Although collaborative, multi-level and adaptive governance is put forward as the right approach to manage water resources, it remains a challenge for local water managers to engage with multiple understandings and perspectives and to move towards more transdisciplinary approaches in water governance. In this research, we address this need by proposing a practical guide for water governance assessment and improvement, existing of three successive steps, i.e. (1) an assessment of water governance, (2) the implementation of a multi-actor process and (3) an evaluation of achievements. This guide is tested in the seven action labs of the WaterProtect project, which have in common that they are drinking water catchments suffering from agricultural pollution throughout Europe. By implementing the guide in the different action labs, we find that water managers appreciated the integrated approach of the guide, helping them in the efficient organization of the water governance process while taking into account the human dimension. Furthermore action lab leaders evaluated the governance guide as being hands-on and practical, allowing them to redirect and open up the governance process. Despite this, they welcomed the presence of a facilitator, who boosted the local action lab leaders’ confidence and motivation to put things into motion. Looking at the results, we find that over the different action labs a lot of progress has been made towards intermediary goals, however that an improvement of the water quality cannot be expected in the short time frame of a project. We therefore recommend to improve the design of the guide with insights from transition management, which will allow local water managers to better address change at different time-scale levels.
- water governance, agricultural sector, multi-actor approach