Water Governance

The Water Governance Chair Group identifies three interdependent domains through which research, education and capacity development activities are organized. These domains are: Water Policy, Water Law and Water Politics.

Over the past decade the term ‘water governance’ has entered into the standard vocabulary of professionals and academics engaged with the water sector. Although the term has been subject to many different definitions and uses, its usage is not without meaning. The term highlights a shifting state-society relationship in which the state has altered its responsibilities and/or activities related to water management and water services provision.

Non-state players, be they private sector players or non-governmental organizations, have became more prominent in managing water, allocating resources and organizing service provision. Linked to the increased diversity of players involved is a strong emphasis on the processes through which this involvement is channeled and, ultimately the water management decisions made, determining where water flows, for what purpose, and at what cost (ecological, social, economic).

Multiple Approaches to Water Governance

At the same time, water governance is subject to a variety of interpretations and methodological approaches. In particular, two broad approaches can be distinguished. Water governance has been used to refer to a more instruments-oriented approach targeted at moving towards governance arrangements and processes which seek to enhance efficiency, equity and effectiveness of water management (good governance). In this perspective governance is understood as a tool or application that needs to be designed and tailored to produce specified desired outcomes.

A second approach employs the term in analyzing contested decision-making processes, the ensuing allocation of resources and services and the impacts of such decisions on access to resources and services of different players. This approach critically analyzes governance processes, and the degree to which prevailing processes result in equitable access to resources and services for different players. The Water Governance Chair Group acknowledges these different approaches to water governance.

The Interaction of Ecological, Technological and Social Systems

In its approach to research, teaching, and capacity building activities, the Water Governance Chair Group underscores the interaction and inter-wovenness of ecological, social and technological systems. Water governance is intimately linked to the physical infrastructure that has been constructed and operated for the regulation, abstraction, storage, transport and distribution of water.

The design and functioning of water infrastructure has an impact on the ecological and social landscape in which it is situated, and vice versa, as the prevailing social systems and processes shape the physical infrastructure used for management of water. We thus understand the technical systems of water infrastructure as being simultaneously produced by - and productive of - social and ecological systems.

Understanding a particular water governance configuration thus requires the recognition of the interdependency of prevailing social, technological and ecological systems. What this interaction also highlights is the dynamic nature of governance arrangements and processes.

Water Governance Domains

As a result, water governance is not limited to a single discipline or academic domain, but rather requires a deeply interdisciplinary approach. Different disciplines illuminate various elements and dimensions of water governance arrangements and processes. Such interdisciplinarity enriches our understanding of water governance. The Water Governance Chair Group strives to pursue interdisciplinary research, education and capacity development activities.

Within the Water Governance Chair Group we acknowledge that these configurations are the result of historical, social, political, cultural processes, and as such are context specific. This means that in our approach to water governance we recognize the importance of both historical analysis, and the need to study water governance arrangements and processes in the contextual setting in which they unfold.

Governance Domains: Water Policy, Water Law and Water Politics

Given the different possible approaches to Water Governance, the Chair Group has opted to identify three interdependent domains through which research, education and capacity development activities are organized. These three domains are: Water Policy, Water Law and Water Politics.

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    PhD fellows