Design for Values in Water Management

  • Wim RavesteijnEmail author
  • Otto Kroesen
Living reference work entry


In view of current massive water quantity and quality problems as well as shifting social wishes and requirements, the currently dominant water engineering and management approaches need to change. The water domain is indeed the scene of reorientation and transformation, though from a perspective of design for values much remains to be desired. This chapter discusses these matters, investigates present water approaches, and indicates how value considerations have always been implicitly present in such approaches. Three approaches for dealing with water affairs are distinguished: the technical-economic approach, integrated water resources management, and the negotiated approach. In this sequence, value considerations have become increasingly important. In addition to suggesting improvements, we will present a step-by-step plan for a more explicit design for values approach, as the way to move forward in dealing with global water issues.


Water problems Water engineering and management approaches Revaluing Step-by-step method 


The pressure on water resources is increasing in the world, and, consequently, overall accessibility to and a fair distribution of water resources have a high priority on the agenda of water developers, managers, and policy makers. Other water problems draw attention as well, especially growing contamination and the increasing risk of flooding. All these problems require serious changes in water resource management and development, including an increase in human and institutional capability to deal with competing and conflicting values related to the multitude of water uses and problems (Hoekstra and Huynen 2002). We can specify the main problems as follows:
  1. 1.

    Clean drinking water is increasingly scarce because population growth and economic development raise the demand for water. Groundwater depletion is a growing problem. In general, water scarcity gives rise to national and international conflicts.

  2. 2.

    Contamination of water resources is increasing, due to increasing food and other agricultural production, population growth, and industrialization.

  3. 3.

    More and more people are facing large-scale flooding. River basins are progressively deteriorating as a consequence of logging as well as unsustainable cultivation methods. Rising seawater levels, melting glaciers, and more extreme weather as a consequence of global warming aggravate flooding in river basins and coastal areas.

  4. 4.

    Too much water through rainfall and too little water for irrigation give rise to tensions between rural areas and cities.


These water problems can be framed and tackled in a variety of ways. Roughly, in this paper we distinguish (and later specify) three of them. Water problems could be seen as merely technical problems, to be solved by hydraulic civil engineers (see, e.g., Ricketts et al. 2004). They could also be considered in terms of management issues in relation to social interests, which should be tackled by water managers and policy engineers besides civil engineers (as elaborated by, e.g., Hermans 2005). A third way and new of viewing and dealing with water problems emphasizes social interests and viewpoints and puts the water users and stakeholders in the leading role (as explored in, e.g., Both Ends and Gomukh 2005). Though there are major regime shifts involved in the development of these three approaches, they nowadays coexist. All three are used in designing works and procedures for (multiple) water values, though not always explicitly. Our goal is to investigate how values are taken into account and how value considerations can be made more explicit, so improving the social and moral embedding of water technology and organization.

This chapter discusses the three approaches from a value perspective and indicates how a design for values perspective could be developed in relation to these approaches. On the one hand, it investigates and assesses what their capacities and potentials are in addressing present-day water problems. On the other hand, it explores and shows how these approaches could be upgraded (“revalued”) by focusing on the often implicit underlying values and by dealing more explicitly with divergent values through negotiation and dialogue about value priorities, institutional design, and social experimentation in order to find the right way forward. In this way the authors will establish the impact of a design for values perspective in dealing with water problems. Exemplary cases will be used to illustrate the diverse water approaches as well as the usefulness of a design for values perspective and the shape it could take. Design for values is new, and this paper also aims to contribute to developing it as a clear and practical method in framing as well as understanding water-related issues.

We start with briefly introducing civil engineering and its values, followed by outlining the three dominant approaches in water engineering and management. Next, we focus on design for values, in terms of which we revisit the three approaches and discuss ways to take them to a new level of richness and applicability. Our final considerations will contain a method or step-by-step plan for follow-up work in the new domain of design for values. Throughout the paper, we adopt a systems approach that considers the value-driven design of integrated water management systems that include artifacts like barriers, dams, water treatment plants, pumps, etc., but we do not discuss these artifacts separately.

Water Interference and the Values It Serves

Hydraulic civil engineering and water management are the prime disciplines that deal with the challenges mentioned in the introduction (Civil Engineering 2013; Cech 2009). Both disciplines have a long history, going back to the dawn of civilization, but as a science civil engineering developed in modern history, while water management as a field of activity in its own right can be seen as a postwar offshoot. During the nineteenth century civil engineering professionalized along with the training of engineers and the application of science, including mathematics, as hallmarks. Generally, it comprises the construction of water works (dams, barriers, sluices, and other structures) and systems (like irrigation, flood defense, and drink water systems). Operation and maintenance introduced scientific water management, which more and more became a framework for building and even an approach in itself (the nonstructural approach, see below). Nowadays, water resources development and management is as much a topic of experts as it is a domain with input from stakeholders and society in general.

