Complexity, democracy and sustainability: Promoting water security through systemic online negotiations

Simon, Sandrine (2007). Complexity, democracy and sustainability: Promoting water security through systemic online negotiations. Systemic Practice and Action Research, 20(3) pp. 273–291.



Water conflicts constitute an important example of some of the most complex and critical environmental issues the 21st century is facing. Recently, much research effort has been put into managing the various dimensions of water issues in a more holistic way through Integrated Water Management approaches. In parallel, numerous water conflicts have arisen and isolated methods and institutional responses have been developed to deal with them. In this paper, I explain why integrating issues of water security within water management considerations is important, in order to prevent water conflicts from arising. I also advocate the use of Information and Communication Technologies as inclusive, democratic systems of water governance. After exploring how and why systems methods and ICTs could contribute to taking the complexity of water issues into account as well as promoting a democratic and sustainable mode of water management, the paper presents an online systemic water conflict management method. This is the initial result of a joint research project between the systems department of the Open University and the PCCP-IHE programme of UNESCO. It shows that working with systems methods and ICTs can help transform traditionally linear modes of negotiation into collaborative learning, holistic, interest-based modes of negotiations. Without using such an approach, that enables the integration of water management, hydropolitics and online governance, the management of (complex and systemic) water conflicts, despite the development of alternative dispute resolution methods, is at risk of remaining linear, mostly based on hard data, un-participatory and non-systemic in nature.

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