Process-focused analysis in transboundary water governance research


Previous analysis of transboundary water governance has been focused primarily on state-centred approaches. The articles in this special section move us forward from this focus in three ways. First, they highlight the crucial role played by non-state actors in shaping water governance outcomes. Second, they show us how these actors can increase the ‘room for manoeuvre’ in negotiations. Third, they provide an entry point for developing process-focused approaches in transboundary water governance research. This article argues such an approach might improve our understanding of transboundary water outcomes and suggests new focus on how key actors form networks of alliances and shape decision-making landscapes at multiple governance levels and arenas. From a scholarly perspective, it brings to light the blurred boundary between state and non-state actors, as derived from a better understanding of the elusive links between actors and organisations; it unravels additional layers of complexity in the hydro-hegemony concept and bends the rigid notion of power asymmetry, towards the subtleties of power relations and interplays in transboundary decision-making processes.

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  1. 1.

    This connection blurs the current classification of state and non-state actors. See discussion on this issue in the following section.

  2. 2.

    In most cases, state fragmentation is caused by internal struggle within government bureaucracy both vertically (within a ministry) and horizontally (between ministries) as it emerged from the competing interests of different ministries and departments (Goldensohn 1994; Molle and Hoanh 2009).

  3. 3.

    The formulation of the MRC Basin Development Plan (BDP) was based mainly on international donors’ attempts to apply Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) without taking into account the absence of a well-functioning inter-ministerial decision-making platforms and how sectoral ministries perceive the idea of integration in the first place. Consequently, the MRC BDP was formulated based mainly on compilation of individual development plans of the different sectoral ministries in each of the four member countries, without any discussion between these ministries on how they could eventually integrate and implement their plans either nationally or regionally.

  4. 4.

    See also Furlong (2006) on the assumption of complete state control over a fixed territory.

  5. 5.

    See also Wise (2010) for discussion on hybrid organizations and their potential value in the overall shaping of adaptive management systems.

  6. 6. (last accessed April 10, 2012).

  7. 7.

    Current discourse on transboundary water governance continues to treat state as a homogenous unit of analysis and does not address the issue of state/country’s representativeness beyond its formal/legal context or agreement. Similarly, the issue of bureaucratic fragmentation and sectoral disintegration in national-level water politics remains pretty much absent in transboundary water governance research. See also the way Hirsch and Jensen (2006) distinct national interest in transboundary water governance, as if such interest is derived from integration of state bureaucratic agencies at the national level. Though current analysis touch the problem of formal representation in river basin institution in general, these analysis seem to assume that centralised decision-making in river basin institution stemmed from the integration of state ministries and agencies at the national level (Miller and Hirsch 2003).

  8. 8.

    See also Hirsch and Cheong (1996) on how MRC member countries tolerate donor’s development agenda due to their interests to acquire donors’ funds.


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Suhardiman, D., Giordano, M. Process-focused analysis in transboundary water governance research. Int Environ Agreements 12, 299–308 (2012).

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  • Transboundary waters
  • Hydro-hegemony
  • Power asymmetry
  • Room for manoeuvre
  • Networks