Water reforms are hard to conceive, implement, and achieve. There is a rising awareness of the need to efficiently and equitably reallocate water as a response to water scarcity. But, in most countries, it is not clear what innovation in water governance could or should be. There are many barriers to incorporating new objectives, such as environmental sustainability, into the political, social, economic, and bureaucratic institutions that govern how water is managed. From vested interests and insufficient information to cultural norms and institutional fragmentation, persistent and prevalent challenges manifest themselves globally. In this context, water policy innovation is about finding new ways to overcome old barriers to water reform. Importantly, these new approaches need not be “water reform success stories” imported from other countries; every country, region, or locality has its own examples of how the collective management of shared natural resources has been improved.


This research cluster identifies the key barriers to previous and existing water reform processes, such as the EU Water Framework Directive and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Specifically, we diagnose the causes and impacts of particular reform processes failing to achieve their objectives. We adapt these lessons to case study countries of the Pacific and Middle East. Our approach, however, is not the generic, well-worn path of adapting solutions from foreign water reform processes. Instead, the foundation of our analysis are the historical drivers of previous reforms in the governance of common-pool resources in those case study countries. Our approach is therefore interdisciplinary and frames water reform in the broader context of the formal and informal institutions governing land, infrastructure, fisheries, forests, and other natural or man-made resources.