Engagement and governance

The PWG research in urban water governance sought to support a transition to a more socially orientated water system.

Overhead view of Caucasian technicians shaking hands near water

Our approach saw urban water as a socio-technical system in which physical elements (e.g. built infrastructure and nature) and social elements (formal and informal institutions) co-evolve.

Studying the ‘governance’ of this system means looking at processes of intentional change (including their unintentional consequences), whether undertaken by national/local government, regulators, water service providers, civil society organisations or by the public.

Three overarching themes guide this research.

  1. Excellent water partnerships: How are water service providers innovating to work with their customers/citizens and with other stakeholders? What makes partnerships work (or not work!) for whom?
  2. Water innovation and change: What are the processes through which water service providers identify, explore and implement change? How can barriers to judicious innovation be overcome?
  3. Knowledge production across cultures: How can we work more effectively across academic disciplines and between academia and practice?

Key People

  • Liz Sharp - "I pioneer collaborative research with water governance organisations and the public to seek out new or different ways of making a better (more resilient, equitable and efficient) water system."
  • Emma Westling - "I am an environmental social scientist with research interests in water governance and sustainability. I am particularly interested in how different kinds of knowledge and expertise come together as part of these processes."

The research focussed on the following specific areas

Public and stakeholder engagement

  • Public participation in policy-making by water service providers
  • Providers’ communicative cultures and norms
  • Stakeholder trust in water service providers
  • Collaborations between different water service providers
  • Public water cultures
  • Project-based engagement for asset development or behaviour change
  • Civil society groups and action

Uptake of innovation and change management

  • The nature of innovation in water service providers
  • Institutional versus technological innovation
  • The role of partnerships in innovation processes
  • Disasters and near-misses as a tool for innovation and learning

Climate change adaptation

  • Interpretations and meanings of adaptation in water service providers
  • Adaptation as reflexive governance
  • Long-term strategies to support adaptation

The role of social science in water management practice

  • Social science as a source of innovation
  • Social science as a means to aid partnership

Facilities and resources

In the area of urban water governance research PWG offered:

  • Support in the design of participation processes in water management;
  • Strategic guidance about how to work with local communities;
  • Advice and support to develop strategies for climate change adaptation within and between organisations
  • Internal audits of innovation processes and lessons learnt

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