Water is essential to life and it serves many purposes. Water resources development and management are crucial to human society, the health and welfare of the people, and processes of socioeconomic development and transformation (Sachs 2008). Consequently, a range of human values is involved in water interference, while a say of “stakeholders” is almost inevitable. Historically and presently, water efforts take place from a variety of values, implicitly or explicitly. Key values include safety (against flooding), security (food and drinking water), utility (cooling, industrial water, waste, shipping, land acclamation, energy), sustainability (ensuring quantity and quality). Focused on management, an additional key value is distributive justice (equal access to common goods) and along with that social sustainability (addressing the needs of the poor and fighting inequalities in the world). Other values are historically and culturally determined, like democracy (as in the case of the Dutch water associations), although in a broad sense, in view of the many stakeholders involved, many issues may not be resolved without some form of democratic participation. Often the utility priorities of water purposes are historically and culturally determined (see, e.g., Dubbelman 1999; cf. Song et al. 2011). These are all key values to be considered in integral water management systems. Often in their tensions and trade-offs, they reflect the value priorities of the different stakeholders involved, and for that reason they cannot be resolved without negotiation or dialogue. Because water resources are limited, and many values are involved in water use, different socio-technical regimes have been developed to steer and balance water works construction and management, ranging from simple water rights to elaborate systems of law and regulation (see, e.g., Hoekstra and Huynen 2002; Kissling-Näf and Kuks 2004).

Current Water Engineering and Management Approaches

Water engineering and management have become more complex over time as the number of interests and values water works had to accommodate grew. Maybe with the exception of some poor countries, this development took place all over the world (Ravesteijn et al. 2002). The water history of the Netherlands exemplifies this development. Dutch water system builders started with land reclamation and fighting flooding. In the course of time, water management and resources development was also done for the purposes of water distribution and shipping, ensuring water quality and fighting salinization, while recently ecological aims were included (Dubbelman 1999; van de Ven 2004). In the Netherlands and elsewhere (sometimes to a lesser degree), this development led to the construction of multipurpose works and integrated water management in order to accommodate diverging and competing interests (Disco and van der Vleuten 2002; Kissling-Näf and Kuks 2004). At the same time a process of professionalization of water engineering and management took place (Lintsen 1998) accompanied by a mix of centralization and increasing stakeholder involvement (Hermans 2005). Recent trends are fully integrated management and governance (Bressers and Kuks 2004), and a room for the water policy in combination with more attention to ecological values (Disco 2002), both reflecting and articulating European and global tendencies (Ravesteijn and Kroesen 2007, see further below). However, more recently, a decentralized approach emerged in some areas in the world in which water users take the lead in management and engineering (Both Ends and Gomukh 2005). Consequently, we distinguish three broad approaches governing current water practices (similar to and specifying the approaches we mentioned in the introduction; cf. Both Ends and Gomukh 2005):
  1. 1.

    The technical-economic approach focuses on constructing water works, e.g., river engineering works like dikes, dams, and sluices; the dominant actor is the civil engineer.

  2. 2.

    Integrated water resources management (IWRM) focuses on managing competing or conflicting water uses through balancing the interests and values of all stakeholders; the dominant actor is the policy engineer or the process manager.

  3. 3.

    The negotiated approach focuses on cooperation and coordination among stakeholders through self-organization; there is no dominant actor other than the manifold users and stakeholders themselves.


These approaches have been developed sequentially in time. They reflect, in their evolution, the increasing complexity of water issues and the increasing inclusion of stakeholder dialogue, as we will show. Conflicting interests and values are reconciled and managed in different ways through these approaches. The technical-economic approach strives at controlling conflicts by constructing multipurpose works. The example here is big dams. IWRM seeks conflict control through management, with integrated river basin management (IRBM) as its model. The start of IRWM has a clear demarcation point in time and quickly became increasingly accepted. It gradually leads to more and more stakeholder dialogue, and to negotiation. The negotiated approach, which puts dialogue and value differences on the agenda deliberately and explicitly, is new and emerging, for instance, in Bangladesh. It has not yet reached wide acceptance, but according to the authors, it is promising since planning and control from above increasingly reach their limitations. These approaches as well as some of their problems are elaborated below.

The Technical-Economic Approach: Big Dams

In present-day society, big dams are important for water supply, flood management, and electricity generation, and as such they are considered as “icons of progress.” The first big dams were constructed in colonial areas (the Aswan Dam in Egypt was the very first) and in the USA (the Colorado River) and at about the same time in Russia (Dnjepr). Nowadays, big dam building especially takes place in emerging economies like China and India, with at present a true scramble for building big dams in Africa. They have proven their utility: the electrification of the railways in the USA, e.g., would not have been possible around 1900 without big water reservoirs. Global warming has put large dams even higher on the agenda than they already were, especially in developing countries: they are supposed to fit in with a low-carbon energy strategy, while they seem instrumental in adaptive water management. However, recent research has revealed that CO2 emissions from organic sources like flooded vegetation and washed down detritus are gigantic from big reservoirs (International Rivers 2013), which adds up to other problems that were already known: river degradation, disappearance of wetlands, people who have to be relocated, etc. This has supported the power and influence of the international anti-dam movement, and, nowadays, more and more dams are decommissioned or plans are not executed (McCully 2003, 2011). At the same time, there is an intensified search for alternative solutions. That is not so easy, as big dams are multipurpose works. They are junctions of socio-technical systems (for energy, water, navigation, etc.), and, consequently, alternatives have to be formulated for each and every function, not only separately but also in connection with one another (see Table 1).
Table 1

