in: Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension 18 (4), 409-423
This article assesses a participatory action and innovation research experience, in which project researchers, farmers and staff members of a local water users association (WUA) came together to: (a) jointly test and adapt a social mobilization and institutional strengthening approach according to the local context, and by doing so, to (b) develop a locally embedded approach to the institutional strengthening of WUAs in Uzbekistan. Design/methodology/approach: The process of interaction and innovation development was one of joint experimentation, which over time and to avoid a disproportionate dependency on external social mobilizers increasingly adopted aspects of a laissez-faire approach, eventually relying fully on members of the local community. Findings: The findings show that the cooperation style is highly influenced by institutional and structural causes and effects in the specific context of rural Uzbekistan. Participatory approaches to the institutional strengthening of WUAs in Uzbekistan should consequently allow for a high degree of flexibility to adjust key activities and their timeframe. Practical implications: The research findings are relevant to the lowland irrigated areas of post-Soviet Central Asia where the strengthening of WUAs is still lacking, resulting in limited participation of water users and insufficient operation and maintenance of the slowly eroding infrastructure. Originality/value: The transdisciplinary innovation and action research experience pays special attention to the change in the style of cooperation, its institutional and structural causes and effects with regard to the ‘localizing’ of the innovation, namely a social mobilization and institutional development (SMID) approach for strengthening water users associations (WUAs) in Uzbekistan.