Evidence Resources

CEE Evidence Syntheses

What factors determine the performance of institutional mechanisms for water resources management in developing countries in terms of delivering pro-poor outcomes, and supporting sustainable economic growth? (systematic review)


This mapping exercise explores the nature of empirical research regarding:
What factors determine the performance of institutional mechanisms for water
resources management in developing countries in terms of delivering pro-poor
outcomes, and supporting sustainable economic growth?
Adequate water resources for health, ecosystems and production are a global concern.
Institutions capable of water resource management (WRM) in ways which support social
and economic progress are urgently needed, particularly in developing countries.
Participation, decentralisation, reform, and marketization are promoted, but evidence of
what works, where and why is difficult to find: a significant problem for those faced with
decisions about appropriate approaches to adopt and support. This work is a timely
response to imperatives for evidence based decision making, and is a touchstone for
improved analysis, policy and practice in the field of WRM.
Relevant academic and grey literature were identified through a comprehensive and peer
reviewed search strategy. To be included, studies had to: 1) concern formal and informal
rules, norms and strategies, including organisations, laws, regulations, conventions,
systems and agreements relating to freshwater in rivers, lakes and groundwater; 2) show
primary, empirical evidence of pro-poor or sustainable economic growth outcomes; 3)
concern developing countries; and 4), be in English. Articles were progressively screened
at abstract, title and full text level, prior to coding and mapping against agreed criteria.
Mapped data were analysed and cross-tabulated to support interpretation.
29,844 articles returned by the search were reduced to a final sample of 38 relevant
studies based on full text review. Analysis of this sample reveals:
i. Institutional mechanisms can be grouped into seven types: organisational; legal;
participation; decentralisation; and markets; privatisation and infrastructure, with
most articles considering multiples of these. Clusters emerge by geography and
type (i.e. IWRM in East Africa, water markets in Chile).
ii. Factors which influence outcomes can be organised using six typologies and
according to their origins: exogenous, endogenous or interface (after Saleth and
Dinar 2005).
iii. A quarter of papers were judged to exhibit a weak chain of reasoning with only
11% judged as strong.

iv. Most were published since 2002, and where reported, important funding sources
are DFID, IWMI, World Bank and the Natural Sciences Foundation of China. 19
countries feature with clusters of research in India, China, Tanzania and Chile.
v. Less than half of the papers in the sample provide an adequate description of
methodology. Almost one in five provide no methodological description.
The systematic map confirms that the pool of reliable knowledge from which to draw is
diminutive when the exacting standards of systematic mapping are applied. Whilst the
imperatives for getting WRM ‘right’ are intuitively strong, we currently lack the evidence
to: a) confirm whether WRM institutions are performing; and b) comprehend and manage
the range of factors which shape that performance. Whilst clear cut evidence for universal
determinants of institutional performance is not anticipated, it is startling how little good
quality research links policy and institutions to outcomes, or diagnoses the root causes of
The implications for international policy and practice are significant and demand an
urgent response. Without adequate knowledge or metrics of the social and economic
outcomes, and determinants of WRM, efforts to improve performance lack strategic
direction and operational accountability, and funding, political and other support for
improved performance is at risk. These findings demonstrate the need for radical
improvement across the research cycle, including in commissioning, design, delivery,
reporting, review and publishing. Specific recommendations based on the evidence and
insights generated by this systematic map are set out in the report and summarised in
Table I below.


water resource management; institutions; mechanisms; performance; factors; developing countries; pro-poor; sustainable economic growth; evidence.

Who's in the review team?

N. Hepworth
V. Hooper
D. Hellebrandt
B. Lankford

At what stage is the review?


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