Functions of big dams and examples

Power generation: Hydroelectric power is a major source of electricity in the world. Many countries have rivers with adequate water flow that can be dammed for power generation purposes. For example, the Itaipu on the Paraná River in South America generates 14 GW and supplied 93 % of the energy consumed by Paraguay and 20 % of that consumed by Brazil as of 2005

Water supply: Many urban areas of the world are supplied with water abstracted from rivers pent up behind low dams or weirs. Examples include London with water from the River Thames and Chester with water taken from the River Dee. Other major sources include deep upland reservoirs contained by high dams across deep valleys such as the Claerwen series of dams and reservoirs

Stabilize water flow/irrigation: Dams are often used to control and stabilize the water flow, often for agricultural purposes and irrigation. Others such as the Berg Strait Dam can help to stabilize or restore the water levels of inland lakes and seas, in this case the Aral Sea

Flood prevention: Dams such as the Blackwater Dam of Webster, New Hampshire, and the Delta works are created with flood control in mind

Land reclamation: Dams (often called dykes or levees in this context) are used to prevent ingress of water to an area that would otherwise be submerged, allowing its reclamation for human use

Water diversion: A typically small dam used to divert water for irrigation, power generation, or other uses, with usually no other function. Occasionally, they are used to divert water to another drainage or reservoir to increase flow there and improve water use in that particular area

Navigation: Dams create deep reservoirs and can also change the flow of water downstream. This can in return affect upstream and downstream navigation by altering the river’s depth. Deeper water increases or creates freedom of movement for water vessels. Large dams can serve this purpose but most often weirs and locks are used

Recreation and aquatic beauty: Dams built for any of the above purposes may find themselves displaced in course of time of their original uses. Nevertheless the local community may have come to enjoy the reservoir for recreational and aesthetic reasons. Often the reservoir will be placid and surrounded by greenery and convey to visitors a natural sense of rest and relaxation (Dam 2013; see for a Dutch pioneer in the construction of multipurpose water reservoirs Ravesteijn 2002)

Indicative of the change currently taking place is a report submitted to the world commission on dams by the South Asian Network on Dams, Rivers and People (Assessment 1999), specifically commenting on India’s plans for building a host of dams, especially along the Himalaya, to cover the water needs of big cities. Increasingly India’s cities are supplied with water from areas further away, since the nearby sources have been depleted (groundwater) or polluted (rivers). The argument of the report goes against building big dams, because this inclination of cities to seek resources further away and to build dams to meet their requirements leads to increasing conflicts between regions and between cities and farming communities. Instead the mismanagement of water provisions in India’s cities should be tackled, which in some cases leads to more than 50 % of unaccounted water.

IWRM/IRBM: The European Framework Directive

Integrated river basin management provides a basin-wide approach, combining technological development (esp. big dams!), economic development, as well as multi-actor cooperation between the various subnational regions and countries involved (Kates and Burton 1986). IRBM is a “nonstructural” approach focused on integrated management. It is called “nonstructural” because it is less focused on building concrete structures. Thereby it overcomes the dominant technical focus of earlier periods, and thereby it also creates more room to discuss different stakeholders priorities and accordingly different value priorities. In addition, IRBM presupposes – or is greatly facilitated by – the availability of modern information and communication technologies, both in collecting information (e.g., Geo Information Systems) and in sharing it with stakeholders. It originated in the USA, where Gilbert White formulated the concept on the basis of a worldwide inventory and assessment of experiences with it. The first example was the Tennessee Valley Authority, founded in 1933 as a part of Roosevelt’s New Deal Policy. In fact, IRBM being a management tool strongly reflects the doctrines of planning, which originated from the Second Industrial Revolution taking place in Germany and the USA. Planning procedures as Roosevelt’s New Deal became a dominant policy instrument first in the Soviet Union. After the Second World War, planning as part of management became widely adopted. Similarly, IRBM has been broadly accepted as a framework for water policy, in which water developers often combine modern concepts with endogenous water traditions.

IRBM has spread all over the world, including Europe. In December 2000, the Water Framework Directive (WFD) was issued after long time cross-national negotiation and implemented in all 25 EU member states. The main objectives of the WFD are:
  • Expanding the scope of water protection to all waters (inland surface waters, transitional water, coastal waters, and groundwater) in a holistic way

  • Achieving a “good condition” for all waters by the target date of 2015, satisfying human needs, ecosystem functions, and biodiversity protection

  • Water management within the hydrological/geographical boundaries of river basins through effective cooperation of all administrations and institutions involved

  • Combined approach towards the control of both point and nonpointed pollutant sources with emission limit values and water quality standards

  • Getting the right prices of water with the elements of cost recovery and cost-effectiveness provisions

  • Getting citizens more closely involved in river basin management activities

  • Streamlining legislation by repelling existing fragmented and burdensome regulatory systems (European Commission EC 2000)

