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Development of a guiding framework for sustainable urban water governance

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posted on 13.01.2017, 01:21 by Van de Meene, Susan Joy
Sustainable urban water management is an increasingly important socio-political objective, however implementation remains ad hoc. While numerous tools and technologies have been developed to achieve sustainable urban water management, significant socio-institutional barriers remain. These impediments include, among others, institutional fragmentation, poor political leadership and technological lock-in. Exacerbated by a lack of theory and conceptual frameworks to link sustainable urban water management principles with on-ground execution, these barriers contribute to low levels of system-wide implementation capacity. Institutional capacity building is advocated in the sustainable urban water literature as a strategy to facilitate implementation; however, institutional capacity building has limited ability to provide an overview of regime operation, considered critical for enabling system-wide change. Focusing on processes, actor agency and institutions, the field of governance studies provides a useful perspective for understanding holistic regime operation and change. Yet the environmental governance literature remains contested; many scholars support a network or market governance approach while others advocate for hybrid approaches. Moreover, the governance systems needed for enabling sustainable urban water management have been given limited attention. Therefore, the purpose of this thesis is to develop a guiding framework for sustainable urban water governance. Through an emergent research design, systematically drawing on the perspectives of scholars and leading Australian urban water sustainability practitioners, likely attributes of a sustainable urban water management regime were identified. The attributes were focused through the lens of individual, organisational, inter-organisational relationships, and administrative and regulatory regime components. A comparison of the scholarly and practitioner perspectives, together with governance, regime and institutional literatures, explored which governance modes are most likely to enable sustainable urban water management. Overall, this investigation revealed a suite of likely sustainable urban water management regime attributes that are substantially different from traditional and contemporary practice highlighting the considerable regime change required to enable sustainable urban water management. The scholars supported a network governance approach, similar to current adaptive governance and conceptual scholarly urban water management projections, with interdependent actor relations and largely informal administrative arrangements. In comparison, the practitioners advocated hybrid governance arrangements comprising hierarchical and network modes, including a formal administrative framework, with mutually dependent and interconnected actor relationships to facilitate implementation of site specific sustainable urban water management solutions. Both scholars and practitioners supported using a variety of policy instruments, including market governance instruments. The outcomes of this investigation suggest the hybrid governance approach supported by practitioners extends current scholarship by providing detailed information on regime attributes and operation, which can provide insight for practical implementation of network governance approaches which are supported in current urban water management and adaptive governance literature. Additionally, the hybrid approach offers suggestions for successfully integrating the three ideal governance modes and reducing potential tension among the modes. In practice, the proposed framework could be used to design capacity building programs and policy initiatives drawing on mixed governance approaches. To extend this research and improve insight into regime operation and governance dynamics, future research testing the tentative sustainable urban water governance framework in other locations is required.


Principal supervisor

Rebekah Ruth Brown

Additional supervisor 1

Chris Cocklin

Additional supervisor 2

Megan Farrelly

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Geography and Environmental Science


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts