Key Themes of the Autumn School 2015

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Concepts: Role and use of theoretical concepts, discourses, and overcoming paradigms as panaceas. Concepts play an important role in water management research, policy and practice. Some concepts have been around for several decades now (e.g. integrated water resources management (IWRM), good governance and public participation) whereas other concepts have emerged more recently (e.g., water-energy-food nexus and adaptive water management). Many of these concepts have proven to play an important role in steering research projects and attracting the attention of policymakers and politicians; yet they are often mistakenly presented or promoted as panaceas or universal remedies to water problems. Against this background, this Autumn School will provide a forum where participants critically discuss and reflect on the role and use of theoretical and policy concepts. Related key questions are:
  • How do theoretical and policy concepts relate to comparative water governance research?
  • How can comparative research contribute to the development/critique of central concepts and help to overcome the role of paradigms as panaceas in water governance analysis and policy discourse (for example by assessing their contextuality)?


Methods: Comparative methods, selecting and comparing cases, data collection, use of databases and secondary data.  A range of methods for comparative analysis will be addressed, including qualitative methods (small-N), qualitative comparative analysis (intermediate-N) and quantitative methods (large-N). In addition, there will be attention given to mixed methods (i.e. combining qualitative and quantitative methods). Particular attention will be paid to set-theoretic methods, including Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA), which enable cross-case comparison – and therefore the formulation of more generalizable insights – while capturing the complexity of individual cases.

Key questions are:

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of various methods when comparing complex water governance systems?
  • How do comparative designs relate to other designs (e.g. single case studies)?
  • What methods exist for selecting cases and collecting data? What are the main issues?
  • How can we design and use databases in comparative water governance research?
  • How can we harmonize data from existing databases (secondary data) and primary data?


Frameworks: Background and use of existing frameworks, theory-building.
Key questions to be addressed are:
  • What are the (disciplinary) backgrounds of well-known existing frameworks (e.g. the Management and Transition or the Social-Ecological Systems Frameworks)?
  • To what extent are standardized representations needed and useful when comparing water governance systems?
  • To what extent are existing frameworks supportive of comparative water governance research?
  • How do frameworks relate to theories and how can the use of frameworks contribute to theory-building?


Cross-cutting: Working across disciplinary boundaries, linking research and practice, publication of results. Complex environmental problems cannot be tackled using traditional conceptual frameworks and disciplinary approaches and methods alone. They require research that integrates insights from the natural and the social sciences and produces socially relevant knowledge (Pahl-Wostl et al., 2013). To be relevant, water governance researchers should thus work across disciplinary boundaries and link research and practice. As a consequence, (young) researchers face multiple challenges, including generating peer-reviewed knowledge and fostering transformative learning processes (Patterson et al., 2013). Within this context, the Autumn School will address a number of cross-cutting questions:
  • How can we effectively generate peer-reviewed knowledge (i.e. what are appropriate journals and what can we expect from and deal with review processes)?
  • How can we best work with stakeholders in our research and effectively link research and practice (i.e. how to engage stakeholders and to advise policy makers)?
  • How can we address and overcome disciplinary boundaries (i.e. raise epistemological awareness and avoid discipline-specific jargon)?



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