The Water Policy Innovation Hub will bring together scholars across different continents, across disciplines, and across academic experience levels in order to build capacity in studying EU Water Policy Innovation.

The EU has a wide range of experiences in water sector in developing practices, creating business opportunities and overcoming barriers linked to technology, regulation, public participation, financing and practical implementation. The Water Policy Innovation Hub aims to harness this capacity to create a policy hub which ensures effective dialogue between water experts and policymakers, so as to address the needs of the water community, particularly in the pacific and middle east. The Hub will focus on wide range of water and innovation policy challenges including governance, technology, participation, and legislation. This project will provide a clear focal point for the comparative study of water policy and innovation challenges, for the diffusion of high-quality information on water policy.

The Hub will organise a series policy workshops in Germany, Australia, and France. These meetings will bring together water policy researchers to prioritise issues at stake, where policymakers are in need of better information and policy recommendations. The knowledge exchanged between researchers through these meetings, will be discussed with policy-engaged researchers with European expertise.

Download our Water Policy Innovatin Hub information flyer (PDF)

Water Policy Innovation Hub Research Clusters

Research Cluster 1: Water Reform

Water reforms are hard to conceive, implement and achieve. There is a rising awareness of the need to efficiently and equitably reallocate water as a response to water scarcity. But, in most countries, it is not clear what innovation in water governance could or should be. There are many barriers to incorporating new objectives – such as environmental sustainability – into the political, social, economic and bureaucratic institutions that govern how water is managed. From vested interests and insufficient information to cultural norms and institutional fragmentation, persistent and prevalent challenges manifest themselves globally. In this context, water policy innovation is about finding new ways to overcome old barriers to water reform. Importantly, these new approaches need not be ‘water reform success stories’ imported from other countries; every country, region, or locality has its own examples of how the collective management of shared natural resources has been improved.

This research cluster identifies the key barriers to previous and existing water reform processes, such as the EU Water Framework Directive and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Specifically, we diagnose the causes and impacts of particular reform processes failing to achieve their objectives. We adapt these lessons to case study countries of the Pacific and Middle East. Our approach, however, is not the generic, well-worn path of adapting solutions from foreign water reform processes. Instead, the foundation of our analysis are the historical drivers of previous reforms in the governance of common-pool resources in those case study countries. Our approach is therefore interdisciplinary and frames water reform in the broader context of the formal and informal institutions governing land, infrastructure, fisheries, forests and other natural or man-made resources.

Research Cluster 2: The Global South

In the face of scientific, economic and technological disruptions, creating innovative water polices requires novel ways of thinking about policy problems (Whitbread, Linnane and Davidson, 2017). It demands an understanding of the ontological, theoretical and methodological underpinnings of existing policy solution. It does not attempt to ‘fix’ the problem, but rather to understand how the problem is defined by emphasising the historical and contextual socio-political realities within the regions.

We favour critical and multidisciplinary approaches to conceptualising and framing policy problems, to reinforce existing tools and methods of inquiry and intervention. Power and knowledge are central to understanding structural and individual dispositions and responses over space and time. We encourage investigations into broadly shared historical legacies, local water management approaches, and local political governance systems amongst other subjects.

Such perspectives to innovation can liberate and elevate local voices, practices and approaches (Nagendra, 2018), which becomes a potent policy innovation tool for researchers, policymakers and stakeholders. It also helps to cultivate the robust skills necessary for innovative design and implementation practices.

Research Cluster 3: Pacific Island Cities

The governance of urban water access in the Pacific is increasingly recognised as an area in need of innovative approaches in policymaking in order to cope with immediate and looming challenges, both from within the sector and due to the consequences of climate change. Progress towards achieving universal access to safely managed drinking water services (SDG 6.1) will require innovative water policies, informed by knowledge of practices of culturally significant customs.

Conventional networked water service provision has showed its limits in delivering and sustaining services in the urban villages of the Pacific, especially in the growing informal settlements. To cope with failures of centralised systems, individuals and communities have to resort to traditional resources, such as multiple water sources and practices of water sharing according to customary networks of reciprocity.

Shifting attention away from the implementation of technological transformation, the cluster will explore how water policy initiatives can best support the informal voluntary efforts mobilised in Pacific urban centres to enhance water services.

This cluster will enable a multi-disciplinary conversation on the forms of public support that could enhance existing forms of participatory, informal and decentralised water access in terms of their accessibility, safety and environmental sustainability. These insights have implications for the implementation, monitoring and governance of water services. They also offer new options for intervention in climate change resilience.

Given that the cluster is addressing social conditions underpinning complex water policy concerns, it will explore in priority less conventional mechanisms to support the development of new policy. It is important that efforts are geared towards identifying tools that go beyond top-down legal and political reform processes.

Research Cluster 4: Reflexive Innovation in Water Policy

Environmental challenges of this century are characterised by the need for transformative change with both global and local challenges presenting substantial difficulties of different kinds. This requires not just substantial innovations, but also a careful adaptive approach to implementing them and integrating them within existing systems. The solutions we think of today are unavoidably driven by our current biases, beliefs, heuristics and values, and we may discover that once an innovative transformation begins it is either insufficient or has undesirable consequences that need to be mitigated. Iteration, reflection and adaptive management are crucial to managing the transformation process, and require their own social and cognitive innovations, regarding new approaches to engage with change, decision making and governance arrangements. The reflexive innovation mode emphasises the capacity for adaptation in the innovation process and increases the awareness of values and biases around our decisions and innovation and its consequences.

The reflexive innovation cluster explores how reflexive innovation can be better understood, implemented and disseminated, with a focus on water policy.

The main areas of focus are:

  • The reflexive approach in innovation, developing methods that encourage reflective adaptation and iteration, including records of engagement and decision making
  • Social innovation, including new approaches to engagement with change, decision making and governance arrangement
  • Integrating reflective approaches within water policy innovation best practices

Research Cluster 5: Mapping Justice in Water Innovation

How does water justice fit within the water sector’s silos? Water justice is a cross cutting water challenge. It is central to human rights and sustainability. However, approaches to water justice vary. Bridging the disciplinary divide can be difficult. Technical terms differ across disciplines, and ‘common’ knowledge isn’t always common knowledge. This cluster brings together water experts from a range of disciplinary backgrounds to sketch out a ‘map’ of the conceptual terrain. What does water justice mean to you? Why is it important to your work? What can the strengths and skills of your discipline offer? By sharing strengths and points of convergence the ‘map’ will foster collaboration. Examining the points of divergence may indicate where water justice gaps are located. Areas of water justice innovation may emerge. In the second half of 2019 the cluster will present to policymakers in Canberra about potential paths forward. This cluster will initially focus on the Australian context. Our work will be enhanced by the collaboration and networking with EU colleagues provided by the Water Policy Innovation Hub project.


Ehsan Nabavi: Ehsan.nabavi@anu.edu.au


Updated:  24 May 2019/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications