Water policy/governance

Water governance refers to the political, social, economic and administrative systems in place that influence water's use and management. Essentially, who gets what water, when and how, and who has the right to water and related services, and their benefits.

The CSIR’s unique skills base in water policy and governance includes specialised knowledge and expertise from a range of disciplines including political science, international relations, anthropology, gender studies, development studies, integrated water resources management, environmental science and management and risk assessment.

Global environmental change – including climate change, mass pollution, desertification, land fragmentation, altered biogeochemical cycles and the growth of invasive species – necessitates the exploration of new and alternative approaches to the way we interact with and govern our natural resources. It also requires us to look at issues of environmental governance from a multi-level lens, one which emphasises the multiplicity of actors, scale, power, knowledge and agency. These multi-level pathways are influenced by both ‘hard’ (institutionalised) governance mechanisms as well as ‘soft’ (non-institutionalised) governance mechanisms such as norms and principles. Both are closely linked, creating the foundations for complex institutionality.

Water resources in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) play an intrinsic role in regional development. As a result, water is a highly sensitive issue; it is complex to understand and demands rigorous governance in terms of effective and equitable use and distribution. Growing awareness of the complex challenges facing water and the cross-cutting impacts that these challenges have on the region has led to the recognition that these challenges demand more integrated levels of ingenuity and expertise from a diverse set of actors working in a transdisciplinary manner. The CSIR’s skills base in water policy and governance positions the organisation to make a unique contribution in this domain.

Governing water includes the formulation, establishment and implementation of water policies, legislation and institutions, and clarification of the roles and responsibilities of government, civil society and the private sector in relation water resources and services. The outcomes depend on how the stakeholders act in relation to the rules and roles that have been taken or assigned to them. Additionally, the water sector is a part of broader social, political and economic developments and is thus also affected by decisions by actors outside of the water sector.

The CSIR provides policy and governance analyses and helps to develop institutional capacity by drawing on a wide range of specialist disciplines and perspectives in research and policy formulation. The organisation also develops capacity building and decision-making support tools to facilitate a better understanding of governance dynamics by end-users.


The CSIR provides innovative solutions to complex human and water challenges from a governance and policy perspective. The organisation’s innovative solutions are strategic, integrated and holistic, incorporating a multidisciplinary approach that combines a range of scientific and related fields (natural, social, hydrological, economic, legal, and engineering) together with social and technological innovation.