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Participation, politics, and panaceas: exploring the possibilities and limits of participatory urban water governance in Accra, Ghana

Cynthia Morinville, The University of British Columbia, Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability
Leila M Harris, The University of British Columbia, Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability


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Water governance debates have increasingly recognized the importance of adaptive governance for short- and long-term sustainability, especially with respect to increasing climate unpredictability and growing urbanization. A parallel focus on enhancing community participation pervades international development recommendations and policy literature. Indeed, there are often implicit and explicit connections made between the participatory character of water governance institutions and their adaptive capacity. The social-ecological systems literature, however, has also urged caution with respect to embracing panaceas, with increasing calls to be attentive to the limitations of proposed “solutions.” We discuss the parallels between the adaptive governance, comanagement, and participatory resource governance literatures and analyze efforts to encourage such participation in urban water governance through Local Water Boards in Accra, Ghana. Drawing on interview data, participant observations, and a survey of 243 individuals, we explored what participatory spaces have been opened or foreclosed as well as the possibilities for adaptive urban water governance in Accra. Applying insights from recent debates about panaceas, we argue that discerning the potential and limits for sustainable resource governance and associated development goals requires that participatory mechanisms be subjected to systematic and contextual analysis.

Key words

adaptive governance; Ghana; Local Water Boards; participatory governance; water governance

Copyright © 2014 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