The European WFD provides a common framework for water policy employing integrated approaches and innovative instruments to water management. It was developed as a response to the fragmented European environmental legislation. However, the international cooperation concerning the Rhine, starting in the nineteenth century, can be considered a pioneering effort. The WFD offers a policy frame for protecting and improving the quality of water resources, though it also involves flood and groundwater quality control (for which follow-up directives were issued; see below). It provides for cooperation at the level of river basins. A precise planning procedure for river basin management is part of it (see Fig. 1). The main point is towards water resources management at river basin level in districts. These river basin districts (RBDs) are largely based on surface water catchments, together with the boundaries of associated groundwater and coastal water bodies. In April 2009, the conference of “Active Involvement in River Basin Management – Plunge into the Debate!” in Brussels has supported the preparation of river basin plans (European Water Conference EWC 2009) .
Fig. 1

River basin management planning process (Europe Environmental Agency 2009)

The WFD got a supplement in 2006 with the Directive on the protection of groundwater against pollution and deterioration (Resources Directive 2006). In 2007, another step was taken in realizing IRBM in Europe when the European Parliament adopted the Floods Directive (Floods directive 2007) . This requires European countries to make flood risk assessments, focused on impacts on human health and life, the environment, cultural heritage, and economic activity, and to do so before 2012. These assessments will be used to produce flood hazard and risk maps (planned to be ready by December 2013), on the basis of which flood risk management plans will be drawn up (to be ready by December 2015). The latter plans will be developed together with all relevant stakeholders and should provide policy makers and developers with a base for measures that are both technically appropriate and socially acceptable.

The EU WFD and its supplements, tailored to the specifics of the European countries, reflect many but not all the elements of IRBM. Experiences thus far are positive. Though it is causing tensions here and there in view of national water traditions (Ravesteijn and Kroesen 2007), in general, the WFD seems to work quite well. Ecological values are prominent. The goal at least – in 2015 all waters in a “good condition,” that is to say, within agreed upon maximum levels of pollutants – is still within reach. However, recent assessments point out that at least 40 % of the European water bodies are “at risk” of not meeting the goal (European commission 2008). Nevertheless, the WFD has been hailed as a front-runner on integrated water management in the world due to the introduction of a number of generally agreed principles and concepts into a binding regulatory instrument (Commission 2007). Consequently, the WFD and European IRBM in general have become a source of inspiration for water management reforms elsewhere, most notably in China. The Chinese water authorities have shown interests in adopting the WFD to fight the river pollution problems and manage flood risks that they are experiencing, e.g., in the cases of the Yellow River and the Yangtze River.

The Negotiated Approach in Bangladesh

A third approach is emerging in the form of increasing stakeholder dialogue, both in developing countries and in developed countries. In the context of developing countries, it got a name “the negotiated approach” (Both Ends and Gomukh 2005). We use the example of Bangladesh. In 1990, the Flood Action Plan, a nationwide water development program, was launched in Bangladesh. Drawn up in reaction to disastrous floods in the late 1980s, it involved huge foreign support, both financially and technologically. The program was coordinated by the World Bank, at the request of the government of Bangladesh. Consequently, infrastructural works like dikes, polders, and sluices were planned and implemented in the early 1990s. In the beginning the effects seemed positive in that the measures made possible the introduction of high-yielding rice varieties. Recently, however, more adverse impacts have become visible. Increasing siltation in canals and rivers led to the lowering of water tables in (wet)lands, heightening of river beds, and reduced conveyance capacity of rivers, resulting in long-term waterlogging, especially in the southwest. Consequently, farmers could not use their rice fields, while roads and villages remained under water. Severe siltation has caused whole rivers to disappear, though the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) is planning to restore these. However, measures are implemented only slowly, while even local communities feel that constant and repeated dredging of rivers and canals is not a sustainable solution.

By sheer frustration and led by a local NGO, a group of farmers in the southwest of Bangladesh started to implement Tidal River Management (TRM), based on opening polders periodically to tidal flows. People see to it that the river drops its silt in a polder, which is temporarily put under water, instead of in its bed. Since this was done without permission of the central authorities, the communities and NGOs involved are now in conflict with the Bangladeshi government, represented by the BWDB. One of the issues is that the BWDB wants to remain in control of water management, i.e., the opening and closing of sluices and the decisions about how much water is flowing where. The local farmers and NGOs, however, do not trust the central government on that. They argue that government officials in Dhaka do not care about the problems of the farmers and that decisions on water control should be taken locally anyhow. International donors are mediating, trying to reach agreement and solutions by means of negotiations, but local communities, remembering their alignment with the BWDB in earlier projects, are suspicious and not much progress has been made with this negotiated approach.

This approach in which different stakeholders are brought together in order to create mutual understanding and find common ground for solutions meeting their diverging interests and values is increasingly used to overcome situations in which different stakeholders are at loggerheads, like in the “Green Water Credits” approach, which supports upstream land users to invest in effective soil and water conservation practices, optimizing both upstream and downstream water use (ISRIC 2013).

Design for Values in Water Engineering and Management

A variety of interests and values is connected with water:
  1. 1.

    Functional interests and objectives connected to the multipurpose character of water systems

  2. 2.

    Trans-boundary interests and values related to territorial divisions, like nations and like group identities and cultural areas

  3. 3.

    Social objectives and values determining the conditions under which water systems have to operate, such as safety, sustainability, and justice

  4. 4.

