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What makes collaborative water governance partnerships resilient to policy change? A comparative study of two cases in Ecuador

Paúl Cisneros, Centro de Gobierno y Administración Pública, Instituto de Altos Estudios Nacionales


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The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to water and sanitation mandate the implementation of collaborative approaches to water governance to secure water for all by 2030. The implementation of collaborative governance requires the adoption of supportive regulations, resources, and the development of capable public sector institutions. In recent years, several countries in Latin America have introduced reforms to their water codes to promote collaborative water governance. However, our knowledge of the outcomes of these reforms is still in its infancy, in particular on how they influence the evolution of existing governance initiatives. In this paper, I study how collaborative water governance initiatives in Ecuador responded to the introduction of new regulations for stakeholder participation in watershed councils. Our findings show that network structures respond in different ways to policy change. In a context where regulations limit the participation of NGOs in watershed committees, the network with higher dependency to external resources was incapable of adjusting. On the other hand, the key elements that helped the resilient network navigate policy change were the existence of high levels of trust, the availability of resources to subsidize participation, the ability to connect the local structure to other networks, and high levels of perceived legitimacy. Governments and international donors interested in SDG 6 should consider these elements to design and implement strategies to promote collaborative management in regions where initiatives already exist. Failure to do so may cause weaker structures to disappear, and discourage actors from future participation, increasing the costs of putting collaborative structures in place and leaving inequalities untackled.

Key words

Ecuador; policy change; resilience; social networks; water governance

Copyright © 2019 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087