Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 1601–1613 | Cite as

Policy diffusion in arid Basin water management: a Q method approach in the Murray–Darling Basin, Australia

  • Amanda H. Lynch
  • Carolina E. Adler
  • Nicholas C. Howard
Original Article


The Murray–Darling Basin is Australia’s national food bowl, home to almost half of the national income from food production, as well as internationally significant wetlands, iconic red gum forests, endangered flora and fauna, and approximately 40 autonomous indigenous nations. Persistent severe drought and extreme flooding episodes have presented new challenges in the region. Chief among these challenges is the establishment of a legitimate framework to sustainably manage water resources that finds common ground between environmental, indigenous and commercial interests. A powerful approach to examine these processes is through the theory of diffusion and adaptation of policy innovations. Here, we describe an approach to place this theory on empirical ground using Q methodology. We elucidate patterns of subjectivity, to explore the perceptions of expert advice, subsidiarity and local knowledge to better understand the interests in play. We find that respect is held for local practitioners (water managers and farmers) and indigenous knowledge, but while policy innovations are being generated, the diffusion of policy is contested. We identify the potential, though limited, for common ground through substantive and respectful consultation.


Policy diffusion Water Governance Climate change Q methodology Murray–Darling Basin 



This work could not have been possible without the contributions from Lee Joachim, Jackie Walker, Kate Auty and Gordana Marin. In addition, the importance of the participation, support and interest of the Yorta Yorta Elders Council cannot be overestimated. We appreciate the technical mastery of Stephan Adler. This work has been supported by Brown University. Finally, the views expressed are those of the authors and do not represent those of The World Bank Group or its Board of Directors.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amanda H. Lynch
    • 1
  • Carolina E. Adler
    • 2
  • Nicholas C. Howard
    • 3
  1. 1.Environmental Change InitiativeBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA
  2. 2.Institute for Environmental DecisionsETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  3. 3.World Bank InstituteWorld Bank GroupWashingtonUSA

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