    Sociopolitical values and characteristics, generally involving cultural uniformity versus diversity, centralization in management versus decentralization, and private versus public ownership

How to reconcile all these conflicting values and interests in water resources development and management? Several methods constituting a basis for comparison, consideration, and decision-making are available, including:
  1. (a)

    Cost-benefit analysis

  2. (b)

    Multi-criteria analysis

  3. (c)

    Defining boundary conditions or thresholds

  4. (d)

    Considering technological alternatives or innovations (Van de Poel and Royakkers 2010)


For decision-making in the framework of water engineering and management, these methods are all more or less in use. The technical-economic approach relies on multipurpose works, in which all innovative capacity is directed towards developing existing technologies further and further, culminating in bigger and bigger dams and reservoirs, e.g., the Three Gorges Dam in China and the Itaipu Dam in Brazil and Paraguay. These projects are expensive and financed by their return, at least in part. Consequently, the water is predominantly distributed on economic principles, where most profit could be secured (cost-benefit analysis). This approach is therefore strongly connected to utilitarianism, as it is optimizing utility, taking it as a self-evident value defined from one central perspective. In this approach, in which one dominant actor defines what utility consists of, there is little room for including the perspectives of different stakeholders. Since these perspectives imply the maximization of different values including them would turn the concept of utility into a “container concept”. In case of a reservoir, for instance, for the fishers utility could mean the maximization of food security for their families. For the government it could mean the maximization of energy production. For those using the reservoir for touristic purposes it could mean the maximization of rest or fun. Each time the concept utility contains a different content in terms of values served.

The integrated management approach usually meets the values and interests of all stakeholders through negotiations and trade-offs (e.g., multi-criteria analysis), though economic considerations play a role as well. Both approaches have a strong top-down orientation, while the influence of engineers is strong, be it civil engineers or policy engineers. The negotiated approach is based on negotiations and trade-offs as well; though from a bottom-up perspective, the needs and perspectives of local people are leading (constitute a boundary condition). The more stakeholders are involved, the more value perspectives need to be taken into consideration. For an integrated management approach, the evaluation of such different value perspectives is an attractive instrument, as part of a multi-criteria analysis done by experts. In the negotiated approach it is the participants in the dialogue themselves who need to conduct such analyses, in an endeavor to find some form of common ranking. The arguments for one particular solution may differ, while this particular solution is still attractive from different perspectives.

All approaches take technological alternatives and innovations into account, be it other megaprojects, aimed at connecting and redirecting rivers, e.g., in Spain the National Water Plan and in China the South-North Water Transfer Plan (technical-economic approach), increasing the storage capacity of rivers (IWRM), or endogenous technological and management solutions (negotiated approach). However, in view of addressing present-day water problems and reconciling all conflicting values and interests involved, the technical-economic approach is facing severe limitations, especially when it comes to big dams, aligned as it is to a linear centralized approach. The other two approaches are much more promising, though we think that all approaches would gain from a systematic and explicit design for values perspective. In the next paragraphs we will indicate how.

Design for values has been developed from a computer design perspective (see chapter “Design for Values in ICT”). Nevertheless, the problem is analogous. As computer programs became more complicated and were implemented in more complex organizations, it appeared that different stakeholders would pose different value priorities and that trade-offs and agreements needed to be found between different stakeholders defending different value priorities. Without such embedding within organizations, beautifully designed network programs were not accepted and did not function well. Triggered by this development, ethicists as well began to think of moral deliberation as an optimization process in analogy to a design process (Whitbeck 1998). The value-sensitive design approach towards the design of computer software architecture is in itself an endeavor to take such different value perspectives into account (Van de Poel and Royakkers 2010).

Friedman et al. (2006) try to cope with this complexity by a three-step analysis (conceptual, empirical, design, see chapter “Value Sensitive Design: Applications, Adaptations, and Critiques”). In comparison to the traditional methods used in ethical analysis and evaluation, the new method brings two important innovations, one implicitly and one explicitly. Implicitly, it allows for a more historical and contingent interpretation of particular values. These are not static like from all eternity, but the meaning of loyalty, trust, well-being, and many of such moral notions may need different interpretations and specifications from context to context. There is a felt need to do field research to find out this contextual meaning of such notions. Explicitly, the design for values method installs a deliberate trade-off like usually is the case in any design problem between different demands and value preferences. The more complex the problem may become and the more participants need to be drawn in to find a solution, the more differentiated value preferences need to be accommodated. But this does not only make the entire process more complex, it also leads to innovative ideas that in unexpected ways may meet the design requirements. In that sense it leads to technical innovation as well, by discovering and creating options which otherwise would not have been envisaged (Van de Poel and Royakkers 2010). Finding trade-offs, agreements, and compromises on water issues could follow the same path.

