Co-management (shared governance) of natural resources in the coastal area

Full Solution
Collection of resources in Au Tho B village. Copyright GIZ/Klaus Schmitt.

This solution aims to create a better governance (shared governance) of natural resources in the coastal zone of Soc Trang Province, Mekong Delta, Vietnam to protect its first line of coastal defence (mangroves) and to improve the livelihood of local communities through resource conservation. This approach also ensures climate justice through participative stakeholder processes and benefits for all affected stakeholders.

Last update: 03 Mar 2023
Challenges addressed
Ecosystem loss
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Physical resource extraction
Changes in socio-cultural context
Poor governance and participation

Years of centralized resource management has resulted in alarming degradation of Vietnam's natural resources, especially at the coast. Local communities have turned passive as they are not interested/allowed to make any decision for resource conservation. Coastal resources therefore are used in an unsustainable way including mangroves – the very important element for coastal protection.


Poor communities living along the coast and authorities.

Scale of implementation
Coastal forest
Ecosystem services
Local actors
Fisheries and aquaculture
Soc Trang Province, Vietnam
Southeast Asia
Summary of the process

The 4 building blocks are a negotiation process, a co-management agreement, a pluralistic governance board and ensuring justice-based EbA. The negotiation process describes continuous loops of the learning by doing process in which the co-management agreement and the pluralistic governance board are essential elements. The result of initial negotiation cycles should be jointly enhanced over time by the pluralistic board to better reflect and resolve common challenges in their attempt to achieve more effective natural resource conservation. The continuous learning by doing constitutes a key part of the negotiation process. The positive results of the partnership in terms of resource conservation and thus poverty reduction will, over time, create more momentum and a spirit for closer collaboration among stakeholders.


A justice-based approach is ensured through the implementation of the first 3 building blocks. This covers the three dimensions of climate justice: recognition justice (through enabling active participation of all stakeholders), procedural justice (through organising the process with different stakeholders) and distributive justice (through the distribution of benefits and restrictions of co-management).

Building Blocks
A negotiation process

The negotiation process consists of three key aspects:

  • Organizing for partnership: this starts with consultation with all stakeholders about the co-management concept. When they understand and see the need to create the co-management partnership among actors, they should be organised to be ready for the negotiation of the agreement. The organisation aspect is essential to turn passive individuals in the community into an organised group with a common vision and to ensure high level of participation.
  • Negotiating the co-management agreement and shared governance institution: This is the practice of power sharing among actors. Through negotiation, different actors express their concerns and contribute their ideas on how natural resources should be managed and conserved. Governance issues such as who can make decisions and what responsibilities and accountabilities are for each actors are also negotiated.
  • Learning by doing: the negotiation process is not a linear process but spiral loops of implementing the agreement, sustaining the functioning of the shared governance institution, continuing the monitoring and reviewing of their results and impacts through time and providing inputs for renewal of the agreement.
Enabling factors
  • Full political support from all levels, and agreement and support from all stakeholders for shared governance and adaptive management.
  • The traditional customs and local culture should allow different groups in the communities to organize themselves, and discuss and voice their ideas. In some cultures, women are allowed to discuss public topics.
Lesson learned
  • In countries where centralized management has been practiced for years, communities often consist of passive individuals living next to each other. Putting them into the position for joint decision-making with authorities without realizing this fact is a mistake to be avoid. These communities need support to get organised, to learn and strengthen their sense of identity and relation with the area. Delegating the tasks of leading the passive community to local leaders (after trainings for these leaders) is a common practice but will create problems later.
  • External support should only focus on facilitating the negotiation process. The common issues identified and discussed in the negotiation process should be the results of actors' self-analysis.
  • The negotiation among key actors should continue even after the agreement has been signed. Sharing power should not stop with the first co-management agreement. Actors need to continue to re-negotiate and enhance the agreement.
Co-management agreement

The co-management agreement is a document consisting of everything agreed to during the negotiation process including management and governance elements. It can be seen as written evidence of the partnership among local actors. The management part specifies the six ‘W’: who can do what, where, when, how and how much. It provides general conditions; specifies natural resource management rules and regulations in each zone, rewards, penalties, the reporting schedule and implementation terms and monitoring. The governance part specifies key actors for decision making and their responsibilities.

Enabling factors

Stakeholders need to understand the purposes of the co-management agreement. They should also see the need to adapt it to better reflect the changing situation of resource conservation. The co-management agreement should be developed through negotiation among organised partners. Therefore, community development to turn passive groups of individuals into a true community should be given attention throughout the establishment of co-management agreement and its subsequent adaptation.

Lesson learned

The co-management agreement is subject to modification during the learning-by-doing process. Key actors involved in shared governance should understand the need to modify the agreement based on lessons learned during implementation. The co-management agreement provides the basic principles for the co-management partnership among key actors but does not limit their collaboration in making joint decisions to specific terms and problems mentioned in the agreement. Partners, such as authorities and communities, should continue to discuss and deal with any issue raised during their partnership. The co-management agreement is not the same as a fixed form of a benefit sharing mechanism even though it consists of sections specifying what resources can be collected by people and their responsibilities in forest protection. Instead, a co-management agreement is the result of negotiations and has a lot to do with adaptive management and governance issues.

