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Water Resources Management

, Volume 32, Issue 15, pp 5081–5092 | Cite as

Public Participation in Water Management of Krivaja River, Serbia: Understanding the Problem through Grounded Theory Methodology

  • Zorica SrdjevicEmail author
  • Naoyuki Funamizu
  • Bojan Srdjevic
  • Ratko Bajčetić
Article

Abstract

Water resources are under increased pressure in almost all parts of the world. In such circumstances, it is also common to have conflicts between different water sectors (for instance, tourism vs. environmental use; municipal and industrial supply vs. agricultural water use, etc.), and interest groups. In most cases, related problems could be efficiently solved through public participation and the involvement of stakeholders. Traditional public participation in water management is mostly focused on problem-solving, rather than on other important contexts such as: stakeholders’ understanding of the problem; motivation (willingness) to participate; preferences; understanding the solving methodology; and expectations that the participatory process will lead to the desired solution(s). An approach that has been proven to successfully take into account most of these concerns in managing water-related participatory problems is known as Grounded Theory Methodology (GTM). In this paper, the authors use GTM to analyse data collected within the previous study of stakeholders’ selection and prioritization in managing the water resources of the Krivaja River basin in Serbia. Extensive data sets include detailed information about stakeholders, a description of the catchment characteristics, and the perception of public participation provided by questionnaires distributed and collected within a six-month period. The results obtained by GTM show that there are more similarities with results obtained in developing countries in terms of the distinction between official and non-official attitudes and views, the objectives of PP and the justification for introducing PP.

Keywords

River basin management Stakeholder engagement Participation Krivaja River Grounded theory methodology 

1 Introduction

Public participation (PP) as a concept was introduced in 1992, when 178 governments adopted the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (UN 1992), which states that “Environmental issues are best handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level”. In 1993 public participation was identified as one of seven key elements for the long-term environmental programme for Europe (UNECE 1993). Since then, the PP approach has become a requirement in decisions related to environmental management; one of the best known examples of that requirement related to water management is the EU Water Framework Directive (EC 2000).

Ruiz-Villaverde and García-Rubio (2017) defined PP as “direct participation in decision-making by non-governmental actors such as individual citizens, independent companies, public interest and business groups”. Based on Mostert (2003), the same authors elaborated and presented graphically (Fig. 1) the levels of PP (information, consultation, discussion, co-designing, co-decision making, decision making) and how the number of people involved changes with increase of the PP level.
Fig. 1

Different types of PP level (Ruiz-Villaverde and García-Rubio 2017)

Although there are many examples of the successful application of PP in water management (Larson and Lach 2008; Prokopy and Floress 2011; Furukawa 2013; Hoornbeek et al. 2013; Mayer et al. 2017), recent studies show that there are still some unresolved issues that cause unwanted results such as the lack of official guidance documentation (Ijjas and Botond 2004; Challies et al. 2016), the lack of coordination between different frameworks which can result in unrelated participatory procedures (Albrecht 2016), the lack of communication between different sectors working on water management (UNECE 2013), differences in perceiving and interpretation of problem and solution due to ill structure of the problem (Schramm and Schramm 2018), highly variable participation in the planning process (Benson et al. 2014), or poor performance of PP and the lack of continuity (Slavíková and Jílková 2011). Understanding complex and diverse views on PP in transnational context makes problem even more challenging (Panten et al. 2018). In comprehensive study on transforming European water governance under the EU Water Framework Directive in 13 member states, Jager et al. (2016) have found that even in cases where WFD brought institutional change, this change has not resulted in transferring real political responsibilities and power to new river basin bodies or the public.

The reason for the unwanted results of PP in water management can be found in the traditional public participation approach, which is mostly focused on problem-solving, rather than on other important contexts such as: the meaning of PP to stakeholders; stakeholders’ interpretation of PP; stakeholders’ understanding of the problem; motivation (willingness) to participate; preferences; understanding the solving methodology; and expectations that the participatory process will lead to the desired solution(s).

