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12th International Conference on Urban Drainage, Porto Alegre/Brazil, 11-16 September 2011

Co-governing small-scale distributed water systems: an analytical framework

C. Yu1*, R. Brown1 and P. Morison1, 2 Centre for Water Sensitive Cities, School of Geography and Environmental Science, Building 11, Monash University, Clayton 3800 Victoria, Australia 2 Melbourne Water, 100 Wellington Parade, East Melbourne 3002 Victoria, Australia
*Corresponding author, e-mail

Current discourses in urban water management emphasize a diversity of water sources and scales of infrastructure for resilience and adaptability. The last two decades, in particular, saw the emergence and development of various small-scale systems so that the debate has largely moved from centralized versus decentralized water systems toward governing integrated and networked systems of provision and consumption where small-scale technologies are embedded in large-scale centralized infrastructures. However, while centralized systems have established boundaries of ownership and management, distributed water systems at local levels (such as stormwater harvesting technologies for the street, allotment/house scales) do not, thereby raising the critical question of the latters viability for adoption and/or continued use. This paper brings together the literature on public sector governance, co-production, social practices and modernized mixtures to develop an analytical framework for cogoverning such systems. Being the first that attempts to incorporate the end-users, the framework provides urban water practitioners guidance when designing and institutionalizing governance arrangements for small-scale distributed water systems so that these systems continue to exist, and become widely adopted, within the established urban water regime.

Co-governance, distributed water systems, urban water management

The last two decades saw the emergence of a new paradigm of urban water management that emphasises, among other things, a diversity of water sources and scales of infrastructure for resilience and adaptability (Pinkham, 1999; Mitchell, 2006; Wong and Brown, 2009). This paradigm is reflected in the literature on water management through such concepts as total water cycle management (TWCM, Chanan and Woods, 2006), integrated water resources management (IWRM, Mitchell, 2006), water soft path (Brooks, 2009), and sustainable urban water management (SUWM, van de Meene and Brown, 2009), all of which highlight principles and approaches that encourage the use of decentralised water systems. TWCM and IWRM, for instance, include water sensitive planning and design, fit-for-purpose principles and a diversity of technologies and non-structural tools (Mitchell, 2006) while water soft path (Pinkham, 1999) and SUWM (van de Meene and Brown, 2009) encourage physical and institutional integration of multi-scale infrastructures that are suited to local conditions, responsive to human and ecological needs and with a long-term perspective.

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12th International Conference on Urban Drainage Porto Alegre/Brazil, 11-16 September 2011 Drainage, 16 Some of these principles have been applied and are documented in recent empirical studies recent (e.g. Rygaard, 2009; Mankad and Tapsuwan, 2010 that reveal the co-existence of 2010) decentralised technologies along with centralised systems Biggs (2009) collectively systems. refers to this combination of centralised and decentralised technologies as distributed systems a highly networked and localized approach to production, distribution and consumption y composed of separate individual systems linked with wider networks of exchange at the local or regional level. Figure 1 shows a schema of distributed water systems. A diverse ar array of systems operates at the household, suburb, sub regional and regional levels. Smaller tailored sub-regional systems operating at the local level are integrated with centralized infrastructures that play centralized key roles at regional scales.

Figure 1. Distributed water systems (Biggs, 2009)

distributed systems The term distributed systems is used extensively in the energy sector where it is defined in many ways and is called by many names: on site, dispersed, embedded, decentralized and on-site, micro-generation systems (McCormick, 2008). With consideration to structural diversification, embeddedness and interdependence, this paper focuses on the governance of small-scale distributed water systems, or more commonly, decentralised water systems: , systems provided for water, wastewater and stormwater services at the allotment, cluster and or development scale that utilise alternative water sourcesbased on a fit for-purpose concept fit-for (Cook, 2009: 15). Accordingly, these systems can be independent from, or integr these integrated to, existing centralised infrastructures. Renewed interest in small-scale distributed systems is driven by the challenges of -scale sustainability, climate change, limitations in infrastructure, and supply security (Sharma, 2010), while its viability is enhanced greatly by advances in technology (McCormick, 2008). Scholars (e.g., Biggs, 2009; Wong and Brown, 2009) highlight the need to improve , patterns of production and consumption to reduce environmental pressures amid growing demand for water, and to cope with the uncertainties related to climate change. It is believed , that variety and diversity in sources and scales of water, redundancy and modularity increase resilience and facilitate continuous supply (Biggs, 2010). The use of dist , distributed technologies is also considered to foster flexibility and innovation by making use of local resources, creating partnerships and by enhancing participation, communication and feedback (Biggs, 2009; Biggs 2010). In view of all these, small-scale distributed systems, scale 2 Co-governing small-scale distributed water systems scale

