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This book offers the first comprehensive treatment of multi-level water governance, developing a conceptual and analytical framework that captures the complexity of real water governance systems while also introducing different approaches to comparative analysis. Applications illustrate how the ostensibly conflicting goals of deriving general principles and of taking context-specific factors into account can be reconciled. Specific emphasis is given to governance reform, adaptive and transformative capacity and multi-level societal learning. The sustainable management of global water resources is one of the most pressing environmental challenges of the 21st century. Many problems and barriers to improvement can be attributed to failures in governance rather than the resource base itself. At the same time our understanding of complex water governance systems largely remains limited and fragmented. The book offers an invaluable resource for all researchers working on water governance topics and for practitioners dealing with water governance challenges alike.



Chapter 1. The Challenge of Water Governance

Water is the source of life on Earth. Is has been a source of inspiration for artists. People have always sought land for settlements and leisure activities along rivers and coastal areas. We are dependent on water for a multitude of purposes the most important being drinking water, farming, transport, manufacturing, and recreation and cultural. The downside of our dependence on water and of the importance we place on it is that competing water uses are the source of many conflicts. Conflicts arise not only between different human uses but also between water for nature and water for human activities. Over a decade of global water research has provided clear evidence of the global dimension of the water challenge and the role of humans as a major force influencing the global water cycle. Mounting evidence suggests that major trends such as increasing water appropriation by humans and nutrient pollution are, for the most part, irreversible over the next half century and will be intensified by water problems of pandemic proportions (Vörösmarty et al. in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 5:539–550, 2013; Pahl-Wostl et al. in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 5:708–714, 2013).
Claudia Pahl-Wostl

Chapter 2. Water Policy—From Panaceas Towards Embracing Complexity

The waxing and waning of paradigms discussed in the previous chapter has also been reflected in developments in water policy. This chapter summarizes major global trends in water policy over the past half-century with reference to scale, dominant rationality and logical reasoning, and the role of different societal groups in shaping and implementing water policy. The developments reflect the overall shift in our understanding of the role of government as the central actor in water policy to one that is embedded in a more comprehensive notion of water governance (Ingram in Water for Food in a changing World. Routledge, Miltorn Park, pp 241–261, 2011; Pahl-Wostl et al. in Ecology and Society 11:10, 2006). This is exemplified by European water policy. Its evolution reflects the general trends of shifting from command and control as the guiding principle towards more market-based and, in recent years, more participatory approaches. Furthermore we observe a gradual shift from the promotion of simplistic panaceas for water governance reform towards more context-sensitive approaches. The chapter closes with some reflections on the state of scientific understanding of environmental governance and the ability of the scientific community to address the challenge of developing context-sensitive advice for water governance reform.
Claudia Pahl-Wostl

Chapter 3. Conceptual and Analytical Framework

This chapter lays out the major pillars of the conceptual foundations required for improving our understanding of the complex dynamics of water governance systems. After clarifying terminology and providing some reflections on the nature of causality in social systems I sketch out what I consider to be the major building blocks for conceptualizing governance systems and processes of adaptive and transformative change. With this background, the management and transition framework which provides a structured and standardized approach to representing governance systems and processes is introduced.
Claudia Pahl-Wostl

Chapter 4. The Role of Institutions, Actors and Social Networks in Societal Change

In Chapter 3, I defined adaptive capacity as the ability of a governance system to alter processes and to adapt its structural elements in response to current or anticipated changes in the social or natural environment. Transformative capacity was defined as the ability of a governance system to first adapt and if required transform structural elements in response to current or anticipated changes in the social or natural environment.
Claudia Pahl-Wostl

Chapter 5. Governance Modes

The concept of governance aims at capturing the complexity of real world policy processes. The distinction between those who govern and those who are governed has become increasingly blurred. Governance processes take place at the interface between state, market and civil society and may take various forms. These different forms are called modes of governance. They differ in terms of the kind of actors involved and their roles, and in terms of the nature and logic of interactions. Depending on the governance challenge, a particular governance mode or a combination of modes may be most effective in addressing the challenge. In this chapter I review the notion of governance modes and how it has been defined and applied by various governance scholars. I argue in favour of using the classical distinction of bureaucratic hierarchies, networks and markets as major governance modes. Through analysis the role of diverse hybrid forms among these three modes needs to be identified, in particular in the context of governance of transformation and institutional change.
Claudia Pahl-Wostl

