Values and Integrated Water Management

Values and Integrated Water Management

Integrated Water Management is a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources. But how do we decide on a balance between the environmental, social and economic requirements for water, as well as water for intrinsic or spiritual value? MIWM Flexible Delivery Manager and Lecturer Peter Wegener discusses this challenge.

Values and Integrated Water Management

Students speak with stakeholders in Cairns (photo courtesy of Dr Wade Hadwen)

Integrated Water Management (IWM) is ‘a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximise the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems’ (GWP-TAC 2000 p22).

But how does this apply in practice when there are competing demands for water from many different users? How do we decide on a balance between environmental, social and economic requirements for water, as well as water for intrinsic or spiritual value?

Values, beliefs, attitudes and perceptions in IWM

Economic principles can be used to help make decisions on costs and benefits. Governments and policy advisors can look at the overall benefits and costs to various members of society. Scientists can advise on the best use of water for environmental sustainability. Stakeholders (communities and other users of water) can provide input on the importance of water for various uses. There can even be a coordinated process to manage these various perspectives.

However, the term ‘equitable’ in the above definition means that we need to consider what is right and wrong, how we decide who wins and who loses, and how to balance competing demands.

Values, beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions play an important role in IWM. Rittel and Webber (1973) discussed ‘wicked’ problems involving social policy, and how scientific approaches to these problems are bound to fail. With multiple stakeholders, there is no objective definition of equity. Diverse values are held by different groups and individuals, including the decision makers, and what is seen as good for one group, may be seen as a disaster for others.

If we wish to use IWM principles to manage water, we should be aware of our own values and beliefs and how these influence our thinking, as well as seek to understand the values and beliefs of other stakeholders. We may not be able to make decisions that result in a win for everyone, but we should at least be aware of how values and beliefs are influencing our decisions and be as open and accountable as possible.

Triple loop learning, attributed to Argyris and Schön (Tosey et al 2012), asks us to not only improve how we do things, or consider what assumptions we are making about a problem, but to also consider the broader context and the values that frame our thinking.


(LikeInMind, 2016)

Flyvberg (2001) argued that social and political development should not only include scientific and technical thinking, but that this should be informed by value and ethical considerations. This thinking extends back to Aristotle who considered that values and ethics (Phronesis), was the most important form of knowledge, and should be used to influence scientific (Episteme) and technical (Techne) considerations. All three of these aspects would inform Praxis, or practical, thoughtful doing (Flyvberg, 2001).

Flyvberg (2001 p60) felt that social sciences should be used to ask the questions:

  • Where are we going?
  • Is this desirable?
  • What should be done? and
  • Who gains and who loses?

MIWM and stakeholders in decision-making

The Master of Integrated Water Management Program, places a strong emphasis on including stakeholders in decision making, and understanding values, beliefs, attitudes and perceptions. Students recently participated in a field trip to the Cairns region in northern Queensland, to gain an understanding of, and skills development in, the collection and analysis of data on stakeholder values and perceptions, in relation to managing agricultural runoff into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

They interviewed stakeholders involved in agricultural management (Natural Resource Management groups; local, State and Federal government agencies; agricultural industry organisations; and individual farmers from the sugar cane, cattle, banana and horticultural sectors), to answer the questions:

  1. How do stakeholder knowledge, attitudes, skills, and aspirations contribute to the adoption of improved land management practices?
  2. To what extent has the Great Barrier Reef Water Quality Protection Plan and its communication products (eg the Great Barrier Reef Report Card) been effective in influencing stakeholder knowledge, attitudes, skills, and aspirations?

This research helped students gain a practical understanding of the importance of values and perceptions when implementing effective programs to manage water. Research reports included recommendations for how scientific knowledge can be more effectively structured and communicated to improve the performance of land and water management programs.

A key principle of IWM is stakeholder participation in the management and use of water resources (GWP-TAC, 2000). To fully engage and include stakeholders, we need to understand values and beliefs, including our own values and beliefs, and consciously include this in our decision making. By using this approach in an open and accountable way, we have a much greater chance of making quality decisions that will be accepted and supported by stakeholders.

The Master of Integrated Water Management Program

Using problem-based and experiential learning, the MIWM is designed to build future water leaders – integrated water management professionals able to collaborate, create and deliver innovative approaches to complex water management challenges.

For more information about the field trip or about IWC’s Master of Integrated Water Management, contact:

MIWM International Scholarships

Scholarships are now open to domestic candidates interested in joining the International WaterCentre for the Master of Integrated Water Management in 2018. Applications close 1 November 2017.



Flyvberg, B, 2001. ‘5. Values in Social and Political Enquiry’, in Flyvberg, B, Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Enquiry Fails and How It Can Succeed Again, Cambridge University Press. Pp 53-65

Global Water Partnership Technical Advisory Committee (GWP-TAC). 2000 Integrated Water Resources Management. TAC Background papers No 4

LikeInMind, 2016 Triple Loop Learning.

Rittel, HW and Webber MM, 1973. Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning. Policy Sciences Vol 4 155-169

Tosey, P, Visser, M and Saunders, M 2012. ‘The origins and conceptualizations of ‘triple-loop’ learning: A critical review’. Management Learning, Vol 43(3) 291-307

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