Programme  OS5b Governing water towards sustainability  abstract 863

An historical perspective of governance to enlighten concerted water management in France

Author(s): Sophie Richard, Thierry Rieu
Sophie Richard,UMR G-Eau, AgroParisTech-ENGREF Thierry Rieu,UMR G-Eau, AgroParisTech-ENGREF

Keyword(s): governance, history, concerted management, water management

Article: abs863_article.pdf
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Session: OS5b Governing water towards sustainability
AbstractThe 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

-governmental spheres.

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

watershed level.

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.

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