Governance‐related Values as Dimensions of Good Water Governance

by | Oct 9, 2018

an empirical study on the various values that matter to members of the general public on water governance.

Is good water governance important? Nobody would disagree. Regulating authorities, governments and stakeholders around the world should strive towards good water governance, to always try and make it better than it currently is. But what exactly makes water governance good? This question is less straightforward, and different people will have different answers. Some people may say authorities should avoid wasting taxpayers’ money, others will say that we should primarily think about our impact on future generations, and yet others are concerned about the ways in which (poor or good) water governance affects society’s most vulnerable people. These are all examples of different underlying (governance-related) values, such as efficiency, sustainability, or social justice.

A lot of researchers have tried answering the question what makes water governance good, and most have come up with a different response. In the recently published paper “Governance‐related values as dimensions of good water governance” Christopher Schulz tries to approach this question differently. Rather than deciding a priori, that for example ‘sustainability’ is important, Schulz complements his review of the literature on values in water governance with an empirical study on the various values that matter to members of the general public. A statistical analysis of empirical data from a survey Schulz conducted for his PhD research in Brazil’s Upper Paraguay River Basin suggests that there are three broad dimensions that make up good water governance (see Figure below).

Dimensions of good water governance: The empirical structure of governance-related values.

First, ‘democratic governance-related values’ are about the ways in which members of the general public are directly affected by and involved in water governance: Do the authorities’ decisions reflect the will of the people? Are we looking after the poor and marginalized? If yes, then water governance would be good, based on the values of this first dimension. Second, avoiding the waste of public funds and ensuring that governance is orderly and carried out according to the law may ensure good water governance according to the dimension of ‘economic governance-related values’. Third, ‘scientific governance-related values’ cover the aspects of looking after future generations and the environment, as well as using the best available evidence when taking decisions in water governance.

Ideally, good water governance would realize all the different values mentioned above – but the study reminds us that we should never focus on any single value, and that the general public has indeed very diverse demands when it comes to good water governance. This is worth remembering the next time someone comes up and suggests they have found ‘the solution for good water governance.


Kindly contributed by Christopher Schulz (School of Geography and Sustainable Development, University of St Andrews).

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