12th International Conference on Urban Drainage, Porto Alegre/Brazil, 11-16 September 2011 are starting to gain momentum in many countries around the world (cf. Mankad and Tapsuwan, 2010). But, these systems do not have established boundaries of ownership and management (Biggs, 2009). There remains so much uncertainty as to who gets involved, how and to what extent these systems are managed and/or integrated to the existing urban water regime. Hence, the critical question regarding their viability for widespread adoption and/or continued use. To answer questions surrounding the governance of small-scale distributed systems, this paper explores the literature on public sector governance, coproduction, social practices and modernized mixtures to develop an analytical framework. The framework brings to fore the role of end-users, and the variables necessary in the analyses, design and institutionalization of governance arrangements for small-scale distributed water systems.


The emergence of decentralised systems poses a challenge to current governance structures (Biggs,, 2009). Additionally, the concept of integrating decentralised and centralised systems is new and complex. Many scholars (such as Biggs, 2009; Brown, 2009; Sharma, 2010) point out the lack of knowledge in the governance of small-scale distributed water systems, that is, in their planning, design, implementation, operation and management. A number of reports and studies (see for instance Livingston,, 2006; Biggs, 2009; Mankad and Tapsuwan, 2010) are published on the drivers and barriers, on community receptivity toward, and household adoption of, decentralised systems. But none explore provider and end-user roles (either) in planning for, designing, implementing, operating and/or managing small-scale distributed systems. Some practitioners (e.g., West, 2001) propose for centralised management of decentralised systems using advanced technology while others (e.g., van Vliet, 2005; Brand, 2010; Hegger, 2010; Hegger and van Vliet, 2010) suggest that the involvement of end-users is critical to the success (or failure) of small-scale distributed water systems. This paper focuses on the latter not only because the literature in the area remains underdeveloped, but also because of the important role end-users can play in a transition to sustainable urban water management. End-user involvement: literature on public sector governance and co-production Citizen involvement is not a new phenomenon. Public participation studies have since documented different forms, levels and motivations for citizen involvement in various areas of concern. Similarly, a number of analogous studies in public administration and sociology reveal a range of concepts pertaining to end-user involvement in public service delivery: comanagement (van Vliet, 2005; Brown, 2009), co-provision (van Vliet, 2005), co-production (Brudney and England, 1983; Alford, 1998; Bovaird, 2007), co-design, codecision and co-evaluation (Pollitt, 2006) as well as co-governance (Pollitt, 2006). Apart from co-governance, which is characterised as the involvement of end-users in all stages (Pollitt, 2006) of a production cycle, the core of the different co concepts is one and the same, that is, the involvement of citizens or consumers either in service planning, design, commissioning, managing, delivering, monitoring or evaluation (Bovaird, 2007), hence co-design, co-decision, co-production, co-evaluation (Pollitt, 2006) and so on. The combination of regular production (involving traditional service delivery organizations and agents such as local bureaucracies, street-level workers) and consumer production (involving clients, citizens, neighbourhood associations) of the same good or service is believed to raise both the quality and the efficiency of municipal services (Brudney and England, 1983). Accordingly, a more flexible and adaptive structure develops when citizens

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12th International Conference on Urban Drainage, Porto Alegre/Brazil, 11-16 September 2011 collaborate with the government in service provision (Clary, 1985). However, these benefits remain debatable and there is limited evidence to support the positive claims. Similarly, Bovaird (2007) warns that citizen involvement is no panacea. He pointed to at least two concerns: 1) potential decline of public accountability and 2) level of, and rationale for, participation. Bjur and Siegel (1977) and Ostrom (1996) suggest that the nature and extent of involvement varies with the type of good or service, technology of delivery, the sociodemographic makeup of the community, and governmental decisions about who, and how involvement is organized or encouraged. Citizens must want to collaborate (through economic, social and/or personal incentives), and the government must be willing to involve them in certain activities (Clary, 1985). Such collaboration is indeed a function of technological, economic, and institutional influences (Bjur and Siegel, 1977), and despite reservations of others (like Clary, 1985), Ostrom (1996) believes that the efforts toward increasing the complementarities between official and citizen production or problem-solving activities promise a much higher, long-term return even if they require more time at the initial stage of a process. Potential for end-user involvement in the water service sector. The notion of citizen involvement has been documented in various sectors and services (see for instance Alford, 1998; Joshi and Moore, 2003). In the water sector in particular, Brown (2009) refers to co-management in advocating for a functional partnership between business, communities and the government in managing the urban water cycle. Similarly, van Vliet (2005) proposes for the co-management of service by providers and end-users in light of the various innovations in infrastructures for water provision and consumption. Accordingly, the traditional form of provision with its large technological system linking natural resources, providers and consumers no longer hold dominance since diversifications have taken place in terms of resources, providers, mediating technologies and consumers (see Figure 2, van Vliet, 2005).

