Water is a key resource for sustaining livelihoods, producing food, generating energy and enabling healthy ecosystems and the services which they provide [1
]. Increasing demands, population growth, climate variability, competing uses and interdependencies across multiple sectors (e.g., water-energy-food nexus) are challenging the way in which water resources have traditionally been managed [2
‘Water crises’ and ‘water supply crises’ have consistently been ranked among the five highest global risks since 2012 [4
] with the international community generally adhering to the Global Water Partnership’s statement that ‘the water crisis is often a crisis of governance’
]. Water governance has been interpreted in a number of different ways [7
] but can be broadly defined as ‘the set of rules, practices, and processes (formal and informal) through which decisions for the management of water resources and services are taken and implemented, stakeholders articulate their interest and decision-makers are held accountable’
]. Pahl-Wostl [10
] suggested that failure in water governance at multiple levels has triggered many of the water-related problems, as much as the resource itself, thus threatening water security [11
]. In a similar argument, Zwarteveen et al. [12
] suggested that water governance is mostly informed by ideological hypotheses about how water resources should be managed, rather than by a thorough understanding of how it should work in practice.
In recent years, the concept of Collaborative Water Governance (CWG), which builds upon formal approaches to collaborative governance (e.g., [13
]), has been championed as a promising response to water management challenges [15
]. We understand CWG as a combination of collaboration (i.e., cooperation among stakeholders to achieve common goals) and water governance, and thus as an attempt to ‘operationalise’ water governance in practice. Under this concept, stakeholders are encouraged to share responsibility and contribute more widely to the management of water resources at all levels, embracing bottom-up processes of collaboration and knowledge sharing (e.g., [17
]). These processes should take into consideration local knowledge, inclusion and transparency principles [5
], and should therefore be underpinned by participatory processes facilitating collaboration in order to build consensus around a shared vision (outcome) for future water planning (e.g., [21
As CWG departs from traditional hierarchical, command-and-control frameworks typically used in natural resource management [22
], it is not surprising this approach has been reported to improve the institutional capacity to manage conflicts [16
]. Despite other reported benefits of CWG (e.g., increased inclusion and participation and effective knowledge transfer), some authors acknowledge a clear gap between theory and practice for water management and planning [25
]. At the same time, important implementation challenges of CWG have been reported in the literature: e.g., power imbalances and lack of coordination among stakeholders; funding, time and institutional constraints; conflict resolution needs; and questioning about transparency, accountability and authority [16
An important step towards closing the gap between theory and practice for ‘good’ CWG is therefore understanding the formal and informal rules that underlie system interactions, establishing boundaries and identifying linkages and relationships between stakeholders [29
]. The latter suggests that a good understanding of the ‘stakeholder ecosystem’, including stakeholders’ interests, knowledge and relationships, among others, is a necessary condition for successful implementation of CWG (e.g., [28
]). These stakeholders’ interactions will often lead to the formation of (formal or informal) social (collaborative) networks in the context of CWG [24
]. Research suggests these networks play important roles in facilitating knowledge and information transfer, resources mobility and use, and conflict resolution [36
]. As highlighted by Ogada et al. [24
], however, the analysis of these networks and stakeholders’ interactions in terms of influences, interests and participation at basin scales has been limited. This therefore has the potential to jeopardise arrangements to successfully implement and advance CWG in practice.
In this work, we hypothesise that there exist stakeholders holding key roles in basin-wide CWG-enabling networks and in the achievement of a shared vision for future water planning, and therefore they should be included in potential arrangements to implement CWG. For this, we combine the theoretical collaborative governance framework of Ansell and Gash [13
] as basis for CWG, with stakeholder analysis (SA), social network analysis (SNA) and a participatory process (PP) to disentangle stakeholders’ interactions and influences in the Rapel River Basin (RRB) in central Chile. We embrace the theoretical framework of Ansell and Gash [13
] for CWG since: (a) it closely fits the collaborative landscape in the RRB (and Chile in general, see, e.g., [37
]); and (b) its driving conditions show a clear relationship with basin-wide networks promoting CWG (information flows, collaboration ties and financial exchanges, see Section 3
]), thus providing a means to test our hypothesis. The objective of this work is to set the foundational step to advance CWG through disentangling stakeholders’ influences and relationships in the contentious RRB and to advance our understanding about CWG implementation challenges identified in the literature (see, e.g., [16
To achieve this, we implemented a PP underpinned by circles of influences [38
] and SA [40
] to identify key stakeholders and elements of a shared vision for future water planning in the RRB. We then applied SNA [41
]: (a) to quantitatively describe stakeholders’ relationships related to basin-wide CWG-enabling networks such as financial exchanges, collaboration ties and information flows; and (b) to identify stakeholders’ influences in enabling the achievement of specific elements of the shared vision. SNA has recently been used in the analysis of water governance/management aspects such as urban [34
] and natural [24
] water systems, informal social networks as a new form of water governance [42
] and understanding water infrastructure planning [43
], participatory scenario planning [44
] and collaborative governance for floodplain management [35
], among others.
