Institutional Strengthening of the Water Sector in Kerala, India

De Seta, Tonino (2013). Institutional Strengthening of the Water Sector in Kerala, India. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis explains how concerns over water problems in development contexts led me to explore human activity systems, using Kerala Water Authority as a basis for empirical study of water management and governance issues.

This research aimed to find out how water institutions can be strengthened and the role of participatory systemic approaches in organisational development and change initiatives. The main focus relates to the role that management capacity plays in institutional strengthening. Qualitative systems methods are used to frame and interpret the research. The study draws on a range of organisational and systems theories and is informed by analysis of discourses of the processes of organisational learning and the use of systems methods in practice. A project-based inquiry is used to research a synthesis of three interrelated areas: institutional strengthening and capacity building in development situations, water management and governance, and systemic organisational learning methods.

This inquiry explores methods suited to tackling ‘complex’ or ‘messy’ organisational problems involving multiple stakeholders. A systemic approach to capacity-building and institutional strengthening is developed from a sustainability perspective that has elements of novelty both in its synthesis of ideas and in its application in the Kerala context. This approach emerged from purposeful participation of stakeholders and was used to trigger enthusiasm for further activity. This work has led to a new appreciation by the Kerala Water Authority of the issues at stake, and has encouraged this organisation to operationalise systemic approaches for future change interventions.

The research reveals the importance of actively involving stakeholders who either seek or would benefit from change initiatives and of appreciating local situated knowledge and value systems within the organisation undergoing development. The study also reveals the importance of understanding problems from different stakeholder perspectives and of accommodating viewpoints through a process of engagement and debate.

The thesis concludes that the approach developed can offer a potential vehicle for sustainable change in organisational development and behaviour. On the basis of this study a model of the approach is provided and characteristics for a capacity-building initiative that might help strengthen institutions in the water sector are proposed.

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