An approach that has been proven to successfully take into account most of these concerns in managing water-related participatory problems is known as Grounded Theory Methodology (GTM). It is defined as ‘an inductive, theory discovery methodology that allows the researcher to develop a theoretical account of the general features of a topic while simultaneously grounding the account in empirical observations or data’ (Martin and Turner 1986). GTM has been successfully used in many cases related to PP in environmental management (e.g. Reed 2008; Rault and Jeffrey 2008; Wesselink and Paavola 2011; Al-Najar et al. 2013; Aggestam 2014; Waylen et al. 2015; De Vente et al. 2016).

Here we used GTM to better and more deeply understand the attitudes, views and preferences of stakeholders participating in the management of water resources of the Krivaja River basin in Serbia. The results obtained are compared with similar case studies from developing as well as developed countries.

2 Brief Description of the Grounded Theory Methodology

The Grounded Theory Methodology is a qualitative research methodology defined by Glaser and Strauss (1967), whose aim is to develop theories grounded in data that are systematically gathered, compared and analysed; thus, GTM should ‘explain as well as describe’ (Corbin and Strauss 1990). Although data for grounded theory can come from various sources (interviews, government documents, observations, books), their collection and analysis must be done according to specific canons and procedures given and described in detail in Corbin and Strauss (1990). In other words, as Knigge and Cope (2006) state, the grounded theory seeks to find rigorous, verifiable and explicit ways to draw conclusions.

Urquhart et al. (2010) provided “four distinctive characteristics of the grounded theory method:
  1. 1.

    The main purpose of the grounded theory method is theory building.

     
  2. 2.

    As a general rule, the researcher should make sure that their prior – often expert – knowledge of the field does not lead them to preformulated hypotheses that their research then seeks to verify – or otherwise. Such preconceived theoretical ideas could hinder the emergence of ideas that should be firmly rooted in the data in the first instance.

     
  3. 3.

    Analysis and conceptualization are engendered through the core process of joint data collection and constant comparison, where every slice of data is compared with all existing concepts and constructs to see if it enriches an existing category (i.e. by adding/enhancing its properties), forms a new one or points to a new relation.

     
  4. 4.

    ‘Slices of data’ of all kinds are selected by a process of theoretical sampling, where the researcher decides on analytical grounds where to sample from next.”

     

To summarize, GTM consists of data grouping, conceptual data labelling, categorization and linking of concepts, organising concepts by relationships and conditions, developing dimensions, and finally developing the theory (Mutshewa 2010).

Depending on the source of data (for example, gathering through interviews or analysing data from the literature), the GTM process can differ. Figure 2 illustrates the application of GTM developed for the analysis of public participation perception in water management in Jordan and Singapore using interviews (Al-Najar et al. 2013).
Fig. 2

Process of GTM (Al-Najar et al. 2013)

In the case of identification of key features, categories and concepts from the literature data, Reed (2008) performed “reading texts with specific questions in mind, coding passages using keywords as answers emerge, and using the keywords to sort quotes into themes from which theory can be derived”. In this paper we used the latter approach.

3 Case Study

Serbia is a candidate country for the EU and one of the first negotiation chapters that has been opened is the financially demanding Chapter 27 – Environment. Among other alignments required within Chapter 27, full implementation of Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC is also foreseen, including the introduction of public participation in water management decisions. The experiences of other countries show that introducing PP is a long and challenging process since it is an entirely different mode of governance (Mostert 2003). We believe that this process can be accelerated if the public fully understand the process, i.e., if public awareness of the importance of water is raised, various stakeholders are identified and involved, awareness of the public’s rights and of the public authorities’ obligations is raised, access to information is assured, etc.

