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Critical reflections on building a community of conversation about water governance in Australia

Naomi Rubenstein
Monash Sustainability Institute, Monash University, Australia; naomi.rubenstein@monash.edu

Philip J. Wallis
Monash Sustainability Institute, Monash University, Australia; phil.wallis@monash.edu

Raymond L. Ison
Engineering & Innovation Department, Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK, ray.ison@open.ac.uk

Lee Godden
Centre for Resources, Energy and Environmental Law, The University of Melbourne, Carlton, Australia; l.godden@unimelb.edu.au

ABSTRACT: Water governance has emerged as a field of research endeavour in response to failures of current and historical management approaches to adequately address persistent decline in ecological health of many river catchments and pressures on associated communities. Attention to situational framing is a key aspect of emerging approaches to water governance research, including innovations that build capacity and confidence to experiment with approaches capable of transforming situations usefully framed as 'wicked'. Despite international investment in water governance research, a national research agenda on water governance was lacking in Australia in the late 2000s as were mechanisms to build the capacity of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research and collaborative policy practice. Through a two-year Water Governance Research Initiative (WGRI), we designed and facilitated the development of a community of conversation between researchers concerned with the dynamics of human-ecological systems from the natural sciences, humanities, social sciences, policy, economics, law and philosophy. The WGRI was designed as a learning system, with the intention that it would provide opportunities for conversations, learning and reflection to emerge. In this paper we outline the starting conditions and design of the WGRI, critically reflect on new narratives that arose from this initiative, and evaluate its effectiveness as a boundary organisation that contributed to knowledge co-production in water governance. Our findings point to the importance of investment in institutions that can act as integrative and facilitative governance mechanisms, to build capacity to work with and between research, policy, local stakeholders and practitioners.

KEYWORDS: Water governance, learning systems, knowledge systems, networks, Australia