embu, Bungoma, Naivasha, Laikipia and Lari. In each landscape, we spent three days talking to stakeholders in the public sector, private sector and civil society about what things are going well in the landscape and what challenges they face. At the end, we asked them what recommendations they have for government actions that could help improve the integrated management of water, forest and land resources in their communities, while enhancing sustainable agriculture-based livelihoods.
Interestingly, despite the differences in the landscapes’ ecological conditions, the types of stakeholders involved and the history of their collaboration, we found many commonalities in the types of challenges they face, especially regarding their ability to coordinate with other stakeholders. For example, many of the participants discussed challenges with the recent devolution of the government in Kenya, which has left many government officials uncertain of their roles and fragmented (sometimes contradictory) policies. Many participants also highlighted the difficulty of convening diverse stakeholders within the landscape and coordinating their work between different sectors and jurisdictions. Similarly, participants reported a lack of information sharing among the public sector, private sector and civil society, which has impeded their ability to trust each other and work together.
During the course of the workshop, diverse groups of participants were able to discuss these challenges in depth and develop several recommendations for changes to the current policy framework. And, in June, representatives from each of the landscapes will join representatives from the county and national governments in Nairobi for a larger, national-level policy dialogue that explores these issues more in depth.
While we hope that some of these discoveries and recommendations will result in concrete changes in the policy framework at both the national and county levels in the long-term, undertaking the policy dialogue process itself has already proven fruitful. In gathering government officials from different sectors during the dialogue in the Lari Landscape, representatives from the Water, Agriculture and Fisheries Departments realized they were giving farmers contradictory advice about agriculture activities on riparian lands. And, in the Naivasha Landscape, members of three Community Forest Associations were able to come to a consensus on changes they wish to see in the Forest Act that would better enable them to coordinate with each other and other groups within the landscape.
Moreover, perhaps one of the most important outcomes of this process so far has been participants’ new view about the importance of their voice in the policy making process. As one participant explained, “We thought policy was just created in parliament, but now we realize that we also have a role to play.”