Although Serbian legislation still does not fully regulate public participation in water management, we conducted a study based on GTM to assess the perception of public participation among stakeholders involved in managing the water resources of the Krivaja River basin in Serbia (Fig. 3). Krivaja River is a transboundary river between Serbia and Hungary, with a length of 115.1 km (out of a 124.38 km total length) and a river basin covering an area of 115,884 ha in Serbia. Around 40,000 people live in this agricultural area, with a usual farm size of less than 10 ha. There are 6 reservoirs in the basin; the biggest one is Zobnatica (Fig. 4), mostly used for irrigation and outdoor activities. The most important uses of water are irrigation, industry, fishing and outdoor activities (sport and recreation).
Fig. 3

Krivaja River basin, Serbia, with reservoirs (existing, and to be built)

Fig. 4

Zobnatica, the biggest reservoir in the Krivaja River basin (http://vojvodinaonline.com/gradovi-i-opstine/backa-topola/backa-topola/?lang=SR)

Krivaja River basin has been selected as a case study because it is a multifunctional and multipurpose system, with a complex decision-making process characterized by the conflicting interests of different parties: government, local authorities in municipalities, responsible water management companies, ecologists, public bodies, etc. The conflicts are presently sharpened because of the lack of funding, improper legislation or the absence of precise water policies, low efficiency in collecting water taxes, difficulties in motivating societal delegates to participate in management, low water quality, etc.

A growing population and water demand combined with climate change are expected to amplify conflicts over the use of the water resources of the Krivaja River basin in the future, so it is important to understand the current framework in which knowledge, information, data and different interests in managing the water are shared and used, and to verify the level of trust and credibility among the stakeholders.

Today, the water in Krivaja River basin is managed by the public water management company Vode Vojvodine, and three smaller water management companies: Severna Backa, Krivaja and Backa.

Eight major stakeholder groups and their sub-groups were identified for the Krivaja River basin (Bajčetić et al. 2015):
  1. 1.

    users (irrigation, industry, fishing ponds, tourism),

     
  2. 2.

    government (ministries and provincial secretariats),

     
  3. 3.

    water sector (public water management company and regional water management companies),

     
  4. 4.

    scientific community (university and research institutes),

     
  5. 5.

    local authorities,

     
  6. 6.

    non-governmental organizations,

     
  7. 7.

    citizens’ associations, and

     
  8. 8.

    the general public.

     

4 Collection of Data and Implementation of GTM

Semi-structured and informal interviews, regular mail and e-mail were used to distribute questionnaires to
  • 110 legal entities (20 responses received)

  • 30 individuals (5 responses)

  • public institutions: state institutions, ministries, provincial secretariats, local governments, water management companies, academic bodies, etc. (35 responses),

belonging to 8 major stakeholder groups and their sub-groups, as identified in Bajčetić et al. (2015).

Extensive qualitative and quantitative data sets that included questions regarding detailed information about stakeholders, catchment characteristics, the perceived level of water scarcity, existing pricing policy, the legal and institutional framework, fairness, the perceived level of responsibility of the authorities and other stakeholders, the importance of different groups in managing water, the involvement of the public in the decision-making process, etc. were collected within a six-month period.

The reason for combining rather qualitative and quantitative methods for data collection was that we had difficulties in motivating stakeholders to provide feedback. Most of stakeholders were firstly approached through personal contacts. For some of them it was more convenient to answer the questions through interview, while others preferred e-mail communication. That is why two approaches were combined.

Using the GTM, we grouped the types of problems and challenges related to PP and recognized as the most important or mentioned within the questionnaires, and finally classified the statements of the respondents into four main categories:
  • why and where PP;

  • who should be involved in PP of Krivaja River water management;

  • level of involvement;

  • means of involvement (efficient water use or direct involvement in decision-making process).

5 Results and Discussion

5.1 Why and where PP?

There are different reasons why PP can be organized. In the case of Krivaja River, two issues emerged as problems where potential benefit of PP can be expected. One of the issues is water scarcity. According to the responses, more than 2/3 of respondents believe that there is a scarcity of water in Krivaja River basin (Fig. 5), especially in the vegetation period. If PP is introduced, potential benefits, as defined by Mostert (2003), would be better-informed decision-making and more creative solutions, more acceptance of water management and water prices, fewer implementation problems, and also social learning of all involved.
Fig. 5

Scarcity of water in Krivaja River basin: stakeholders’ views

The second important issue is lack of intersectoral cooperation, especially if the views of non-governmental organizations/citizens’ associations and citizens are considered. Here, the benefits of PP will be (also according to Mostert’s definitions) more open and “integrated” government, more democracy and sustainable water management, environmentally and economically.

