Translating the “OECD Principles on Water Governance” into practice – how can international water reforms be successfully implemented on the local level?


In a Policy Brief from the International Water Resources Association (IWRA), the authors discuss how international guidelines such as the “OECD Principles on Water Governance” can be successfully put into practice.

Although the “OECD Principles on Water Governance“ have been translated into promising national policies in many countries, local successes and results have often fallen short of expectations. Against this background, the Policy Brief identifies different factors in order to improve the transfer of theory into local practice in the long term.

The authors attribute failures in governance processes to a lack of consideration of the meso-institutional level. The macro and the micro levels are already well-recognized in governance processes: the former for its legislative capacities and the latter for adapting general rules to local situations. Meanwhile, the meso level is often overlooked. However, it is of central relevance because it is this layer in between, where laws and policies are interpreted to allow for a consistent and inclusive implementation in the first place. Without the involvement of the meso level as a bridge between theory and practice, reforms are often overambitious and not in line with demand. Furthermore, policies lack local legitimation, monitoring mechanisms are missing and conflicts of interest are not addressed.

The policy brief also highlights the relevance of the broad public. Here, it is important to go beyond mere participation mechanisms to also include and promote social learning.

As a third factor, the authors identify the need for customized solutions. Top-down guidelines and frameworks serve as a useful matrix, but a one-size-fits-all approach will fail if it doesn’t address and reflect the diverse conditions that vary across and within countries. To take this into account, institutional mechanisms are needed, which allow stakeholders to provide feedback and exchange information.

The full policy brief "OECD Principles on Water Governance: From policy to practice" can be downloaded here.