Captive end-user

Customer end-user





Citizen end-user Co-provider





T Figure 2. Diversifications in utility system of provision (adapted from van Vliet, 2005)

The figure above reveals that contemporary service provision acknowledges a diverse mix of sources of water (Rs), different service delivery arrangements (Ds) and a wide variety of technologies (T) so that end-users (Es) have more choice and/or influence, and are more differentiated as well. While some may remain captive/passive end-users, others can now assert their individual needs and preferences as customer end-users, represent their concern for the environment and become citizen end-users, or get involved in generating the services for their own (and possibly others) consumption as co-providers' (van Vliet, 2005). In many ways, the use of alternative sources and diverse scales of infrastructures (Wong and Brown, 2009) is linking end-users more closely with providers, with the small-scale technology, and the various sources of water. And while this provides more opportunities for end-users to contribute to environmental governance, it likewise increases the socio-technical complexities inherent in water service provisioning.

Co-governing small-scale distributed water systems

12th International Conference on Urban Drainage, Porto Alegre/Brazil, 11-16 September 2011 Conceptualizing the dynamics for co-governing small-scale distributed water systems Thus far, the need for social and technological fit is emphasised when involving end-users to co-govern small-scale distributed water systems. Although a number of social-psychological approaches (e.g., theory of planned behaviour, Ajzen, 1985) provide some insight on endusers attitudes and behaviours, these approaches fail to capture the socio-technical context of consumption (Hegger, 2007), its linkages to everyday routines, and to particular forms of provision (Brand, 2010). The design of adequate mixes requires models that help explain these complex interdependencies. Two such models are briefly reviewed in the following subsections. Both reveal important insight into the variables, which may be relevant when designing co-governance arrangements. Social practices model. Spaargaren and van Vliet (2000) developed the social practices model for studying consumption practices. An actor-oriented approach and a system-of-provision perspective of (end-user) behaviour are combined to create a contextual model that is different from the socio-psychological approach of attitude-behaviour on three grounds: 1) it focuses on social practices (or routines) situated in time and space, 2) looks at designated groups of actors, and 3) analyses distinct domains of social life. Accordingly, end-users who try to reduce the impacts of their lifestyles based on the innovations made available to them (through the systems of provision) also affect the innovations and/or systems with which the innovations are developed and provided. Spaargaren and van Vliet (2000) maintain that the social practices model allows the identification of reasons for failed innovations such as due to a misfit of innovations and lifestyles, narrow engineering design or non-familiarity with access or provisioning. Modernised mixture approach. The Modernized Mixture Approach (MMA, Hegger and van Vliet, 2010; Oosterveer and Spaargaren, 2010) is a tool that helps understand innovations in infrastructures. It attempts to combine the best of both small and large technical systems, and argues for the availability of various solutions depending on specific temporal-spatial contexts, as opposed to a single sustainable solution (Hegger, 2007). These solutions are achieved through the formation of adequate mixes of scales, technologies, payment systems and cultural and institutional structures that are both economically and environmentally sustainable (Hegger and van Vliet, 2010), that is, with the creation of a fit between various infrastructural options and existing conditions. Both models introduce a number of indicators for characterising urban water systems from a systemic (system-of-provision) as well as an end-user (life-world) perspective. However, gaps remain in terms of the dynamics and decision-making processes involved in the governance of the systems. While it is possible to map the mixtures for a specific context, the models do not explain how particular mixtures develop or are formed, which mixtures are suited to what conditions and time frame. Also, the role of meso- and macro-level processes appears to be missing (Brand, 2010) so that it is not clear whether the mixtures are dynamic, and/or how they relate to broader trends.


