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Comparative learning as a two way street: public participation in the Water framework directive

Contribution by David Benson, Andrew Jordan, Laurence Smith, Hadrian Cook, and Alex Inman. Integrated water resources management (IWRM) is now a worldwide phenomenon, providing multiple venues for comparative learning on potential governance options. One ‘ideal model’ of IWRM often normatively promoted by academics and policy-makers as a learning resource is the European Union’s Water Framework Directive (WFD). Introduced in 2000, the Directive has rescaled water management in Member States to a network of regional river basin districts, also introducing requirements for the integrated planning of water resources.

In many respects the WFD represents the state-of-the-art in IWRM, potentially providing valuable lessons for other political systems such as the USA and Australia on how to reconcile the management of complex, transboundary water issues in three dimensions: vertically across multiple levels of governance; horizontally between competing state and non-state interests; and temporally over long run management cycles.

But lesson drawing is necessarily a two way street. An argument forwarded in our recent research is that the EU itself should look abroad as it shortly begins the process of reviewing and revising its flagship water policy. For example, although the Directive mandates public participation in planning processes, most Member States have to date struggled to engage the public in ways that move beyond what Sherry Arnstein in 1969 famously called ‘tokenism’ towards greater ‘citizen power’. After working with practitioners in the USA and Australia, it became apparent to us that these systems could show the EU much about genuinely collaborative water resource planning that incorporates different stakeholders. These contexts could also teach EU states about encouraging local level or community water resource management, particularly regarding nonpoint source pollution problems. Other learning opportunities are apparent in the environmental assessment and modelling of pollution problems, using scientific evidence in decision-making, integrating adaptive management approaches into planning and the funding of implementation measures. For EU policy-makers, national governments and water governance researchers significant potential therefore exists in facilitating ‘two way’ learning with other multi-level governance systems.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.watergovernance.eu/international-comparison/comparative-learning-as-a-two-way-street/

1 comment

  1. Farhad Mukhtarov

    A very interesting post, thanks! Just to get the debate going, I would like to throw a few questions.

    You start off by saying that IWRM exists globally, and therefore there are multiple venues for comparative learning. IWRM, as argued by its critics (Biswas, 2004; Molle, 2008; Jeffrey and Gearey, 2008) is a model which takes enormously different forms in countries where it is targeted, although it retains its label ‘IWRM’. To me, this prevents the efforts of lesson-drawing about IWRM as a whole. Rather, one draws lessons about participatory design of policies, cost-effective ways of controlling diffuse pollution or making sure municipalities are ready for the next 100-year flood.

    Another point which I would like to raise is linked to my reservations about the equality mark between IWRM and WFD. This is what many academics and policy-makers believe, yet, these are also arguably very different phenomena. The first is an ‘ideal type’ or water management, mostly seen and promoted at the national level as evidenced by a plethora (over 100) national IWRM plans (see GWP 2008). In my opinion, the second is a piece of legislation which provides river basin management and integration only with regard to river basin plans. It largely addressed water quality considerations. The EU had to pass another bill in 2007 to account for floods. For management consultants and international organizations WFD has become a great selling point for IWRM. Nevertheless, one needs to remain critical in equalizing the two, in my opinion. WFD is now taken very critically in developing and transition counties, I encountered a ministry official in Kazakhstan refusing to accept WFD as a policy on the ground of irrelevance to the (mostly quantity related) problems of Central Asian waters.

    Finally, your point of learning being a two-way process is very interesting. But the caution must be voiced that there are great political, cultural and organizational ‘filters’/obstacles to such learning. This seems to be more complicated than taking ‘lessons home’. A good example is land use policy in the UK: since the late 1990s it was advocated, based on lessons from the USA, Spain, France and Portugal, that restrictions in house development in floodplains was necessary, and for accounting for drainage in flood risk management plans was needed. Yet, it took 8 years for the floods of summer 2007 to put these suggestions back on the agenda: and into the policy, the 2010 Water and Floods Bill. Learning seems to be not linear. It is indeed a great challenge for learning in policy!

    Many thanks again for an interesting post and the article! Looking forward to reading it more closely.

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