STS - conferences, IST2012

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Striving for sustainable transition in water and land management: the function of pioneers to trigger change in an established socio-technical system
Katrin Daedlow, Benjamin Nölting

Last modified: 2012-03-19


Implementing sustainable strategies in order to improve current water and land management practices requires the ideas, skills and strategies of actors willing to change customary but non-sustainable ways of resource use. In our paper we investigate how the potential use of fully treated sewage for agricultural and hydrological purposes can be introduced into an existing institutional and administrative framework which prohibits the discharge of treated sewage to other places than governmentally defined outlet channels. By doing this we apply an actor analysis together with a qualitative network study resting upon transaction costs economics. Based on 30 expert interviews in the German states Berlin and Brandenburg (North-East Germany) we identified six actor groups who play an important role in water and land management and either tend to support (thinking about benefits) or contradict (fearing costs) to this innovation in water resource use. These groups are: sewage and water board associations, land users, government and authorities, water and soil management associations, nature conservation, and politicians. Among them we found actors striving for many years to chance the established socio-technical system but who are hindered by strong administrative players who fear the risk arising from unknown consequences of material flows from treated water used in agriculture and water management. Increasing costs of leaving particular trajectories in current water and land management arise from decision making in previous times determining the behaviour and decision making of (potential) users of sewage water in present days. However, we also found, that pioneers persistently promoting re-use of sewage water are able to trigger off established structures and start discussions among involved actors resulting for example in scientific programs to investigate the innovation. Altogether, we describe the configuration of actors and actor groups for water and land management in the region, and, more specifically, for water re-use promoting or preventing the innovation. Finally, we identify factors such as centralisation and path dependency of infrastructures, cost pressure on water management, public regulation and governance, as well as uncertainty and risks which determine actors’ strategies and potential success of implementing or preventing the re-use of treated water.