Water Alternatives Special Issue review (boring for non-practitioners)

I just wanted to warn the average person that this review might not be all that fascinating for people not involved in development and water, but I’ll do my best.

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Water Alternatives June 2013 issue is titled ¨Voices of Water Professionals: Shining Light on Hidden Dynamics in the Water Sector¨ The articles in the issue are non-academic and most are written in the first person about experiences from these professionals. It is well worth a read. The editors introduce the subject as follows:

¨Almost all the papers identify lessons that can be learned from the experiences of the authors, with a major one that is shared, implicitly if

not always explicitly: the failure to adequately consider the interaction of social, political, economic and local environments and international contexts in policy making, planning, i

mplementation and use of water development efforts is a major cause of subsequent problems.¨

This is something that has been receiving a lot of attention lately in the development sphere-complex-systems management. It is nice to see that so much of the sector is acknowledging that you can’t do development work (or any work for that matter) in a vacuum. But at the same time, all this attention highlights a huge problem with the existing research and literature: the disconnect between on-the-ground experiences and what gets published. Obviously, it is less convincing when a research paper is full of caveats, but it might make it more true. I guess I’m trying to say that everybody wants to make a bold discovery or statement about something that is true in a certain context, but yes, things are complicated. At least people are starting to recognize it in the research too, not just on the ground.

There is also a huge conflict in the design of projects. Of course everybody wants to design pilot programs that can be scaled up, or universalize a successful project or policy. After all, you aren’t going to get a lot of funding if you said well this project will work here but yeah, probably nowhere else. Everybody is looking for solutions to universal problems. And so a common reaction if things don’t work out becomes: ¨the sheer common belief that the ‘project is right’ and the people ‘lousy’.¨

Over the next few days I’ll be reviewing some of the articles in this issue that seem especially relevant to water policy and development.

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