Beyond engagement: Enhancing equity in collaborative water governance

Elizabeth A. Koebele, Linda E. Méndez-Barrientos, Nikki Nadeau, Andrea K. Gerlak

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Collaborative governance has emerged as a promising approach for addressing complex water sustainability issues, with purported benefits from enhanced democracy to improved environmental outcomes. Collaborative processes are often assumed to be inherently more equitable than traditional governance approaches due to their goal of engaging diverse actors in the development of policy and management solutions. However, when collaborative water governance processes ignore issues of politics and power in their design, they risk creating or even exacerbating existing inequities. How, then, can collaborative water governance processes be designed to enhance, rather than undermine, equity? To answer this question, we first conduct an extensive review of the collaborative governance literature to identify common design features of collaborative processes, which each present potential benefits and challenges for actualizing equitable collaborative water governance. After critically discussing these design features, we explore how they are executed through two case studies of collaborative water governance in western North America: groundwater governance reform in California and transnational Colorado River Delta governance. In reflecting on these cases, we chart an agenda for future collaborative water governance research and practice that moves beyond engaging diverse actors to promoting equity among them. This article is categorized under: Human Water > Water Governance Science of Water > Water and Environmental Change Engineering Water > Planning Water.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • California
  • Colorado River
  • collaborative governance
  • equity
  • water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Ocean Engineering
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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