Constructing and implementing such a design for values perspective might meet the current search for solving conflicts and competition in water use, which will only increase in number and intensity, at a more fundamental level. This first requires an analysis of the concepts by which the debate is framed from different sides. What initially merely seem to be differences of interests, for instance, between farmers, fishermen, and cattle herders or between big cities and rural areas, at a closer look will also appear to include different value priorities: water security for large city populations over against a basic needs subsistence economy for rural farmers, shrimp production for export purposes creating revenues for the central government (important for maintaining peace between different political factions) versus rice and fish production for the family (important for the good health of children), etc. The last example is from Bangladesh. Such an analysis leads to an understanding and tackling of water problems, ultimately, in terms of multiple values, which necessitate negotiation and dialogue about value priorities, like in the negotiated approach (cf. Glenna 2010). Depending on the trade-offs found and the level of agreement reached, technological options can be designed and adapted to this shared support base. Ethical analysis and social debate and dialogue aim at designing water works and management in new ways, including institutional (re)design and social experimentation. Stakeholder involvement is a precondition and it suggests efforts at various levels, both top-down and bottom-up. Central planning will always occupy an important place, especially in countries like China, but for the sake of using the full potential of all technological and management options at our disposal, the need makes itself felt to include more and more decentralized options and, consequently, involve local participants in the design of future water provisions. Increasing complexity of water problems and solutions and the necessity of stakeholder participation make it impossible to find the one best solution from the perspective of one central point of control, from a supposedly self-evident but actually naive utilitarian perspective. This is the more so if it is taken into account that a large part of the solution of water problems consists in a long chain of many small-scale and local solutions: a small dam in a particular village, a small diversion of a little river to fill a tube well, etc.

We could, in turn, enrich the design for values perspective by using some insights and methods which have been developed in the domain of technology assessment, which maps and evaluates (negative) impacts of new (emerging) technologies (see chapter “Technology Assessment and Design for Values”). Technology assessment has a strong ethical dimension, though its approach is mainly sociological, relying heavily on stakeholder engagement. A simple approach for TA embraces the following steps: (1) defining problem and research questions, e.g., for whom, problem versus technology oriented; (2) exploring and fore sighting technological developments; (3) technology impact assessment; (4) normative judgment; and (5) generating improvement options (Smit and Van Oost 1999). Especially, constructive technology assessment (Schot and Rip 1997; Quist 2007) may be meaningful in the further development of design for values. This method, based on constructivist theories of technology development (Bijker et al. 1987), aims at the participation of the stakeholders right from the start, enabling them to co-shape new technologies.

Design for values emphasizes the exploration of the different values of the stakeholders and their feedback on the design of the technology, but following constructive technology assessment, it could move beyond stakeholder consultation and more explicitly involve stakeholder participation in the construction of not only the technical but also the moral solutions required: value trade-offs and specifications. The important point to be made here is that the interaction between the different stakeholders in the debate and dialogue process has a surplus value beyond their initial partial and biased preferences. That means that in an open discussion, creative technological and management solutions can be found which would otherwise not have been discovered. This does count not only for management and technology but also for the context-dependent concretization of the values involved. Open moral deliberation has an impact on the understanding and concretization of these value differences (Kroesen and van der Zwaag 2010). Even competing moral values may be reconciled not only by a compromise but by alternating between them in the right order between different parties (consider the use of water and land by fishermen, farmers, and herders). The process of dialogue and discussion may be difficult and time-consuming, but the results may turn out to be more sustainable and enduring than the implementation of quick linear central solutions. Below, we will explore and show the surplus value of integrating technology assessment views in the design for values perspective for the three approaches to water problems we started out to discuss.

Revaluing the Technical-Economic Approach

Building big dams and other structural works could greatly profit from the step-by-step plan outlined above. Suggestions go in this direction, without, however, explicitly making an inventory and analysis of value backgrounds (Reddy 1999). In the case of India, the earlier cited report suggests that local sustainable water sources should be tapped and maintained such as rain water harvesting and the use of check dams and many more options. This advice points into the direction of decentralization of water provisions, intersectoral cooperation, and institutional reorganization. The report concludes: “If these options are properly taken into account, there is little justification of large dams as option for urban water supply” (Assessment 1999, p. 2). Such a policy would require more management and more negotiation and as a consequence requires to take into account a host of different values and value priorities from those different actors in order to achieve a support base for common action. This trend towards including multiple perspectives and different stakeholders puts (a diversity of) values and consequently design for values at the center of policy and technology debates.

A historical example in which this procedure has been followed, though not as a procedure but as a developing practice, is the construction of the Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier between the islands Schouwen-Duiveland and Noord-Beveland in the Dutch province of Sealand (1976–1986). It was the showpiece of the ambitious Delta works series of dams, designed in response to the North Sea Flood of 1953. The 9-km-long barrier was initially designed as a closed dam, but after public protest by the local oyster and mussel farmers for economic reasons and, later, environmental groups from ecological values, huge sluice-gate-type doors were installed over 4 km. These doors can be closed if weather conditions are threatening, thus protecting the land from flooding. However, because usually they are open, the saltwater marine life behind the dam remained preserved and oyster and mussel farming could be continued (Lintsen 1998; Disco and van der Vleuten 2002). In this case deliberate value trade-offs in the design of the dam were made not just from a multi-criteria perspective but more as a result of pressure from below and negotiations between different stakeholders, including biologists. The solution was creative: a technical option which realized different contradictory values and interests. The result was a high-tech engineering work, which despite being expensive turned out to be an asset, because it largely contributed to the international reputation of the companies involved.

