Water governance has emerged as an important topic in the international arena and is acknowledged to be a crucial factor for adequate and sustained progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6. However, there is not enough clarity about the practical meaning of the term “water governance” and how to work with it. This paper reviews the term’s use, to reveal how the concept is understood, referred to, and implemented in practice by different stakeholders. Based on literature review and consultations with experts, we identify and describe the core components of water governance (functions), describe their potential qualities when performed (attributes), and how they interrelate with the values and aspirations of the different stakeholders to achieve certain outcomes. These different components are described in detail to construct an operational framework to assess and work with water governance, which covers water and sanitation services delivery, water resources management and transboundary waters. This paper’s findings provide practical guidance for decision makers and practitioners on how action-oriented water governance processes can be meaningfully designed, and ultimately, how to strengthen efforts aiming to improve water governance.
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