Monash University
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Sustainable urban water management : the champion phenomenon

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posted on 2017-01-15, 23:37 authored by Taylor, Andre Craig
Research was conducted to meet two objectives. The first was to identify the factors that assisted emergent leaders at a project level (‘project champions’) in publicly-managed Australian water agencies to successfully promote sustainable urban water management (SUWM). The second was to use this knowledge to develop a suite of management strategies to foster this form of the champion phenomenon. The primary rationale for the research was that the champion phenomenon has been an important, but poorly understood, catalyst for the adoption of SUWM in Australia. The research involved three phases. Phase 1 was a review of the international literature. Phase 2 was a multiple case study involving six water agencies and six project champions. Phase 3 was a field experiment where a leadership development program for 20 SUWM champions was designed, delivered and evaluated. The research found that ‘SUWM champions’ were emergent leaders who displayed distinctive personal attributes (e.g. specific traits and behaviours), worked in environments where there was resistance to the SUWM paradigm, and were adept at influencing others to adopt SUWM principles and practices. The research also found that the transformational (Bass, 1985), distributed (Gibb, 1954) and complexity (Uhl-Bien et al., 2007) models of leadership became relevant to, and helped to explain, typical champion-driven SUWM leadership processes at different times. Three conceptual models were developed to describe the factors that assist SUWM project champions in water agencies. The first is a three-phase model of typical champion-driven SUWM leadership processes, which highlights key champion behaviours during each phase, the role of other SUWM leaders and the importance of contextual factors. The second is a model that describes the individual attributes of champions (e.g. strongly developed traits) and enabling contextual factors (e.g. supportive organisational cultures). The third model explains how the champion phenomenon becomes influential as water agencies increasingly adopt the SUWM paradigm and several enabling contextual factors combine to form a ‘critical mass’. The research produced 28 management strategies to provide guidance on how to create a supportive leadership context for SUWM within water agencies, as well as how to attract, recruit, supervise and develop the leadership capacity of project champions. These strategies also address how to foster effective SUWM champions at an executive level, as well as encourage coordinated forms of group-based (distributed) leadership to advance SUWM. The efficacy of one of these strategies was examined by designing, delivering and evaluating the performance of a customised, six-month, leadership development program for 20 nascent project champions. A seven-tier evaluation framework was used that examined multiple dimensions of the program. Evaluation results for all tiers were strongly positive, with the estimated ‘return on investment’ being 190% after one year. The three theoretically-grounded conceptual models have substantially expanded the body of knowledge concerning SUWM champions. For example, these new models have helped to explain why some SUWM champions are more effective than others. In practice, the research has supported broader efforts to foster ‘water sensitive cities’ by producing the first set of evidence-based strategies to foster the champion phenomenon within water agencies.


Principal supervisor

Chris Cocklin

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Geography and Environmental Science


Doctor of Philosophy

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Faculty of Arts

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