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Communicative management of tensions by MSIs for water resilience

Rahul Mitra (Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, USA)

Corporate Communications: An International Journal

ISSN: 1356-3289

Article publication date: 3 April 2018




The purpose of this paper is to undertake a comparative case study (Stake, 2006) of two multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) building resilient water systems to address how they communicatively frame and manage key tensions. “Glacier” is the North American convener of an MSI focused on developing reliable and measurable standards of water stewardship in catchment areas around the world. “Delta” convenes a MSI centered on the water economy, with the goal to connect and help diverse organizations around “the business of water.”


Qualitative data were analyzed using Tracy’s (2013) pragmatic-iterative method, which envisions ongoing cycles of theme generation and refinement, and draws on both induction and deduction to identity and sort themes. The “reflexive circular process” it involves helped trace how tensional poles were framed and managed.


For Glacier, the key tensions were: creating new and distinct standards while reiterating extant measures; collective decision making although privileging corporate interests; and fixed impact performance that is nevertheless fluid. Delta also displayed three tensions: focus on the ecological issue connecting the MSI or partner benefits; broader ethics of water stewardship vis-à-vis local considerations; and avowing a bipartisan agenda although politics remained central to its everyday work.

Research limitations/implications

The paper underlines how communicative framing and management of tensions are key to developing resilience for socioecological systems. It highlights how traditional organizational boundaries and collectives are disrupted in seeking resource system resilience, and suggests that texts and conversations might emphasize tensions differently.

Practical implications

First, MSI conveners and members working for resource system resilience should use visioning exercises to see how tensional poles might be dialectical, rather than focus on stark differences. Second, ongoing dialogue and evaluation can help trace alternative tension frames. Third, since context and MSI purpose matter in framing tensions, practitioners should be careful while transferring lessons learned across MSIs.


This paper contributes to resilience scholarship by underlining how the communicative management of tensions is vital to developing adaptive complexity and learning capabilities within broader socioecological systems – especially with MSIs working on complex wicked problems.



Mitra, R. (2018), "Communicative management of tensions by MSIs for water resilience", Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 23 No. 2, pp. 257-273.



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