This mapping exercise explores the nature of empirical research
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
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.
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.
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
- 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
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
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.
There is a protocol for this systematic review
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]