Revaluing IWRM

IWRM, e.g., in the form of the European Water Framework Directive, has shown positive results already, though it also could lead to tensions with existing water traditions (Ravesteijn and Kroesen 2007). The WFD has a strong “negotiating content” and it is suffused with a spirit of “deliberation, education and collaboration” (Bohensky et al. 2009). In its further implementation it could easily include values and value trade-offs in river basin management and form the basis for further reflection on a more deliberate introduction of values into the debate. Challenge would be to avoid and fix tensions that could easily rise between top-down directives and bottom-up wishes.

Transferring the WFD to other countries and parts of the world introduces new challenges, as it very clearly presumes a specific institutional context (de Jong et al. 2002). Current efforts to model Chinese river basin management after the WFD, especially in the basin of the Yellow River, constitute an example (Song et al. 2009). River management in China differs a lot from Europe (see Table 2).
Table 2

Comparison of contemporary water management between Europe and China



Chinese river management


Good condition of all waters (including surface and groundwater)

Water conservation and pollution prevention (mainly surface water)

Scope of planning

River basin planning, update river basin plan every 6 years

Combination of river basin planning and regional administrative planning

Pollutants management

Combined approach towards control of both point and nonpoint source pollutants

Focus on the control of point source pollutants; no effective measures for nonpoint source pollutants


Top-down and bottom-up, centralized and decentralized management

Top-down, centralized management with strong and varied hierarchy

Role of RBCs

Responsible for all water-related issues at river basin level

Mainly responsible for water quantity management, e.g., flood control and water allocation

Water allocation and water rights

Controls on water abstraction and groundwater recharge; member states’ own policies specify water rights

Rational allocation to alleviate the upstream-downstream conflicts; ambiguous water rights at regional and local levels

Water pricing

Full cost recovery and cost-effective provisions to be taken into account

Preliminary research on water price, its components, and measurement

Public participation

Getting citizens more closely involved in river basin management activities from early stages

Insufficient stakeholder participation in water planning and management as well as flood control

A complete transfer of the WFD to China seems impossible. Three points are relevant here (Song et al. 2009):
  1. 1.

    A striking difference is the political structure as well as political tendencies, which determine developments and possibilities in the water domain. China and Europe are representing two archetypical organizational models for implementing IRBM, i.e., the authority model and the coordination and negotiation model. Interestingly, however, a tendency to convergence can be noted, though great differences still remain.

  2. 2.

    It makes sense to manage rivers in regard to hydrological boundaries. The problem, however, is how to distribute power between China’s multiple administrative water management agencies, including river basin commissions.

  3. 3.

    The involvement of local stakeholders in basin-level planning and actions was right from the start a main point in Europe, naturally related to the political organization of decision-making and policy implementation in Europe. How to realize such in present-day China? In general, China’s progress in realizing IRBM depends on the public awareness of environmental problems in relation to economic growth and the development of a civil society (Song et al. 2009, 2011).


There are many successful examples of IRBM or IWRM in general, in the Netherlands and elsewhere (Dubbelman 1999; He 2011). The challenge, however, is to analyze conflicting interests at a deeper value level, in order to easier find common ground and social support. A promising methodology in this regard is Q methodology, which is aimed at mapping underlying “stakeholder perspectives” and thus searches for common ground at fundamental levels (Cuppen 2010). Although stakeholder participation in the moral and technical construction of the solution is difficult in China, it is clear that in this case too it might lead to more differentiated and complex solutions, but also and for exactly that reason to more effective and acceptable solutions.

Revaluing the Negotiated Approach

The Negotiated Approach as developed and applied in Bangladesh is promising, but unlike some other cases (Both Ends and Gomukh 2005), it is constrained by the under-institutionalized character of the surrounding sociopolitical context. It should be embedded in a broader sociopolitical context which requires institutional design and development, as well as experimentation (Ravesteijn et al. 2011). The strongly collectivist culture of the Bangladeshi system of governance appears to be an obstacle in this regard. Although there are elections, the respective political parties serve their own electorates. There is no culture of negotiation and compromise; time and again it is “we” against “them.” This is also manifest at the local level and between the different departments. The technology-minded Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) does not consider uneducated farmers as negotiation partners, while farmers have no confidence whatsoever in the officials. The different parties, therefore, remain at loggerheads.

The lack of trust between the different parties needs to be overcome. A change towards a culture of give and take between parties seems a necessary condition. Images of friend and foe now dominate all actions and expressions. A process of meaningful dialogue, in which people can reach compromises, could redress this. Building trust between government and farmers is essential. Once the dialogue will be opened, immediately a diversity of values and value priorities will urge itself on the debate. The BWDB is primarily technology oriented and in support of central control: it does not take the farmers seriously as partners, is focused on technical solutions, and does not want to share power and control. The farmers are concerned about their land and the well-being of their families and want to be considered as participants in finding solutions, but on the other hand for the moment, they are not yet prepared to open up towards government officials in order to find negotiated trade-offs. Environmental concerns, bureaucratic concerns, and economic concerns compete with each other. Values like openness or distrust, egalitarianism or authority, local cooperation or central control, and confidence in management or in technology may not be explicitly articulated, but exactly for that reason their impact on the process is large. For the moment the farmers resort to collective action and remain at loggerheads with the equally intransigent water authorities, whereas recent research has shown that in actual fact the opinions about practical solutions and trade-offs are not so remote as the heat of the debate may suggest (Brockhus and Das 2010). In this case it is quite clear that the solution is not only dependent on value trade-offs and thus cannot be reached by a multi-criteria analysis or by a desk study, but that stakeholder participation is necessary in constructing the proper moral and technical solution.

