PARADIGMS IN WATER MANAGEMENT
Over the past decade a whole range of insights have started to undermine basic assumptions on which traditional water management was based:
water crises are often crises of governance and not resource or technology problems
increasing uncertainties due to climate and global change reduce the predictability of the boundary conditions under which water management has to perform
the polluter-pays-principle and source control are more in line with sustainable water management and have gained increasing support over technical end-of-pipe solutions
integrated water management has been strongly promoted as being more efficient and effective as guiding principle for water management
Correspondingly more and more voices have advocated the need for a radical change, for a paradigm shift in water management. The arguments put forward differ in detail and emphasis but not in the essential elements of the nature of the needed paradigm shift which are:
move towards participatory management and collaborative decision making,
increased integration of issues and sectors,
management of problem sources not effects,
decentralized and more flexible management approaches,
more attention to management of human behaviour by “soft” measures,
include environment explicitly in management goals,
open and shared information sources (including linking science and decision making),
incorporating iterative learning cycles in the overall management approach,
management as learning rather than control.
The report summarizes major arguments from the perspective of complex systems science and political science that show the need of more distributed and decentralized management and governance styles to cope with complexity and uncertainties in management. However, there persist major gaps between scientific and political rhetoric and the implementation of change at the operational level. This is not too astonishing if one takes into consideration what a paradigm implies:
A water management paradigm refers to a set of basic assumptions about the nature of the system to be managed, the goals of management and the ways in which these management goals can be achieved.
The paradigm is shared by what can be called an epistemic community of the actors involved in water management. The paradigm is manifested in artefacts such as technical infrastructure, planning approaches, regulations, engineering practices, models etc.
A paradigm shift involves major structural changes in infrastructure and regulatory frameworks. But it involves first of all learning processes which have to start at the level of mental models. It is needed to engage in a critical reflection on innovative management approaches based on sound and unbiased deliberations. To do so requires to realize that paradigms, mental models influence how actors construct a problem domain, the way how they process information and interpret uncertainties and their favoured kind of strategies and problem solutions.
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