Special Issue "Social Learning for Sustainable Water Resource Management"

A special issue of Water (ISSN 2073-4441). This special issue belongs to the section "Water Resources Management, Policy and Governance".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 September 2021).

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Kevin Collins
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Applied Systems Thinking in Practice Group, School of Engineering and Innovation, STEM Faculty, The Open University, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom
Interests: environmental governance; water resource management; social learning; systems thinking and practice

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Social learning for sustainable water resource management has been part of literature and practice for over 15 years, and much longer in other guises and as part of other discourses.

In a climate changing world, the new decade will see even greater pressures on water and on its governance arrangements. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Anthropocene and Climate Emergency declarations and global movements such as Extinction Rebellion and climate bring new environmental, social and political agendas. Combined, these elements bring into focus the complexity and scope of the socio-ecological issues facing individuals, organisations and communities in relation to sustainable water resource management.

This systemic complexity means that no single organisation or individual can lay claim to defining the nature of water situations or managing them strategically (governance) or operationally (management). Instead, these responsibilities lie with many different people and frequently rely on multi-actor negotiation and co-operation.

Existing policy, approaches and methods of water resource management and governance are, by themselves, no longer reliable pathways in a rapidly changing context. Adaptation requires that we learn to reframe situations and issues and develop and navigate new pathways in order to insitutionalise these learnings and build them into systemic water governance systems.

While the collective nature of water management has become more evident, the mechanisms to support collective action are still contested. It is in this context that social learning—understood as a process for developing collective insights and actions into complex situations leading to concerted action to transform water resource management—has become more urgent and essential.

However, social learning is not a panacea or a pre-defined approach that can be simply ‘added-in’ to a situation. Learning is always contextual and open-ended. The design, use and outcomes of social learning processes require new ways of thinking and practice that go beyond stakeholder participation.

This Special Issue is an opportunity for authors to offer new, critical insights into how social learning approaches to sustainable water resource management have developed and evolved in practice in a variety of settings, contexts and scales. It also provides a key opportunity to establish the contribution social learning approaches can make to transforming the water resource management practices needed for this critical decade. In this Special Issue, we aim to include papers that:

  1. Identify the future of social learning approaches to achieving SDGs and wider water governance imperatives relating to climate change adaptation;
  2. Review existing arenas of practice relating to social learning approaches for sustainable water management to assess the governance implications of the different theoretical and methodological approaches;
  3. Develop practical insights into the design and methodologies of social learning processes;
  4. Critically review progress and achievements of social learning approaches in transforming water resource management to date;
  5. Identify key factors in the success and failures;
  6. Contribute to a practice-informed literature on social learning for water resource management;
  7. Explore conceptual elements of social learning in relation to systems thinking and practice.

The scope of the Special Issue is international and inter-disciplinary. Papers detailing experiences of designing and enacting social learning processes in water resource management and governance and critical reviews of the processes and governance outcomes are particularly welcome. Contributions to the conceptual aspects of social learning and the methodological implications for practitioners are also encouraged, especially when based on case studies or similar practice-related experience and evidence. For this Special Issue, we are also keen to include papers that set out a future for social learning as a more systemic approach and respond to sustainable water resource management in a climate changing world.

Dr. Kevin Collins
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Water is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2000 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • social learning
  • sustainable water resource management and governance
  • climate change
  • transformation
  • systems thinking and practice

Published Papers (4 papers)

