Key Concepts and Definitions

Central to the objectives, principles, and strategies of the Water for Agriculture project are several key concepts and considerations.  A few of the most important of these, their definitions and their basis in the literature are provided here.

Collaborative governance

Collaborative governance refers to the processes and structures of public policy decision making and resource management that engage community stakeholders from public agencies, levels of government, and the public, private, and civic spheres in order to carry out a public purpose that could not otherwise be accomplished.

Brisbois and Loe 2015; Kallis et al. 2009; Merson and Gerlak 2014; Mandarano and Paulsen 2011; Oh and Bush 2016;  Siddiki et al. 2017

Community capacity building

Community capacity building is about promoting the ‘capacity’ (skills, strengths, and abilities) of local communities to develop, implement, and sustain their own solutions to problems in ways that help them shape and exercise control over their own physical, social, economic, and cultural environments.

Beckley et al. 2008; Chaskin 2001; Corbett and Keller 2005; Flora and Flora 2008; Schlosberg and Carruthers 2010.

Community-led engagement

Community-led engagement, a key element of our approach to engagement, places a premium on the embedded authority and responsibility of our local leadership groups to determine the activities, directions, issues, and priorities they consider most important.   As the ‘sponsor’ of these efforts, our primary role is to act as coordinators, collaborators, resource brokers, information providers, and facilitators. This means we will have to take our lead from the groups with whom we are working. We are to act primarily as advocates for process rather than outcome.

Frumento et al. (forthcoming) 2019, Isaacs 1999, Bassler et. Al. 2008, Whitmer et al. 2015.

Co-production of knowledge

In general, knowledge co-production refers to a collaborative process in which academic researchers or other stakeholders work together to disclose and create new knowledge. The identified benefits of collectively produced knowledge include broadening the knowledge base for decision-making and generating knowledge that is more societally acceptable

Reed and Abernathy 2018; Cash et al. 2003; van  Kerkhoff and  Lebel 2006; Berkes 2009;  Hegger et al. 2012; Ansell and  Gash 2007; Nowotny 1999.


We think of engagement as an integrated, proactive, reciprocal, capacity-building and relationship-building approach to participation and decision-making. While the strategies we employ to achieve these ends will vary, we consider these principles foundational to our project efforts. In practice, this means our intention is to build new and/or enhance existing relationships and foster/enhance dialogue among and within individuals and groups with diverse experiences and perspectives related the common issue-frame of water and agriculture.

Chess 2000; Flora et al. 2000; Mould et al. 2018; Reed 2008; Reed and Curzon 2015; Reed et al. 2017; Sterling et al. 2017

Participatory research

A key difference between traditional research and participatory research methodologies lies in the location of power in the research process. Participatory research projects use local knowledge and perspectives to form the basis for research and planning. In this way, participants play a major role in designing the research agenda, its process, and the resulting actions. Participants in participatory research are encouraged to discuss the problems unique to their community and also think about possible solutions to them and actions which need to be taken. Investigators who utilize this methodology often incorporate focus groups, multi-stakeholder meetings, oral testimonies, reflection, and story collection into their study design.

Barreteau et al. 2010; Bergold and Thomas 2012; Cornwall and Jewkes 1995; Harrison 2011; Lyon et al. 2016; MacDonald 2012

Social learning

Social learning is a process of change in individuals that becomes situated in wider groups, where individuals experience a change in understanding at some level (e.g., surface level including information recall and understanding for consequences of action) or at deeper levels, including changes in worldviews, norms, values.

Cundill and Rodela 2012; Koontz 2014; Nykvist 2014; Reed et al. 2010; Rodela 2011; Rodela 2014; Webler et al. 1995


Broadly defined, stakeholders can be considered all those who either can affect, or will be affected by a discussion, decision or initiative. As this relates to our project, as with most effective community engagement efforts, these individuals and groups will vary depending on the community context in which they occur. They will also vary depending on the goals of our engagement effort. The stakeholder groups convened around a change in land management practices will be very different from those engaged in revising a regulation or implementation policy affecting surface or groundwater.

Akhmouch and Clavreul 2016; Harris et al. 2018; Lauer et al. 2018; Reed 2008; Reed and Curzon 2015; Reed et al. 2009; When et al. 2017

Prepared by:

  • Hannah Whitley
  • Penn State
  • Water for Agriculture Graduate Assistant
  • May 2019