Understanding the food-energy-water nexus is necessary to identify risks and inform strategies for nexus governance to support resilient, secure, and sustainable societies. To manage risks and realize efficiencies, we must understand not only how these systems are physically connected but also how they are institutionally linked. It is important to understand how actors who make planning, management, and policy decisions understand the relationships among components of the systems. Our question is: How do stakeholders involved in food, energy, and water governance in Phoenix, Arizona understand the nexus and what are the implications for integrated nexus governance? We employ a case study design, generate qualitative data through focus groups and interviews, and conduct a content analysis. While stakeholders in the Phoenix area who are actively engaged in food, energy, and water systems governance appreciate the rationale for nexus thinking, they recognize practical limitations to implementing these concepts. Concept maps of nexus interactions provide one view of system interconnections that be used to complement other ways of knowing the nexus, such as physical infrastructure system diagrams or actor-networks. Stakeholders believe nexus governance could be improved through awareness and education, consensus and collaboration, transparency, economic incentives, working across scales, and incremental reforms.
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