The principles put forward in co-production, social practices model and modernised mixtures approach are all similar in that they acknowledge complexity and diversity, and consider the contextual nature of sustainable solutions. Altogether, the literature reviewed highlight a number of variables considered relevant in the analysis, design and institutionalisation of cogovernance arrangements. These variables are briefly outlined below (see also Figure 3) as

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12th International Conference on Urban Drainage, Porto Alegre/Brazil, 11-16 September 2011 detailed discussion of the process and indicators within each variable is beyond the scope and space of this paper. Resources. The type of good or service is considered one of the determining factors in designing co-governance arrangements (Bjur and Siegel, 1977; Ostrom, 1996). In the water sector for instance, the notion of fit-for-purpose use as advocated by urban water scholars (like Mitchell, 2006) implies the use of diverse sources and/or qualities of water. Consequently, there is a need for different technologies and levels of expertise to deal with associated risks. Decisions taken in this regard are likely to affect who and how responsible stakeholders manage the system. Technical considerations. The literature (cf. Hegger, 2007; Hegger and van Vliet 2010) suggests that technologies be designed with the view of the end-user for greater uptake. The technology in itself, its scale (e.g., single household to whole city level) and structure (e.g., combined vs. separate, Hegger, 2007) are all important when designing co-governance arrangements. These indicators help determine the technical complexities and required skills to operate and/or maintain the system, thus indicate the potential for end-users to get involved. End-users lifestyles. This dimension encompasses what co-production literature refers to as socio-demographic make-up of community. Following the social practices model, it considers the routines and lifestyles of end-users as the basis for analysing (provision and) consumption patterns. Here, it is used in expanding the notion of co-governing the small-scale systems via the analysis of end-users ability, willingness and/or motivation for getting involved in planning and/or in taking extra tasks to manage and maintain the innovations in relation to their everyday routines and, interdependently with other household members and/or the wider community. Governance policy processes. Furlong and Bakker (2010) suggest that governance policy processes act as the backdrop that supports effective implementation of alternative service delivery arrangements (co-governance included). This dimension not only includes decisions about who and how involvement is organised and/or encouraged (Bjur and Siegel, 1977; Ostrom, 1996), it also covers social and institutional considerations with which cogovernance arrangements are established through, for instance, regulation and incentives.

macro-level trends governance policy processes climate change dynamics and processes in water service provision and consumption domains

discourses on sustainability arrangements for DS




agencies partners stormwater wastewater groundwater other sources

population growth
everyday life of end-users co-design political regulation DS co-manage technological other co arrangements

consultation and/or delegation

private developmentscompanies others

other economic, social(e.g. on risk, accountability) other public discourses and technological trends

Figure 3. Analytical framework for co-governing small-scale distributed water systems 6 Co-governing small-scale distributed water systems

12th International Conference on Urban Drainage, Porto Alegre/Brazil, 11-16 September 2011 Macro-level trends. According to Brand (2010), consumption behaviour develops in relation to broader structural dynamics and trends. The analysis of co-governance therefore requires investigation of not only water-related practices or governance processes but also of macrolevel trends (e.g., climate change and sustainability discourses) that affect cultural standards, value systems, regulation and infrastructure. Figure 3 shows how the aforementioned variables are related. The multiple arrows to and from distributed systems (DS) represent the variety of ways a technology (e.g., stormwater systems) may be co-governed (i.e., co-planned and/or co-managed, for instance, by private utility companies and end-users), based on an analysis of the lifestyles and aspirations of endusers (left), of the resources (right) and technology (DS, centre) of delivery. Such analysis may start from either the consumption (end-user) or provision side (resources and providers), although the lines demarcating both spheres have become less well-defined. It is possible, for instance, to start with an understanding of the preferences, lifestyles and practices of particular groups of end-users before deciding on the resource (e.g., stormwater, wastewater, desalination), technology type and scale, and governance arrangement. Similarly, it is feasible to start with an analysis of resources, technology, and institutions. Both perspectives have strengths: an end-users view challenges providers to adapt their innovations to fit daily routines of individuals, while the other perspective challenges end-users to adapt their practices in relation to the system. But, taking only one approach over the other is inadequate. Co-governance arrangements must be designed with consideration to both perspectives in order to ensure their viability for more extensive adoption and/or continued use in a regime characterised by centralised infrastructures.

The notion of appropriate mixes and fit is not limited to water sources, types of technology or scale of infrastructure. It is similarly found in public sector governance discourses. This paper focused on a specific (service delivery) arrangement that highlights the critical role of end-users in environmental governance through sustainable forms of (water service) provision and consumption. Key lessons from the literature reviewed include the following. The emergence of small-scale distributed water systems links end-users closer to providers, to the resource and technology. These linkages provide more opportunities for end-users to co-govern such systems. There are many variables to be considered in the analysis, design and institutionalisation of co-governance arrangements. It is ideal to consider various perspectives, especially the end-users. Co-governance arrangements must be linked to broader governance reforms and to macro-level conditions to facilitate widespread adoption and continued use of the systems in a regime characterised by centralised structures.

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Co-governing small-scale distributed water systems