What factors determine the performance of institutional mechanisms for water resources management in developing countries in terms of delivering pro-poor outcomes, and supporting sustainable economic growth?

This study is a systematic mapping of the literature and evidence

Abstract

Background
This mapping exercise explores the nature of empirical research regarding:
What factors determine the performance of institutional mechanisms for water resources management in developing countries in terms of delivering pro-poor outcomes, and supporting sustainable economic growth?
Adequate water resources for health, ecosystems and production are a global concern. Institutions capable of water resource management (WRM) in ways which support social and economic progress are urgently needed, particularly in developing countries. Participation, decentralisation, reform, and marketization are promoted, but evidence of what works, where and why is difficult to find: a significant problem for those faced with decisions about appropriate approaches to adopt and support. This work is a timely response to imperatives for evidence based decision making, and is a touchstone for improved analysis, policy and practice in the field of WRM.

Methods
Relevant academic and grey literature were identified through a comprehensive and peer reviewed search strategy. To be included, studies had to: (1) concern formal and informal rules, norms and strategies, including organisations, laws, regulations, conventions, systems and agreements relating to freshwater in rivers, lakes and groundwater; (2) show primary, empirical evidence of pro-poor or sustainable economic growth outcomes; (3) concern developing countries; and (4), be in English. Articles were progressively screened at abstract, title and full text level, prior to coding and mapping against agreed criteria. Mapped data were analysed and cross-tabulated to support interpretation.

Results
29,844 articles returned by the search were reduced to a final sample of 38 relevant studies based on full text review. Analysis of this sample reveals:

  • Institutional mechanisms can be grouped into seven types: organisational; legal; participation; decentralisation; and markets; privatisation and infrastructure, with most articles considering multiples of these. Clusters emerge by geography and type (i.e. IWRM in East Africa, water markets in Chile).
  • Factors which influence outcomes can be organised using six typologies and according to their origins: exogenous, endogenous or interface (after Saleth and Dinar 2005).
  • A quarter of papers were judged to exhibit a weak chain of reasoning with only 11% judged as strong.
  • Most were published since 2002, and where reported, important funding sources are DFID, IWMI, World Bank and the Natural Sciences Foundation of China. 19 countries feature with clusters of research in India, China, Tanzania and Chile.
  • Less than half of the papers in the sample provide an adequate description of methodology. Almost one in five provide no methodological description.

Conclusions
The systematic map confirms that the pool of reliable knowledge from which to draw is diminutive when the exacting standards of systematic mapping are applied. Whilst the imperatives for getting WRM ‘right’ are intuitively strong, we currently lack the evidence to: (a) confirm whether WRM institutions are performing; and (b) comprehend and manage the range of factors which shape that performance. Whilst clear cut evidence for universal determinants of institutional performance is not anticipated, it is startling how little good quality research links policy and institutions to outcomes, or diagnoses the root causes of performance.

The implications for international policy and practice are significant and demand an urgent response. Without adequate knowledge or metrics of the social and economic outcomes, and determinants of WRM, efforts to improve performance lack strategic direction and operational accountability, and funding, political and other support for improved performance is at risk. These findings demonstrate the need for radical improvement across the research cycle, including in commissioning, design, delivery, reporting, review and publishing. Specific recommendations based on the evidence and insights generated by this systematic map are set out in the report.

Citation

Hepworth, N.; Hooper, V.; Hellebrandt, D.; Lankford, B. What factors determine the performance of institutional mechanisms for water resources management in developing countries in terms of delivering pro-poor outcomes, and supporting sustainable economic growth? A systematic mapping of literature and evidence. Collaboration for Environmental Evidence, Bangor, UK (2013) 113 pp. [CEE review 11-006]

What factors determine the performance of institutional mechanisms for water resources management in developing countries in terms of delivering pro-poor outcomes, and supporting sustainable economic growth? A systematic mapping of literature and evidence.

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