Consequently, bottom-up water control, like the negotiated approach in Bangladesh, should be embedded in a national framework. The Dutch water history provides a good example where this took place, paving the way for a successful water engineering and management approach. In the case of the “big rivers problem” in the Netherlands, the traditional water associations were unable to come up with a solution; that required too much from their abilities to cooperate. After several vain attempts made by these associations, the problem of flooding from the Rivers Rhine and Meuse could only be solved by the national water agency (Rijkswaterstaat), which was founded in 1798 after French example (Lintsen 1998; Kaijser 2002). Ever since, the combined bottom-up and top-down approach in Dutch water interference has kept the country safe seeing to it that its inhabitant could keep their feet dry, more or less at least, and with new challenges and new water approaches (like building with the water) having emerged as a result of climate change and other developments.

Conclusions and Future Work

There has been a notable shift from framing water problems as merely technical problems towards involving management issues and social interests. Currently, a new shift is underway, aimed at involving different values in water engineering and development. This is not a complete surprise, since the complexity of the problems and the limitations of often applied large-scale centralized solutions urge the inclusion of a great and increasing number and variety of stakeholders. These stakeholders happen to frame their perspectives by different interests and diverse values. We gave a number of examples. This development requires new methods of design and development, in which negotiation and dialogue about value priorities are extraordinarily relevant, as well as institutional (re)design and social experimentation. As the tendency of the debate around water issues is already moving towards reconciling different value priorities (or failing to do so), the quality of the debate will only gain by consciously and deliberately putting different values and stakeholder perspectives on the agenda. This could improve existing water engineering and management approaches, reconciling top-down and bottom-up viewpoints. Stakeholder participation is of utmost importance. Negotiated approaches, like in Bangladesh, are very promising, though the traditional engineering and management approaches remain relevant.

This paper has discussed three approaches of water engineering and management , assessing their performance and potential in relation to a design for values perspective. Obviously, the third approach we have distinguished comes close to this new way of dealing with water problems, as it takes the water users and stakeholders as points of departure. However, even in this case, value considerations could be included more explicitly, ultimately giving rise to an elaborate design for values approach. How would that look like? We have argued that design for values could benefit from technology assessment concepts and tools, especially when it comes to integrating stakeholder participation in the ethical analysis and even more in the construction of moral and technical solutions. A specific and systematic way to deal with water issues could include the following method or step-by-step plan :
  1. 1.

    Find out what problem has to be solved and which goals have to be served. This could be done in consultation with parties that have put the problem on the agenda.

  2. 2.

    Make an elaborate stakeholder analysis, mapping all relevant parties beside the initiating actors, their perceptions of the problems and solutions, their interests and values, their arguments and their lines of reasoning, as well as their resources.

  3. 3.

    Make an ethical-philosophical conceptual analysis of the diversity of perceptions, interests, and values as well as the arguments and lines of reasoning, aimed at deriving and constructing fundamental, underlying values and perspectives.

  4. 4.

    Based on the outcomes of step 3, make a list of all alternative solutions, considering each and every function that needs to be dealt with. In case of a big dam, e.g., these could also include combinations or programs of small alternative works. This is the design phase in the process, in which scenarios are developed with different trade-offs and equilibria of values and interests.

  5. 5.

    By means of stakeholder consultation and deliberation, based on this package of moral and technical alternatives, make an integrated impact assessment of each alternative (ecological, social, economic, strategic, etc.), considering basic perceptions, values, and perspectives of the stakeholders.

  6. 6.

    Make an additional (impact) analysis of the implementation strategies that could or have to be used, again considering basic perceptions, values, and perspectives of the stakeholders, which result from stakeholder consultation and deliberation.

  7. 7.

    Select a solution in consultation and cooperation with the stakeholders. Urgent problems, different value traditions, and physical and institutional constraints should find an optimal trade-off in open deliberation, as much as is possible within the existing political framework.

  8. 8.

    Finally, implement the selected solution in consultation and cooperation with the stakeholders. Indicate who should do what.


As particularly comes to the fore in the Bangladeshi case, the explicit and open discussion of different values, instead of positioning them as mutually exclusive, opens a new field for experimentation and research. It shows the necessity of debate and dialogue in order to find more creative and differentiated solutions and gain a stronger support base for common action. It needs to be emphasized that the way forward in this type of problems cannot be found by desk research and theory development only. Although theory can summarize and systematize past experiences and thereby prevent making the same mistakes once more, it cannot show in advance what only the experiment of life itself can teach us. For future research social experimentation is a requirement, but it should not be blindfold. It should be accompanied by thorough reflection and be conducted as a sort of action research, involving and bringing together many stakeholders.



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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.TU DelftDelftNetherlands

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