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Research

Article
Social Learning: Methods Matter but Facilitation and Supportive Context Are Key—Insights from Water Governance in Sweden
Water 2021, 13(17), 2335; https://doi.org/10.3390/w13172335 - 26 Aug 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 609
Abstract
This paper analyses and discusses how and to what extent social learning (SL), as a means to address complex adaptive problems in water governance, can be enabled in local and regional multi-stakeholder collaborations. Using a multi-method, qualitative, collaborative, and self-reflective case study design, [...] Read more.
This paper analyses and discusses how and to what extent social learning (SL), as a means to address complex adaptive problems in water governance, can be enabled in local and regional multi-stakeholder collaborations. Using a multi-method, qualitative, collaborative, and self-reflective case study design, the conditions, challenges, and enablers for SL were studied, comparing three complementary cases of voluntary multi-actor platforms (water councils) to improve water quality in West Sweden. These councils were established to foster the implementation of the Water Frame Directive and—on a voluntary basis without a formal decision mandate or responsibility—to implement measures or act. Using participant observation, evaluation workshops, and a survey, the methods employed by the councils, which were founded on trust-based approaches, were assessed based on how they contributed to trust and social learning. Observed outcomes included an increased number of participants, sub-projects, local water groups, and measures. Respondents mentioned better dialogue, higher commitment, and broader knowledge as positive outcomes. Based on this, we conclude that there is a need for neutral spaces for meetings led by process facilitators, enabling cross-sectorial and cross-level exchanges, a process which is not common in Swedish water management. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Learning for Sustainable Water Resource Management)
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Article
Water Co-Governance for Sustainable Ecosystems: Reflections and Recommendations from Pilot Processes in the UK
Water 2021, 13(13), 1737; https://doi.org/10.3390/w13131737 - 23 Jun 2021
Viewed by 497
Abstract
As part of the Water Co-Governance for Sustainable Ecosystems (WaterCoG) project, this research evaluated two river catchment pilots in the United Kingdom (UK) via a series of semi-structured interviews in order to better understand how collaborative governance (co-governance) approaches contribute to water governance. [...] Read more.
As part of the Water Co-Governance for Sustainable Ecosystems (WaterCoG) project, this research evaluated two river catchment pilots in the United Kingdom (UK) via a series of semi-structured interviews in order to better understand how collaborative governance (co-governance) approaches contribute to water governance. The findings demonstrate that the participatory process used by catchment partnerships (comprising stakeholders working together within a catchment area) to co-produce knowledge has enabled them to jointly identify improvements that are more meaningful than previous actions to those involved or affected by the situation in their catchment. However, there are concerns about the balance of social, economic and environmental interests in decision making, as well as perceived misunderstandings about the situation in the catchment as a whole. All interviewees (comprising stakeholders from across different scales and levels of water governance) recognized benefits from working together. They also observed that progress to deliver measures is impeded by polices and institutions that are not conducive to partnership working. The interviewees recognized and valued the significant capacity and capability of catchment partnership host organization(s) to facilitate and enable the development of the catchment partnership. However, they also raised important questions about the host’s ability to represent the needs and interests of all catchment partnership members. The recommendations emerging from this research suggest ways to improve water co-governance, including considering the feasibility and desirability of the catchment partnership host; reconceptualizing catchment management plans as a process rather than an outcome; conducting and regularly reviewing a stakeholder analysis of catchment partnership members; working more closely together with other types of partnerships and committees; engaging in and providing opportunities for developing skills in systems thinking, social learning and collaborative actions; working with the UK Government to develop place-based policies and plans; and engaging in dialogue with the UK Government and other bodies to review access to funding and other types of resources. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Learning for Sustainable Water Resource Management)
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Article
WaterCoG: Evidence on How the Use of Tools, Knowledge, and Process Design Can Improve Water Co-Governance
Water 2021, 13(9), 1206; https://doi.org/10.3390/w13091206 - 27 Apr 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1334
Abstract
The European Union Water Framework Directive (WFD) encourages water managers to implement active stakeholder involvement to achieve sustainable water management. However, the WFD does not describe in detail how member states should operationalize participation. The need for local experience and local understanding of [...] Read more.
The European Union Water Framework Directive (WFD) encourages water managers to implement active stakeholder involvement to achieve sustainable water management. However, the WFD does not describe in detail how member states should operationalize participation. The need for local experience and local understanding of collaborative governance (co-governance) processes remains. The WaterCoG project evaluated 11 local pilot schemes. Building on the participatory, qualitative evaluation of pilot schemes from Sweden, United Kingdom, Denmark, The Netherlands, and Germany, the authors take a closer look at how co-governance can improve water governance, how water managers can make best use of tools and knowledge, and how they can improve process designs. The results reflect how social learning and successful co-governance are linked. Social learning as a shared understanding of complex ecosystem and water-management issues can be supported with active stakeholder involvement and citizen science. As such, in co-governance processes, stakeholders need technical access to data and knowledge and a shared process memory. This enables them to develop a shared understanding and facilitates bringing together competing interests and finding new solutions. Participatory tools became part of successful processes by building trust and knowledge based on commitment. However, proficient process design and facilitation make these tools more effective. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Learning for Sustainable Water Resource Management)
Article
Knowledge Co-Production with Agricultural Trade Associations
Water 2020, 12(11), 3236; https://doi.org/10.3390/w12113236 - 18 Nov 2020
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 924
Abstract
Scientists and agricultural trade associations may further conservation outcomes by engaging with one another to uncover opportunities and engage in social learning via knowledge co-production. We observed, documented, and critically reviewed knowledge exchanges among scientists and agricultural stakeholders working on a multidecadal water [...] Read more.
Scientists and agricultural trade associations may further conservation outcomes by engaging with one another to uncover opportunities and engage in social learning via knowledge co-production. We observed, documented, and critically reviewed knowledge exchanges among scientists and agricultural stakeholders working on a multidecadal water conflict in Wisconsin. Differences in knowledge exchange and production were related to meeting spaces, organization, time management, and formality of interactions. We found that repetitive, semiformal meetings organized and led by growers facilitated knowledge exchange, co-production, and social learning. However, scientists often appeared uncomfortable in grower-controlled spaces. We suggest that this discomfort results from the widespread adoption of the deficit model of scientific literacy and objectivity as default paradigms, despite decades of research suggesting that scientists cannot view themselves as objective disseminators of knowledge. For example, we found that both scientists and growers produced knowledge for political advocacy but observed less transparency from scientists, who often claimed objectivity in politicized settings. We offer practical methods and recommendations for designing social learning processes as well as highlight the need to better prepare environmental and extension scientists for engaging in agribusiness spaces. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Social Learning for Sustainable Water Resource Management)
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