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Water Coalitions: A Comparative Analysis of Agenda Implementation Strategies in Peru and Brazil through the Study of Basin Councils.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Water Coalitions (Water Coalitions: A Comparative Analysis of Agenda Implementation Strategies in Peru and Brazil through the Study of Basin Councils.)

Reporting period: 2015-09-07 to 2017-09-06

This project sought to improve our understanding of the dynamics between key actors in water management. Integrated Water Resource Management has been implemented worldwide to try and promote an inclusive and participatory approach to management at the basin level, this is, focusing on water bodies in the territory in which they are embedded. Yet, it has not always achieved its objectives and has been widely criticized for not paying enough attention to contextual differences and power dynamics. The academic and grey literature investigating participatory organizations for water management has tended to adopt a dichotomist perspective in which participation is either presented as the solution to all problems or as a black box that simply serves as a façade for business as usual. In this project, we adopted a more nuanced perspective in trying to understand under which circumstances participatory mechanisms can help to give a say to those previously excluded from management, such as environmentalists or local populations. Investigating these issues is essential if we are to craft truly inclusive institutions for water management.

This project specifically focused on dynamics between key actors in participatory basin-based institutions for water management in Peru and Brazil. These institutions bring together representatives from the public sector, the private sector – users of water – and civil society, which might defend diverse types of interests. The project works with concrete cases to produce rich empirics from which a contribution to the theory on water management can be constructed. It seeks to identify the kind of obstacles that actors who have been previously excluded face and the kind of relationships diverse actors enter into. Are these reproducing traditional dynamics of power or do they go beyond? Do participants relate only to those that share the same characteristics as them or do they go beyond that? Can we identify not-so-obvious associations that go beyond what is expected? What conditions might explain that such things happen under certain circumstances and not others?
Four water basin councils were selected for in-depth study, two in Peru and two in Brazil. Peru and Brazil’s water councils present diverse characteristics – such as the time they have existed for, the way their participants are selected, or the type of management system in which they are inserted (see figures) – while being in the same region, which makes them interesting to compare. The researcher, during fieldwork, interviewed participants in the selected councils to try and understand their vision of the basins as well as their vision of the participatory mechanisms in place for water management. Other important actors for the water management system were also interviewed; these actors included actors occupying key positions at the national level and actors who had been involved in setting up the studied councils. Institutional documents that portrayed the different organizations’ visions of water management and that provided information on projects conducted by these organizations were also collected during fieldwork. A mixed methods approach was used to analyze the data. Indeed, the qualitative data – text and open questions in interviews – was analyzed following a thematic analysis, in which the identified key themes of the literature were contrasted and refined in light of the empirical data. The quantitative data was analyzed through network and statistical analysis; this allowed to explore the variables that suggest explanations as to how actors relate to each other and why. Three academic papers are being prepared to explain the results obtained through the above mentioned analysis.
The results of this study suggest that participatory institutions can succeed in including a diverse set of interests under specific conditions, such as the institutionalization of these institutions, i.e. their stability in time as decision-making spaces in the overall water management system, or the availability of multiple participatory spaces for decision-making in the same water management system. The results also call attention to the main difficulties in including traditionally excluded participants: the use of a technical and scientific language can be empowering to some participants – such as environmentalists who might have received formal training – and disempowering to others – such as peasant communities who might not have access to such language or who might refuse the vision that such language conveys. Importantly, these participatory spaces can discuss and question management practices to a certain extent, but might not be able to accommodate radically different visions to those institutionalized through, for example, technical management.

The results obtained through this project contribute to several fields of academic literature such as research on water management and on participatory institutions by informing on under which circumstances participatory mechanisms can be effective for inclusion of diverse actors in water management. This project seeks to inform water management practice to help craft more inclusive institutions.
Diagram on the Brazilian overall water management system
Diagram on the Peruvian overall water management system