Sustainability Science

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 463–481 | Cite as

Envisioning sustainable water futures in a transdisciplinary learning process: combining normative, explorative, and participatory scenario approaches

  • Flurina SchneiderEmail author
  • Stephan Rist
Original Article


Competing water demands for household consumption as well as the production of food, energy, and other uses pose challenges for water supply and sustainable development in many parts of the world. Designing creative strategies and learning processes for sustainable water governance is thus of prime importance. While this need is uncontested, suitable approaches still have to be found. In this article we present and evaluate a conceptual approach to scenario building aimed at transdisciplinary learning for sustainable water governance. The approach combines normative, explorative, and participatory scenario elements. This combination allows for adequate consideration of stakeholders’ and scientists’ systems, target, and transformation knowledge. Application of the approach in the MontanAqua project in the Swiss Alps confirmed its high potential for co-producing new knowledge and establishing a meaningful and deliberative dialogue between all actors involved. The iterative and combined approach ensured that stakeholders’ knowledge was adequately captured, fed into scientific analysis, and brought back to stakeholders in several cycles, thereby facilitating learning and co-production of new knowledge relevant for both stakeholders and scientists. However, the approach also revealed a number of constraints, including the enormous flexibility required of stakeholders and scientists in order for them to truly engage in the co-production of new knowledge. Overall, the study showed that shifts from strategic to communicative action are possible in an environment of mutual trust. This ultimately depends on creating conditions of interaction that place scientists’ and stakeholders’ knowledge on an equal footing.


Socio-economic scenarios Visions of the future Water use Water governance Participatory Transdisciplinary 



This project is affiliated to the NRP61 (Sustainable water management). The authors wish to thank the MontanAqua research team and the members of the stakeholder group RegiEau for helpful assistance, fruitful discussions and inspiring collaboration. We also express our gratitude to Marlène Thibault for English proof reading of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Japan 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), and Institute of GeographyUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland

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