Pluralistic governance board

A pluralistic governance board is typically composed of representatives from local authorities, government departments and agencies, local communities and sometimes business organisations and is established during a negotiation process. The board is responsible for making joint decisions about issues raised regarding natural resource conservation. Its role is steering the implementation of the co-management agreement and review of the co-management results and impacts based on monitoring. The pluralistic governance board is an essential element to turn the idea of "sharing power" from theory into practice. This distinguishes it from centralized or private management where only one partner assumes the responsibility for making decisions.

Enabling factors
  • The authorities should be committed to co-management partnerships.
  • Communities should have the capacity for making joint decisions. It could be done through practices of participatory action researches with different community groups.
  • The political system of the country should allow shared governance or allow grassroot discussions of issues related to natural resource management.
Lesson learned

In order for the pluralistic governance board to effectively make joint decisions, it is important for all stakeholders involved to understand the need for a co-management partnership. For example, authorities should treat communities as equal and strategic partners and vice versa. Co-management will normally yield best results if the involvement of all in the partnership is voluntarily. However, in some situations where power also means money, political supports from higher levels or national policies promoting the practice of sharing power among different stakeholders can be helpful. Members of the board also need to understand and get used to the learning by doing practice. As a whole, they should aim for achieving better results but also learn to accept failures and how to constructively criticize mistakes.

Ensuring Justice-based Ecosystem-based Adaptation

Instead of top-down approaches, the project piloted mangrove conservation through a co-management agreement between local communities and authorities. Under the partnership agreement, resource user groups have the right to use natural resources sustainably on a defined area of state-owned land (protection forest) and the responsibility for sustainably managing and protecting those resources.


The project focused on getting the marginalised local population on board with the process and enabling to participate actively (recognition justice). For this, it was important to obtain acceptance of all stakeholders to pilot the co-management process. The other two major aspects of climate justice the project focused on were: (1) how to organise the process with different stakeholders (procedural justice) and (2) how to distribute the benefits and burdens or restrictions of co-management and find a balance between the protective function of the mangroves and production benefits (distributive justice). These resulted in a better collaboration between the local people and authorities. It also led to an increase in the area of mangrove forest which, in turn, protected protects the coast more effectively from erosion, flooding and storms, whilst increasing income from sustainable use of mangrove forest resources and from fishery.

Enabling factors
  • Environmental awareness-raising, a shared understanding of the agreement and effective communication between stakeholders are prerequisites for successful implementation of co-management.
  • A participatory process involving all stakeholders can ensure a transparent, fair and informed decision-making.
  • The co-management board is the core decision-making structure, with responsibility for overall steering and conflict resolution


Lesson learned
  • Addressing justice issues through co-management helps achieve a balance between improving the livelihoods of poor local people, whilst maintaining and enhancing the protection function of the mangrove forest.
  • To address justice issues, it is necessary to address the underlying socio-economic and political causes of vulnerability. These include poor governance, inequitable resource control and access, limited access to basic services and information and discrimination.
  • Empowerment of all vulnerable groups is essential for promoting a rights-based approach. Awareness raising, capacity development, meaningful participation in decision-making and the establishment of benefit-sharing mechanisms are therefore important features of justice-based EbA projects.
  • Sustainable mangrove conservation also requires enabling conditions, such as grounding mangrove conservation projects in local knowledge and leadership.
  • To sustain the co-management approach requires that power sharing as well as decision-making processes and structures be institutionalised in laws, decrees and standard operating procedures of the institutions involved.



Co-management helps to conserve mangroves in Soc Trang. The mangrove area in front of Au Tho B village has increased from 70 ha in 2008 to 118 ha in 2014. Local people involved in shared governance of natural resources have developed stronger resource ownership and have become more aware of the needs for and benefits of mangrove conservation. Governance of natural resources has been improving steadily. Local authorities and people are becoming partners working together and making joint decisions for natural resource conservation. Additional initiatives have been suggested to deal with local issues as the results of discussion among these actors.


6 years ago, no one in Au Tho B could ever imagine the kind of work they are carrying out now in their forest such as setting up a mangrove snail farm. It has been a long process, starting with the establishment of co-management group in Au Tho B in 2009. Co-management (or more appropriately shared-governance) of natural resources is a setting in which local communities take part in the resource management decision-making process together with local authorities. It implies sharing power, responsibilities and accountability among key actors. This is very different from other attempts that the government of Vietnam tried in the past to ensure people's participation in natural resource conservation. Instead of a fixed benefit sharing scheme which is often used to give incentives to people such as the right to use forest land for aquaculture or a list of resources allowed to be collected, co-management focuses on dealing with issues recognized by all key parties through negotiation and learning by doing. For example, regulations to protect young seedlings at the seaward edge of the mangrove were jointly developed based on the understanding that healthy forests provide more aquatic resources which in turn provide additional income for all people in the community. These regulations ensure that people do not go that area during high tide and limited the size of fishing nets. Another example is who is in charge and what are the responsibilities of local people and forest rangers when dealing with illegal activities. All regulations have been negotiated and written down in the co-management agreement. The growing partnership between local people and authorities has recently allowed them to jointly address the topic of how to develop aquatic resources directly from the mangroves without harming trees. Coming back from a field visit sponsored by GIZ to a nearby province, local people started dreaming about growing mangrove snails in the forest. But instead of making individual farms, the group decided to work together and create a common farm for the benefit of the whole group. The local authorities also got inspired by the plan and helped to turn it from idea to reality. The farming can still go wrong, but the spirit of collaboration for a better life through natural resource conservation among local actors is becoming the local asset.

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Other contributors
Anh Dung Nguyen
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH
Dr. Klaus Schmitt
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH