Abstract In recent years decentralized development approaches have gained prominence in the agricultural sector. A host of community based watershed management projects have been implemented that encourage community organizations to undertake management of previously government controlled irrigation systems and forests. Community organizations have been given the responsibility of managing water distribution, collection of irrigation service fees and undertaking routine maintenance of irrigation infrastructure. In this context, analysis of irrigation management has concluded that groups that are relatively homogeneous may fare better than heterogeneous groups in facilitating collective action. However, this article argues that analysis of the influence of group heterogeneity on collective action is complicated because of its multi-dimensional nature and the presence of non-monotonic effects in mechanisms linking heterogeneity and collective outcomes. The article discusses the importance of context specification in analysis of group heterogeneity through a discussion of elements of a joint management contract in Haryana (India), identification of key variables with a potential to explain collective action in irrigation management and construction of household endowment and water interest scores to account for the influence of group heterogeneity in facilitating collective action. In the process of applying household endowment and water interest scores, the authors highlight the role of local ecological variation and non-farm employment in influencing collective action. Proper specification of local context enables the researchers to rely on household endowment and water interest scores to predict conflicts and potential for irrigation service provision and compliance with irrigation service rules.