Monash University
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Management of urban stormwater : advancing program design and evaluation

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posted on 2017-05-26, 08:00 authored by Morison, Peter James
Managing urban stormwater is problematical with its diffuse sources and qualities of runoff that cross multiple administrative boundaries and involve different levels of government. Defined by these characteristics and others, urban stormwater is a ‘wicked’ problem that may cause policy conflict and technical disputes among the various governmental actors. This thesis examines the implementation context of urban stormwater management in Australia and, using an embedded case study in metropolitan Melbourne, analyses the complexity of intergovernmental relations to achieve improved stormwater quality flowing into the receiving waters of the city. In this case, state and local governments are jointly responsible for managing Melbourne’s greatest source of waterway pollution, the former led by a regional drainage manager along with thirty-eight municipalities across the metropolitan region. Implementation phenomena within the embedded case are examined from a meta-conceptual perspective through drawing from the literature across the community, program, inter-organisational, and intra-organisational domains. The mixed methods data collection and analysis approach illuminates the interconnectedness of the phenomena across and within these domains. The results reveal patterns of intergovernmental conflict and cooperation that are largely governed by the commitment and capacity of the municipal organisations. Such varying municipal disposition to urban stormwater quality improvement is represented across a range of geographical and socio-political contexts, marked by differences in wealth and education, and the presence or absence of perceptible environmental assets. Moreover, professional norms and experiences largely located within the municipal departments of statutory planning, engineering, and environmental management were also found to influence the degree of local government commitment to urban stormwater management. Notwithstanding the influences of management leadership and municipal priorities, dominant professions shaped the intergovernmental interactions and stormwater quality outcomes at the municipal level. The resulting web of relationships between these variables, amid the different loci and layers of the phenomena investigated, highlights the wickedness of the problem for urban stormwater managers in Australia. Indeed, the collective commitment and participation of local government to ameliorate urban stormwater quality is necessary for improved water quality conditions in the receiving waters, while in practice it is disproportionate. This PhD research, enabled by interactions with policy experts and informed by the policy sciences and public administration literature, developed a conceptual model of intergovernmental environmental program design and evaluation to resolve the problem. The model’s program design heuristic identifies mixed policy instruments and implementation styles that are sympathetic to the complexity of the intergovernmental and contextual relationships. These are drawn together within a multi-layered, multi-modal governance framework in order to compare future policy and program designs between idealised and context-dependent forms of governance. The findings of this research, in depicting the complexity of intergovernmental implementation of an environmental program, contribute to our understanding of the dynamics which necessitate the adoption of a portfolio of implementation vehicles by program managers and implementation agents.


Principal supervisor

Rebekah Brown

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Geography and Environmental Science


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Arts

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