The authors assess how these collaborative social networks affect the capacity to govern water in this particular catchment and explore how knowledge about such networks can be used to facilitate more effective or adaptive water resources management.

The governance dimension of water resources management is just as complex and interconnected as the hydrological processes it aims to influence. There is an increasing need (i) to understand the multi-stake-holder governance arrangements that emerge from the cross-scale nature and multifunctional role of water; and (ii) to develop appropriate research tools to analyze them.

The study is novel as it applies social network analysis not only to organizations influencing blue water (the liquid water in rivers, lakes and aquifers) but also green water (the soil moisture used by plants). Using a questionnaire and semi-structured interviews, we generated social network data of 70 organizations, ranging from local resource users and village leaders, to higher-level governmental agencies, universities and NGOs.

Results show that there is no organization that coordinates the various land and water related activities at the catchment scale. Furthermore, an important result is that village leader play a crucial role linking otherwise disconnected actors, but that they are not adequately integrated into the formal water governance system. Water user associations (WUAs) are in the process of establishment and could bring together actors currently not part of the formal governance system.

However, the establishment of WUAs seems to follow a top-down approach not considering the existing informal organization of water users that are revealed through this social network analysis. Instead of imposing institutional arrangements, the authors argue that it is more promising to identify and build on existing social structures. Social network analysis can help to identify existing social structures and points for interventions to increase the problem solving capacity of the governance network.

This paper was presented at the11th WaterNet/WARFSA/GWP-SA Symposium in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, 27-28 October 2010; papers from that event were subsequently published in a special journal issue.

Read the article (external link to journal)