It is conventional knowledge that water, a non-substitutable resource, is invaluable both for human welfare and the environment. Across the globe, effective water management is necessary to address the water problems underpinning the water crisis which many countries, including the non-arid ones, are experiencing (Gleick, 1993; Biswas, 1999).
One way of defining effective water management is as a narrowing of the implementation gap -- a situation where actions are aligned as closely as possible to policy objectives. Essentially, it is a measure of consistency between the performance of relevant actors and policy provisions (Perry, 2013). Organizations can be seen as key actors within the institutional frameworks established by policy (Hodgson, 2006). Organizational capacity is an intrinsic part of organizational performance in that it is an attribute describing what an organization has as well as its 'potential to perform' (Horton, 2003, p.19). An organization's capacity is very much dependent on the availability and accessibility of its capacity requirements. The significance of organizational capacity lies in how it determines the level and quality of policy implementation (Ting, 2009).
This paper establishes a conceptual framework for unpacking organizational capacity in the context of delivering the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) a European policy whose implementation relies on Member States' national water institutions and organizations, often designated as competent authorities. Although substantial research relating to this Directive has been carried out, less is known about the extent to which competent authorities have the required capacity to deliver it. Thus, the aim is to better equip both legislators and policy makers with an understanding of how organizational capacity affects management options and outcomes. Malta, the smallest European Member State with 10 years of implementation experience, is the case study. This paper focuses on the implementation of three main provisions of the WFD: public information and consultation (Article 14), cost recovery of water services (Article 9), and monitoring of surface water status, groundwater status and protected areas (Article 8). These three responsibilities have been selected principally on the basis of their differing performance status in Malta.
Based on an extensive review of literature, we developed an organizational capacity indicator set, whose components included legal authority, information and knowledge, skills, resources, and leadership. These provided a basis for guiding qualitative data collection using a set of water policy documents as well as face-to-face interviews conducted with three types of key informants in Malta: people working within the two competent authorities, government stakeholders, and key public stakeholders.
The results demonstrate that the components of organizational capacity are highly interlinked and the presence (or lack thereof) of one component has knock-on effects on the others. For instance, the set-up of an inter-ministerial committee in Malta was a positive leadership capacity initiative giving direction to the development of the 1st water catchment management plan (WCMP). The various ministries sharing water responsibilities increased their knowledge capacity of each other's work, and were able to identify overlaps and improve the alignment of policies. This resulted in individual ministerial responsibilities being fitted into the wider Maltese water organization perspective. On the other hand, the lack of human resources has prevented competent authorities from exploiting opportunities available to them, such as using available financial resources to attend training and hire new personnel, as current employees cannot afford to dedicate time to teaching new recruits.
Current experience also shows that improving organizational capacity in Malta requires a stronger input into preserving organizational memory i.e. any initiative undertaken should be followed-up in order to understand what the organization has learned. Such has happened with the public information and consultation responsibility, whereby one of the competent authorities carried out a gap analysis of the 1st WCMP, which has created good prospects for the 2nd WCMP through increased know-how and improved planning of consultation sessions to address specific topics of interest and reach targeted audiences.
Another finding from this study is that organizational performance is not necessarily an indicator of capacity and vice versa. This corroborates previous claims in the literature that the concepts of performance and capacity, although highly related, are not causally linked (Kayaga et al., 2013). For instance, the data in this study show that the competent authority in Malta has the legal capacity to implement the Directive. However, having capacity does not automatically result in effective performance, and indeed the data also highlight a lack of enforcement of the regulatory framework. Therefore, an organization's context can be both a limiting and contributing condition to the fulfilment of its mandate. The implication is that there are two aspects of an organization to be considered when assessing capacity for effective water policy implementation: the organization itself, and its relationships with other organizations and institutional levels, whom the organization may depend on or compete with for its capacity requirements. For this reason, this paper concludes by stressing that effective water management is a collective effort. Just as the capacity components have knock-on effects within an organization, the capacity of one organization can have repercussions across the network of actors within an institutional framework. Therefore, while it is important to look at capacity within an organisation, it is equally important to look at capacity from an overall network perspective.
Malta, as is the case for several other member states, was not part of the original drafting of the Directive but it will be present for its review and possible revision by 2019. This paper is a stepping stone in that context, offering an interpretation of the country's performance from an organizational capacity perspective while also encouraging similar research across other member states to contribute to the learning curve of the Directive. In addition, the organizational capacity indicator set developed here can also be applied to organizations further afield from the water sector and by those desiring a similar research strategy. 1. Biswas, A.K. (1999) Water crisis. Water International. 24(4), 363-367.
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