Previous research shows important deficiencies in terms of water governance in Chile [45
], which is likely to be a key factor behind the country’s poor performance in terms of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) implementation [49
]. Currently, participatory processes for water management are still absent in decision-making at local and national scales. Recently, Gálvez et al. [37
] identified the lack of basin-scale shared visions as a barrier for collaborative water governance in a basin in northern Chile. Similarly, Dourojeanni et al. [50
] argued that the absence of ‘shared visions’ at basin-scale is due to the lack of basin authorities/organisations. Despite the particularities of the Chilean context, the situation analysed in the contentious RRB (e.g., increasing pressure on water resources, lack of stakeholder organisation, lack of a shared vision for water planning and competing water uses, among others) is likely to reflect similar conditions in other poorly managed basins around the globe, thus providing some generality to our findings.
The novelty of this work lies therefore in contributing to closing the gap between theory and practice of CWG implementation by advancing our understanding about solving implementation challenges and implementing a first-ever bottom-up visioning process for the RRB based on the robust identification of multiple stakeholders with a relevant role to achieve this vision.
The following sections describe the methods employed, including a description of the case study, results from the circles of influence and social network analyses. Finally, we analyse results in the context of international literature and provide concluding remarks.
2. Case study: Rapel River Basin
The Rapel River Basin (RRB) is located in Chile’s central zone (Figure 1
). It consists of four sub-basins covering a total area of 13,766 km2
with average annual precipitation ranging between 450 and 1050 mm/year, and a mixed pluvial-nival hydrological regime. Average annual river discharges (1981–2010) in the major tributaries Cachapoal and Tinguiririca rivers are 89.0 and 50.2 m3
/s, respectively [51
] (see Figure 1
). The basin has a regulation capacity of 932 Mm3
provided by the Rapel (hydropower, 695 Mm3
) and the Convento Viejo reservoirs (irrigation, 237 Mm3
Water consumption in the RRB is approximately 45 m3
/s and sustains diverse uses including urban/rural water supply and sanitation, mining activities, hydropower and agriculture/agroindustry, with the latter accounting for 93% of water consumption [52
]. The Chilean Water Authority has recently reported substantial decreases in average precipitation and river flows (45% and 51%, respectively) in comparison to historic conditions (1981–2010) [53
], thus adding to the pressure on water resources in the basin. This situation is expected to worsen given climate change predictions suggesting increases in temperature between 1.5 and 2.5 °C and decreases in average annual rainfall between 10% and 20% over the near future (2041–2060) for a high emission scenario (RCP 8.5) [54
Water management in the RRB is governed by the 1981 Chilean Water Code. This code is based on free-market rules [55
] and has provided legal security for private investments in the water sector; however, it has been less effective in operating water markets and in addressing aspects such as conflict resolution, environmental protection and internalisation of economic, environmental and social externalities [56
]. Recently, other limitations of this legal framework related to hindering collective management, increasing power asymmetries and threatening communitarian water management have been highlighted [57
]. In practice, active water management and use regulation have been transferred to private stakeholders (owners of water rights) through bargaining for resource allocation, with government agencies and social organisations having a limited role in effective management and regulation [59
]. This has been translated in the private sector having a relevant role in decision making for water resources management in the RRB (and Chile in general), for example, by driving allocation of water resources, leading the conformation of water user organisations and promoting investment in the sanitary sector, among others. For a comprehensive review of operational and institutional aspects of water management and policy in Chile, the reader is referred to [59
In this work, we demonstrated the value of complementing stakeholder analysis, social network analysis and participatory processes under the umbrella of a theoretical collaborative water governance (CWG) framework. Deeper insights about stakeholders’ relationships and common interests and the identification of their specific roles in basin-wide CWG-enabling networks (collaboration ties, information flows and financial exchanges) were gained.
A proposed cohort of stakeholders (circle B + MESAS_AMB) was identified as an excellent first-iteration to concentrate efforts formalising a leading organisation to implement CWG in the RRB. On the other hand, a subgroup of stakeholders belonging to circle B was consistently in the periphery of networks occupying secondary roles and showing a limited influence on specific elements of the shared vision. These stakeholders thus need to be enabled for better connectivity, proximity and relevance across the CWG-enabling networks. To enable these peripheral stakeholders, common interests grouping derived from SNA can be used to improve connectivity and proximity through working groups or focused discussions. This, however, will require a careful balance between the ‘homophily effect’ and preserving heterogeneity across networks.
Network heterogeneity is high in the RRB, whereas network closure is relatively weak. This suggests the proposed cohort of stakeholders is privileged in terms of sharing innovative ideas for CWG, probably experiencing a weak adaptive capacity to potential water management challenges (e.g., climate change impacts) across the networks analysed.
A clear gap between the current operational framework to water management in the RRB and stakeholders’ ambitions in terms of ‘water and institutions’ was identified. Current institutional/legislative frameworks act as a boundary condition thus potentially hindering advancement towards CWG in the RRB. One way forward would be organising the proposed cohort of stakeholders as a formal basin organisation to facilitate CWG and enable achievement of the shared vision.
By implementing the methodological framework, we facilitated social learning, fostered trust among stakeholders and mobilised efforts in the appropriate direction to implement CWG in practice in the contentious RRB.