Community-based water governance

Decentralised water governance and participatory irrigation management involving end users of water in the decision-making processes of water allocation and management is touted as an effective means to improve water security and sustainability in communities. When funding multipurpose dams or large irrigation projects, state authorities and donor agencies often mandate the formation of community-led establishments such as Water User Associations (WUAs) to encourage shared ownership and responsibility for water infrastructure and resources. Yet several models of participatory irrigation management have proven to be unsuccessful or inefficient in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). To explore why this may be the case and what can be done to enable and improve community participation in water resources management, the FutureDAMS researchers at the University of Surrey are developing an agent-based social simulation model called WATERING (WATER user associations at the Interface of Nexus Governance).

WATERING provides bottom-up understanding of how decisions made at an individual level (e.g., by crop farmers or large-scale livestock farmers) affect the status of water availability and infrastructure at community level. The model also illustrates and explains the effect of WUA’s water management decisions – either as a result of monitoring resource availability in the community or due to broader socio-political issues – on the productivity and wellbeing of water users. By illustrating the processes and consequences of this micro-macro loop, WATERING provides a causal explanation of how community-driven water governance works.

The WATERING model will be useful to WUAs (and similar community organisations), irrigation authorities and state and donor agencies involved in irrigation design, planning and management. The model will also be useful to researchers and students interested in using social simulation to understand and explore questions surrounding community water management. The video below provides further details on the background to our research and model architecture.

The work is led by FutureDAMS co-investigators Prof Nigel Gilbert and Dr Corinna Elsenbroich and Research Fellow Dr Kavin Narasimhan from the Centre for Research in Social Simulation at the University of Surrey. WATERING and relevant documentation will be made available as open source at the end of the FutureDAMS project. In the meantime, if you are interested to learn more about WATERING, or about agent-based modelling or complex adaptive systems modelling in general, please get in touch with us by email or on social media (see details below). Feel free also to get in touch with us if you are interested in adapting WATERING to a particular case study.


Research progress video

This video was produced for the FutureDAMS annual forum (November 2020) as a summary of the team’s current research progress.



WATERING decentralised water governance

FutureDAMS researchers are developing an agent-based model[10] called WATERING (WATER user associations at the Interface of Nexus Governance) to explore the management of WUAs and suggest alternative, viable, context-based approaches to decentralised water management. WATERING investigates the role of WUAs working with large irrigation schemes and those benefiting from small dams.