in: Ecological Complexity 5 (3), 202-215
The study unravels the complexity of water management institutions by analysing the interactive nature of actors and rules to a particular water-related problem, using a systems approach in a hamlet in the Indian Himalayas. The approach builds on the strengths of institutional analysis development framework, but makes amendments to suit complex and adaptive water management institutions. It applies multiple research methods to collect both qualitative and quantitative information at different contextual levels. The information collected is applied in Bayesian belief network model to identify differential rules in influencing water management. Systems perspective in a problem context helped to comprehensively understand the socio-political process of water management by identifying broad array of actors and rules constraining water management, and at the same time identify actors and rules facilitating agents and their agency for a change in the water management process. In this socio-political process, the study reveals human entities – stakeholders, actors and agents – occupy different positions, which they actively shift in a problem context and when agents pursue ‘projects’ by integrating diverse rules and resources to remain adaptive. It is this adaptive and dynamic behaviour that contemporary programmes and policies fail to acknowledge. In this dynamic behaviour of the transformative capacity or power is everywhere, but they are displayed, maintained and upheld, only when agents pursue their ‘project’ by negotiating with other agents. The paper highlights the importance of comprehensive approach, in contrast to simplistic, linear and single package reforms to manage water. Such approach calls for conscious designing of rules and, at the same time, enabling actors to design rules. A conscious designing of rules is required to regulate water distribution, to build the capabilities of the poor, and to be adaptive to institutional and bio-physical crises. It calls for the development of infrastructures to further actors and agent's capabilities to design rules for informed water-related decisions. Such an approach will contribute towards sustainable water resource management.