STS - conferences, IST2012

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Governing towards Sustainability? A comparative analysis of water governance in three urban regions
Eva Lieberherr, Bernhard Truffer

Last modified: 2012-03-19


In light of rising complexities confronting the water sector in industrialized countries, new governance modes, often involving public and private actors, have been increasingly promoted as sustainable solutions. The reasoning typically follows the argumentation that through the private sector’s know-how and economic-efficiency logic, cost-effectiveness and sustainability should be achieved. However, tensions may arise between public and private sector logics due to the former’s focus on common good goals, such as universal service delivery and environmental protection, versus the latter’s focus on profitability. The aim of this paper is to gain insights into how the trade-offs between these differing logics might potentially be offset in order to achieve economically, socially and environmentally sustainable water governance solutions. To accomplish this, we analyse diverging water governance modes in three urban regions, each exemplifying a different governance mode: Berlin, Germany involves a public-private mode, Leeds, England a private mode and Zurich, Switzerland a public mode. Preliminary findings indicate that in the private and public-private modes there are major trade-offs between common good goals and profitability, as compared to the public mode. However, we find that the private mode is able to offset these trade-offs to a greater extent than the public-private mode through implementing accountability measures, such as arms-length regulation, which both the public-private and public modes lack. Such findings shed light onto the strengths and weaknesses of different governance modes. As the strengths and weaknesses arguably either foster or hinder sustainability transitions, this research can inform transition studies.