Chapter 6. Multi-level and Cross-Scale Governance

Governing water implies governance of a complex social-ecological system at and across different scales in space and time. The spatial scale selected for governance has implications for both the biophysical boundaries that are taken into consideration and the administrative level of the actors involved in a governance system. This chapter summarizes the development of research and policy discourses on the ideal level at which to focus water governance. Systems analysis has been used to determine an appropriate scale for dealing with a governance problem. The scale could also be the subject of political discourse since actors may have different reasons for up- or down-scaling a particular water-related issue. On the basis of current scientific understanding, multi-level and cross-scale water governance is promoted. Water issues can rarely be dealt with at one scale only. I therefore argue in favour of polycentric governance combining decentralization with effective coordination of decision centres as the normative governance model. Finally the chapter elaborates on insights from and methods for structured analyses of modes of cross-scale coordination.
Claudia Pahl-Wostl

Chapter 7. Shaping Human—Environment Interactions

Whereas humanity was still at the stage of hunting and gathering having little impact on the biosphere just a few thousand years ago, humans have become a global force in shaping the planet in the 21st century. This transformation has been accompanied by fundamental changes in the perception of human–environment relationships. Still we suffer from the dichotomy in which societal and ecological systems are conceptualized as separate and at times even antagonistic systems.
Claudia Pahl-Wostl

Chapter 8. A Theory on Water Governance Dynamics

The theoretical foundations for describing and explaining the dynamics and transformative change of water governance are weak. This deficit is hardly astonishing if one takes into consideration that the concept of governance itself is still subject to controversy (Mayntz 2004; Grande 2012). Is governance largely a descriptive concept which takes developments observed in real world policy into account? Or does it provide the base for a new normative theory of political steering and the role of the nation state? This chapter contributes to the building of the missing foundations by developing a conceptual and theoretical framework of water governance systems. It is largely a framework of analysis but also entails a normative dimension by identifying characteristics which are considered here to be essential for dealing with complex governance challenges. Even when the focus is on water governance the scope of theoretical considerations is not limited to this domain of governance.
Claudia Pahl-Wostl

Chapter 9. A Methodological Framework for Empirical Analysis

The theoretical framework introduced in Chap. 8 is a necessary but not sufficient condition for developing a profound understanding of transformation towards sustainability. Theoretical propositions should be supported by sound empirical evidence. An appropriate research design needs to capture as much of the complexity of processes in governance systems as possible. This suggests a comparative case-study approach and methodological pluralism. One problem arises: the processes of transformation and change occur over long time scales. Ideally longitudinal studies should be conducted that compare trajectories of change over decades. Alternatively, cases can be compared at different stages of development and transformative change. In order to compare insights from a range of cases and case study designs it is important to have a sound methodology and standardized data collection approaches.
Claudia Pahl-Wostl

Chapter 10. Empirical Analyses—From Single Case Studies to Comparative Analyses

Theoretical propositions need testing against empirical evidence. Theoretical breakthroughs have always been informed by an in-depth understanding of the “real” world. This chapter summarizes and synthesizes major results from a number of empirical studies that were conducted over the past decade under the umbrella of the research programme on water governance and management I developed. The studies range from single case studies to comparative analyses of nearly 30 cases. The chapter introduces the overall logic behind the classification of the various analyses under three thematic clusters: characterization of dynamic state, analysis of social learning processes and analysis of transformative change. Then the results and conclusions on major insights with respect to the guiding theme of the book, the transformation of water governance towards sustainability, are discussed for each thematic stream.
Claudia Pahl-Wostl

Chapter 11. Virtual and Real World Experimentation

Understanding human behaviour and complex societal dynamics is essential for understanding and supporting transformative change. Such change may often require investigations beyond the realm of observed patterns of behaviour. This chapter elaborates on the potential of virtual and real world experimentation to broaden the scope of analyses, in order to foster creativity and innovation and to explore new terrains that are beyond current experience. Simulation models are a tool whose potential has only recently started to be exploited in the social sciences. The chapter discusses the role of models for exploratory analyses in this field, but also for supporting communication and social learning that contribute to or stimulate transformative change. It elaborates on the role of virtual and real world laboratories to build knowledge and capacity for transformative change.
Claudia Pahl-Wostl

Chapter 12. From Understanding to Transforming

Many of the reflections on governance in this book do not apply only to the governance and management of water but also to environmental and resource governance in general. Then what makes water so special? Why did I write a book focusing on water and not on resource governance? Water is pervasive—it connects all other resources and other environmental components. By addressing water, the transformation towards sustainability requires and will promote transformative change in resource and environmental governance in general. I argue that it is the most demanding and challenging resource governance problem humankind is facing. Solving the water problem will solve the sustainability problem. Water governance is an agent of change (Pahl-Wostl et al. in Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 5:708–714, 2013c).
Claudia Pahl-Wostl


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