River representations and "the water quality problems"

Water resource management - especially over large river basins that span multiple communities and geographies - involves a complex system of tasks, activities, and decisions taken by a large group of stakeholders whose choices and actions mediate (and are mediated by) the natural functions of the river ecosystem. In such situations, high levels of cooperation are often required to align the multiple and often overlapping efforts of government agencies and communities working towards sustainable use of the river.

Because the systems are so complex, it is often unfeasible to have a high degree of centralized control, yet an integrated approach to governance is conceptually desirable. The performance of networked forms of management is dependent on general alignment of interests and goals rather than strict micro-management at the activity level. In other words, the system needs "steering" versus control.

But a shift from control to steering makes it all the more important to find some consensus on the policy problem and the goals that organizations are trying to attain. And "the problem" is more of a variant collection of ideas about multiple problem conditions. In other words, the issues people see and perceive are often quite different.

For this reason, TU Delft researchers in Aksi Brantas undertook a Q Methodology study to examine how stakeholders conceptualize water quality itself and how they see the problem. Q Methodology is a quantitative-qualitative approach to exploring human subjectivity. This study demonstrates the different perspectives that stakeholders have regarding water quality - both what it is and how current conditions can currently be characterized - and allows stakeholders to consider the political, ideational, and interpretive aspects of a technical issue.

Interestingly, when examining the perspectives held on water quality in the Brantas, the expected government-private sector-NGO divide doesn't hold up. In other words, different perspectives emerge, but not necessarily in line with respondents' organizational affiliations. This gives us hope that working across boundaries is, indeed, possible - and that spaces of consensus are good targets for early cooperation.

Stay tuned in the learning community for results of the study - due out in May 2022.

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