Also, according to grounded insight into the respondents’ beliefs, four main water management issues in which PP should be included are: (a) planning demands, (b) financing, (c) infrastructure planning and (d) management (decision-making process).

5.2 Who Should Be Involved in PP of Krivaja River Water Management?

Eight major stakeholder groups and their sub-groups identified earlier were assessed by importance through the questionnaires (Bajčetić et al. 2015). Results of the Borda count application are presented in Table 1.
Table 1

Identification of stakeholder groups importance in Krivaja River basin management (Bajčetić et al. 2015)

Score

Stakeholder groups

Irr

In

F

O

M

PS

PWMC

WC

A

LG

Mp

NGO

CA

C

1

1

3

3

9

4

1

7

1

6

3

5

15

14

20

2

5

12

4

8

3

2

0

2

4

4

9

8

12

6

3

6

5

11

16

7

7

4

4

10

19

16

4

6

5

4

5

14

18

6

10

10

9

16

9

13

8

3

2

0

5

24

13

7

1

16

19

26

21

10

2

1

1

1

2

No vote

16

14

14

17

17

18

11

13

18

16

18

26

22

24

Sum

169

163

151

102

151

161

185

186

130

130

108

60

69

57

Rank

3

4

6

11

6

5

2

1

8

8

10

13

12

14

Irr Irrigation, In Industry, F Fishing ponds, O outdoor activities and sport, M ministries, PS Provincial secretariats, PWMC Public water management company, WC Water companies, A Academic institutions, LG Local government, Mp Municipalities, NGO Nongovernmental organizations, CA Citizens associations, C Citizens

Respondents consider public water management company (PWMC) and water companies (WC) as the most important institutions in managing waters of Krivaja. The results also show that non-governmental organizations/citizens’ associations and citizens are considered as the least important to be involved in participative management.

The reason why NGOs and citizens are not given higher credit could lie in the fact that concepts, roles, rules and terminology of PP are relatively new for the respondents. Probably it was hard for the them to distinguish between “public participation” and “stakeholder participation” and between all possible means of public participation (i.e. information, consultation or deciding/co-deciding).

Second reason can be found in the political history of post-socialistic country (democratic legitimacy and transparency, centralization, government bureaucracy), culture (traditionalism, view on “common good”, public seen as ill-informed, with hidden interests, too emotional, etc.) and mostly negative attitude towards NGOs. prevailing in Serbia, which is similar to many other (post-socialistic) countries.

Also, among 60 feedbacks received, only 10 were from NGOs and citizens, so this can be other reason why NGOs and citizens are not given higher credit. Lower interest of NGOs and citizens to respond implies that more effort is needed to establish trust and convey a message that their input and involvement will eventually make a difference.

Note that questionnaires were not formulated in the sense that respondents should also provide arguments for their views and answers, and authors of the paper can only guess what was their motivation, having in mind problems and social, cultural, environmental and economic context in the Krivaja River basin. Further research by social scientists can provide deeper understanding of preferences and arguments of the respondents.

5.3 Level of Involvement

Figure 6 shows that respondents believe that, on average, the highest level of participation in water management, regarding planning demands, financing, infrastructure planning and management (decision-making process) should be by the fishing/outdoor activities sector, ministries and provincial secretariats, and the public water management company and regional water management companies.
Fig. 6

Perception of level of participation in different management issues. Note: IRR irrigation sector, IN industry, F/O fishing ponds/outdoor activities, M ministries and provincial secretariats, WMC public water management company and regional water management companies, LA local authorities, CA county authorities, A academia, NGO/C non-governmental organizations/citizens’ associations, and CT citizens

These results are in-line with results obtained and discussed in previous section – respondents believe that water management should be centralized, performed mostly by governmental bodies and public water companies, and by professionals.

