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Multilevel water quality management in the international Rhine catchment area: how to establish social-ecological fit through collaborative governance

Alexander Widmer, Department of Environmental Social Sciences, Eawag Dübendorf
Laura Herzog, Institute of Environmental Systems Research, Osnabrück University
Andreas Moser, ETH, Zurich
Karin Ingold, Institute of Political Science University of Bern; Oeschger Center for Climate Change Research, University of Bern; Department of Environmental Social Sciences, Eawag Dübendorf


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One major challenge of water quality management is that the source of pollution and its effects might be spatially disentangled. This cause-effect misfit has large implications on how surface water in a hydrological catchment area is managed and regulated. We argue in this paper that such misfit can best be addressed through interconnected and multilevel collaborative arrangements that support institutional capacity building. In line with recent literature, we presume that social-ecological fit can be enhanced through direct collaboration among actors managing the same or interconnected ecosystem units. To study the social-ecological fit, we analyze three subcatchments of the international river basin of the Rhine. Our data on actor collaboration, on inter-related subcatchments, and on actor and subcatchment connections are analyzed through network analysis and motif counts. Our results show social-ecological fit to emerge in less complex comanagement situations, e.g., when one resource unit lies in the competence of two actors, or if one actor is responsible for two units. To a lesser extent, there is also evidence for more complex, multilevel collaboration arrangements among actors.

Key words

collaborative governance; institutional capacity building; problem of fit; social-ecological networks

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