River basin planning under the European Water Framework Directive (2000/60/CE, WFD) poses two major challenges to EU countries: coordination among administrative units for large-scale river basin planning and the inclusion of interested parties in decision-making processes. To face both challenges, many Member States have established Coordination and Participation Boards at the River Basin District or river basin level. These boards can be defined as multi-agency and multi-actor groups that support the development of inclusive and coordinated river basin planning to comply with the WFD requirements. The aim of this paper is to understand the functioning and effectiveness of the coordination and participation boards in promoting participatory river basin planning in seven EU countries. We built a conceptual framework, based on spatial fit, coordination capacity and participatory governance theories, to assess the scale at which these boards are established as well as the type of coordination and participation they support. The results indicate the relevance of the sub-River Basin District level to promote participatory decision-making. However, a clear linkage between participatory processes conducted at the sub-district level and decision-making processes at River Basin District should be established. Only if this link is well established are the outcomes achieved through the coordination and participation boards included in river basin plans. Moreover, we identified a lack of knowledge on how planning and implementation activities carried out at sub-River Basin District are aggregated and coordinated for the entire District. Research could contribute to this issue, by focusing on coordination mechanisms and problems that occur at the River Basin District level.
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