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.


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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