5.4 Means of Involvement

In planning demands (Fig. 6a), industry (IN) and citizens (CT) are not considered as important actors, which is interesting considering that industry is identified as one of the most important water users of Krivaja River. NGO/C – non-governmental organizations/citizens’ associations – are perceived as important actors in planning demands.

Fishing ponds/outdoor activities (F/O) and ministries and provincial secretariats (M) are believed to be the most important actors in respect to financing issues (Fig. 6b). Irrigation is also foreseen as slightly more important than other stakeholder groups.

When infrastructure planning is considered (Fig. 6c), stakeholders from the public water management company and regional water management companies (WMC), fishing ponds/outdoor activities (F/O), and county authorities (CA) are considered as the most important actors.

As presented in Fig. 6d), the direct involvement of the general public (Academia – A; Non-governmental organizations/citizen’s associations – NGO/C; and Citizens – CT), industry or local authorities is not foreseen as necessary in the decision-making process.

6 Conclusions

The introduction of PP in water management is a long and challenging process aimed at solving complex environmental, economic and societal problems and increasing the sustainability of decisions. It requires time and effort in order to inform the public and raise a wider awareness of the importance of water management, increase the willingness of different sectors to participate, change the mentality and way of thinking, make processes more democratic and transparent, improve communication between sectors, set mechanisms, set the legal framework, etc.

Based on the analysis of the feedback obtained from 60 respondents from Krivaja River basin, authors believe that conclusion derived about the prevailing attitude in the water management could be generalised for the whole water sector in Serbia as “the state knows what people want” and PP should be seen as a way to improve the situation, i.e., to increase the efficiency of water use. Farmers, the general public, and end-users are still considered as having no technical knowledge and no holistic view on water management problems, and thus not necessary as participants in the decision-making process.

Compared with the perception of PP in other countries (Rault and Jeffrey 2008; Al-Najar et al. 2013; Ruiz-Villaverde and García-Rubio 2017), there are more similarities between the results obtained in this study and the results obtained in developing countries in terms of the distinction between official and non-official attitudes and views, the objectives of PP and the justification for introducing PP. Also, problems in understanding and organizing PP in water management in European post-socialistic countries can be expected in Serbia as well, due to similarities in political background. Thus, special attention should be given to experiences of such countries in order to benchmark the conditions of possible failure or success of PP in Serbia.

However, a recent study by Ruiz-Villaverde and García-Rubio (2017) shows that even countries with a democratic tradition are having difficulties in introducing PP. In Sweden, for example, citizens do not feel prepared to participate in water management and believe that the experts should deal with that.

In order to introduce and fully implement PP, the long road in front of Serbia (but in other countries as well) should start with training and education of all the interested parties involved, in (a) changing the decision-making culture, (b) empowering citizens and their initiatives, (c) making water and environmental management transparent and responsible, and (d) creating a framework to find a common solution.

Finally, further research should include also views of the Hungarian side, since in case of cross-border rivers, the effort on building participative decision-making framework should be coordinated and harmonized, or at least communicated.

Notes

Acknowledgements

This work was supported in part by the Matsumae International Foundation, which provided a 3-month fellowship for Dr. Zorica Srđević’s stay at the Hokkaido University, and by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of Serbia under the grant 174003 (2011–2016) - Theory and application of Analytic hierarchy process (AHP) in multi-criteria decision making under conditions of risk and uncertainty (individual and group context).

A previous shorter version of the paper was presented in the 10th World Congress of EWRA “Panta Rei” Athens, Greece, 5-9 July 2017.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

None.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Zorica Srdjevic
    • 1
    Email author
  • Naoyuki Funamizu
    • 2
  • Bojan Srdjevic
    • 1
  • Ratko Bajčetić
    • 3
  1. 1.Faculty of Agriculture, Department of Water ManagementUniversity of Novi SadNovi SadSerbia
  2. 2.Graduate School of EngineeringHokkaido UniversitySapporoJapan
  3. 3.Public Water Management Company ‘Vode Vojvodine’Novi SadSerbia

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