Volume 35, Issue 3

May 2019


Understanding Emergent Participation Practices in Water Governance

Cecilia Tortajada, Ingmar van Meerkerk and Arwin van Buuren

Introduction »

Understanding emergent participation practices in water governance

Arwin van Buuren, Ingmar van Meerkerk and Cecilia Tortajada


Community-based initiatives in the Dutch water domain: the challenge of double helix alignment

Michael Duijn, Arwin van Buuren , Jurian Edelenbos, Jitske van Popering-Verkerk and Ingmar Van Meerkerk

Public Administration and Sociology, Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Contact: Michael Duijn | Email: duijn@essb.eur.nl


Community-based initiatives (CBIs) are emerging in many domains such as care, sustainable energy and water management. This paper examined three initiatives in Dutch water management, focusing on their relationship with water boards. CBIs present issues that water boards find difficult to respond to because of two reasons. First, CBIs are demarcated very differently from the formal tasks that water boards pursue. This calls for internal alignment within water boards to respond adequately. Second, CBIs necessitate external alignment with other water-managing governments. Water boards must therefore implement double helix alignment to relate productively to initiatives emerging in society.

Pages: 383-403


Participatory water governance between theories and practices: learning from a community-based initiative in India

Laura Grassini

Department of Civil, Environmental, Land, Building Engineering, and Chemistry, Polytechnic University of Bari, Bari, Italy

Contact: Laura Grassini | Email: laura.grassini@poliba.it


Despite increasing convergence on the social learning concept as a theoretical foundation of collaborative practices for water governance, this article shows the pitfalls of its uncritical application as a normative ideal. The discussion is based on the analysis of a community-based initiative for water supply and slum upgrading in India, which is considered a best practice of good governance due to its collaborative approach. A different interpretation of the project is proposed through the analysis of its successes and failures from a community perspective. Finally, a recommendation for context-specific selection of theoretical bases for participatory practices is made.

Pages: 404-429


Transforming participation in water governance: the multisectoral alliances of rural water committees and NGOs in Nicaragua

Sarah T. Romano

Department of Political Science and International Affairs, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO, USA

Contact: Sarah T. Romano | Email: sarah.romano@unco.edu


This paper examines new forms of political participation on the part of rural water committees in Nicaragua in the mid-2000s. In particular, it explores the role of multisectoral alliances in facilitating water committees’ (1) physical mobility and political visibility, (2) political and legal capacity-building, and (3) access to state channels of representation. Contributing to theories of social capital, this case reveals a transformation of participation in water governance from locally grounded collective action for water management to engagement in public policy processes. In practical terms, the paper casts lessons for improved water governance via more inclusive policy processes.

Pages: 430-445


Co-participation in the Swiss water forum network

Manuel Fischera,b, Mario Angsta and Simon Maaga

aDepartment of Environment and Social Sciences, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag), Dübendorf, Switzerland; bInstitute of Political Science, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland

Contact: Manuel Fischer | Email: manuel.fischer@eawag.ch


In polycentric governance systems, actors interact in different venues, such as forums which foster cross-sectoral interaction. This analysis centres on water forums in Switzerland and on actors with multiple forum memberships, creating interactions throughout the entire forum network. Findings show that the central actors in the entire water forum network are predominantly from the public administration sector, even though members from the private sector are most numerous. Despite an emphasis on the bottom-up and self-organizing character of polycentric governance systems in the literature, this analysis shows that public administration actors still play a crucial role as network managers and brokers.

Pages: 446-464


Government facilitation of external initiatives: how Dutch water authorities cope with value dilemmas

Sanne Grotenbrega and Mónica Altamiranob

aDepartment of Public Administration and Sociology, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, the Netherlands; bWater Resources and Delta Management Department, Deltares, Delft, the Netherlands

Contact: Sanne Grotenbreg | Email: grotenbreg@fsw.eur.nl


Water authorities search for new collaborations with nongovernmental actors, with the aim of facilitating societal initiatives. A comparative case study was conducted to analyze the value dilemmas faced by water authorities when they choose to facilitate and how they cope with these dilemmas. The study found that the most prevalent dilemma is between traditional democratic values and efficiency-related values. In the chosen solutions, the latter seem to prevail over the former. Casuistry, cycling and hybridization are common coping mechanisms. The study shows the potential of non-governmental initiatives in the water sector while also reflecting critically on dominant administrative values.

Pages: 465-490


How to improve water governance in multifunctional irrigation systems? Balancing stakeholder engagement in hydrosocial territories

Sandra Ricarta,c, Antonio Ricoa, Nick Kirkb, Franca Bülowb, Anna Ribas-Palomc and David Pavónc

aInteruniversity Institute of Geography, University of Alicante, Sant Vicent del Raspeig, Spain; bDepartment of Governance and Policy, Landcare Research, Lincoln, New Zealand; cDepartment of Geography, University of Girona, Spain

Contact: Sandra Ricart  | Email: sandra.ricart@ua.es


The aim of this article is to conduct an evidence-based analysis of stakeholder engagement in decision-making processes affecting multifunctional irrigation systems. The selection of case studies has allowed us to examine different tools that promote stakeholder engagement and good governance. The case studies show how stakeholder engagement in irrigation systems shapes hydrosocial territories: (1) by reducing tension between stakeholders, (2) by redirecting regional planning and strategy, (3) by highlighting water crises, (4) by decentralizing water responsibilities, and (5) by integrating values and beliefs from different stakeholders.

Pages: 491-524


What’s the middle ground? Institutionalized vs. emerging water-related stakeholder engagement processes

Emeline Hassenfordera, Delphine Clavreulb, Aziza Akhmouchb and Nils Ferranda

aG-EAU, Irstea, AgroParisTech, Cirad, IRD, Montpellier SupAgro, University of Montpellier, France; bOrganisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Paris, France

Contact: Delphine Clavreul | Email: delphine.clavreul@oecd.org


In this day and age, it is widely argued that stakeholder engagement in water-related decision-making processes yields many benefits, including legitimacy, acceptance and trust. Key legal frameworks, such as the European Water Framework Directive and the Aarhus Convention, have spurred the emergence of formal forms of stakeholder engagement. On the other hand, many engagement processes are spontaneous and self-organized. This article investigates the strategies used in formal (government-led) and informal (bottomup) engagement processes in search of a middle ground. To this end, case studies in the Netherlands, the United States, Uganda and Ethiopia are analyzed using the OECD’s stakeholder engagement checklist. We conclude with reflection on the ways forward to make formal and informal stakeholder engagement complementary.

Pages: 525-542