Programme OS5b Governing water
An historical perspective of governance to enlighten concerted water
management in France
Author(s): Sophie Richard, Thierry Rieu
Richard,UMR G-Eau, AgroParisTech-ENGREF
Thierry Rieu,UMR G-Eau, AgroParisTech-ENGREF
Keyword(s): governance, history, concerted management, water management
Session: OS5b Governing water
The word “governance” belongs nowadays to a shared international heritage (Theys, 2003) that has been in
current usage by environment managers. Nevertheless, it is still a polysemous concept, influenced by Anglo-Saxon
culture and therefore subject to necessarily diverse and subjective interpretations. Each one crows about or
recommends practising some “good governance”. A detour by the various modalities of its use allows to enlighten
the content and the originality of the concept.
This communication focuses on water governance from an
historical approach and on the main social sciences fields that have taken up this concept: First economists (Coase,
1937 ; Williamson, 1970), followed by the political analysts ( Dye, 1990, Rhodes 1996, Smouts, 1998, Baslé,
2000, Casteigts, 2003) and then by sociologists of organisations (North, 1991 ; Ménard, 2000). This review comes
to defining some key points to analyse and characterise governance in the context of concerted water management in
The notion of “global governance” appears during the 80’s to represent the whole implemented
common rules to reach a structured globalisation. The expression of “good governance” is therefore used by the
international financial institutions to define the “good” public administration criteria in countries undergoing
programmes of structural adjustment. Such a craze would be explained by the proficiency of the concept in talking
politics and polity without saying it (Solagral, 2000).
From a socio-political perspective, public action is
henceforth produced by strong interactions with local governments, private sector and non-governmental
organisations rather than by a single central government (Rhodes, 1996). Therefore governance allows tackling the
new social co-ordination mechanisms that make public action feasible. It thus can be seen as a continuous process of
co-operation and adaptation between various and conflicting interests, that gives greater importance to both
horizontal co-operation, concerted action and negotiation. This understanding is very close to the way concerted
water management is put into practice in France.
Despite of their apparent diversity, a few main common
points can be drawn from these different uses of the notion of governance, namely: multiplicity of stakeholders,
interdependency among them, necessary search for shared goals and fuzzy borders between public, private and non
These characteristics explain why the environmental field has revealed a so outstanding
laboratory regarding the implementation of new forms of governance and especially in the field of water management.
When looking at a watershed as a territory, it provides the bulk of characteristics of what could is called a new
environmental governance. It appears to be a common, complex, uncertain and risky good (Bouguerra,
This communication mobilises the previous developments to analyse how the French concerted water
management fits in these new forms of governance and produces a grid in four points to analyse governance at a
A discussion and some conclusions are derived from the application of the various criteria,
that were previously selected in the proposed grid, to a concrete study case : the Drôme river SAGE.