University of East Anglia1
Over the past two decades institutional mechanisms for water resource management (WRM) which emphasise greater participation; economic valuation and market instruments; and decentralisation and devolution of roles have been promoted. But evidence of what works, where and why is difficult to find and this presents problems for decision makers and practitioners.
This paper describes the results of a study commissioned by DFID to systematically map information relating to the question: What factors determine the performance of institutional mechanisms for water resources management in developing countries in terms of delivering pro-poor outcomes, and supporting sustainable economic growth?
Understanding the methodology
To address the question a team of researchers from the University of East Anglia and Water Witness International examined almost 30,000 pieces of available evidence over eighteen months. Systematic reviews and mapping have been used in the health sector for over 30 years to generate unambiguous answers to important questions posed by policy makers and practitioners. Each stage of the process is peer reviewed, and a consistent approach by the research team verified through testing. The work reported here was also guided by an advisory group of international WRM experts. As a systematic map, the work identified, organised and described the evidence relevant to the question.
The methodology involved: identification of relevant academic work, research papers, organisational evaluations or reports; screening for relevance at abstract, title and full text level, prior to coding and mapping against criteria of interest; analysis and cross-tabulation of summary data in a spreadsheet to support interpretation. The results of the systematic map i. Only 38 papers of the 29,844 returned by the initial search were relevant: containing empirical evidence linking poverty and growth outcomes to water resource institutions in developing countries, written in English. ii. Only 42% of these relevant papers contained an adequate description of the methodology, sufficient to permit the replication of the study. iii. A quarter of relevant papers exhibited a weak 'chain of reasoning'. iv. In 20% of relevant papers, the source of funding for the research was not disclosed. v. Institutional mechanisms for water resource management reported can be grouped into seven types: organisational; legal; participation; decentralisation; markets; privatisation and infrastructure. Most articles consider a mixture of these mechanisms, and 'clusters' emerge with several studies of the same type of mechanism in the same geography (i.e. IWRM in East Africa, water markets in Chile). vi. Papers relevant to the systematic map question describe twenty-six factors which explain the performance of water resource institutions. These can be organised using six typologies (contextual, relational, design issues, capacity, organisational behaviour and sector co-dependence). These factors can also be organised according to their origins (after Saleth and Dinar 2005): exogenous, endogenous or interface. The implications for policy and practice 1. Available evidence is extremely modest in size, coverage and quality. 2. Efforts towards optimal institutional design, support and operation should instead be based on local situation analysis which takes into account the full range of factors identified in the map on a case-by-case basis. 3. A concerted global effort is required to strengthen the available evidence base. Implications for research 1. Given the urgency of evidence based action for more effective WRM, the mapping team highlight the need for higher standards and greater rigour in the design, reporting and publishing of research on the topic. 2. Greater transparency within research on WRM institutions is needed. 3. In order to build the evidence base the following should be considered: * Large scale comparative studies, rigorous case study research and longitudinal studies, particularly at global, multi- country and transboundary scale are under-represented in the mapped sample. * Case study research is ideally suited to the type of question explored, although the quality of case study design, conduct and reporting needs to be radically improved to conform with contemporary best practice (see Yin 2009). * Longer-term (>5 year) adaptive action-research involving collaborative teams of researchers, funders, communities and government personnel could usefully demonstrate and study the practice and theory of WRM mechanisms. * Expansion of geographical coverage beyond the handful of landmark studies and clusters documented in this review. * A full systematic review of the mapped articles would be useful to extract a more detailed understanding for how factors influence WRM performance and outcomes. The exercise also flags priorities for publishing, editing and commissioning research on the topic.
This exercise confirms that the pool of reliable knowledge about the performance of WRM institutions is small when the exacting standards of systematic mapping are applied. Whilst the imperatives for getting WRM 'right' are intuitively strong, we currently lack the evidence to: a) confirm whether WRM institutions are performing; and b) comprehend and manage the range of factors which shape that performance. Whilst clear cut evidence of universal determinants of institutional performance is not anticipated, it is startling how little good quality research links policy and institutions to outcomes, or diagnoses the root causes of performance. The significant implications for international policy and practice demand an urgent response. Without adequate knowledge of social and economic outcomes, and the determinants of WRM, efforts to improve performance lack strategic direction and operational accountability, and funding, political and other support for improved performance is at risk. 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