De- politicized policy analysis: How the prevailing frameworks of analysis slight equity in water governance

Andrea K. Gerlak, Helen Ingram

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Scopus citations


Introduction: Policy Analysis for “Better” Public Policy There is a common article of faith in the multi-disciplinary field of policy analysis: a belief that the quality of policy-making increases in proportion to available policy knowledge, and that the policy analyst’s role is to generate and transmit relevant policy information and evaluation. What Alice Rivlin (1984: 18-19) wrote more than 30 years ago is even truer today, particularly when it comes to water policy: “No debate on any serious issue… takes place without somebody citing a public policy study.” Information is not neutral, however, and the kind of information gathered by policy analysts depends largely on the frameworks they adopt and the underlying perspectives and values.The most prominent policy frameworks currently applied to water reflect the context and circumstances from when they were developed, and inventors’ perspectives and values. Frameworks have evolved over time as users apply and modify them. We argue that none of the most common schemas were developed to reflect equity and public participation in decision-making. While improvements have been made, and newer critical perspectives hold promise, the kind of information provided by policy analysis continues to slight the concerns of equity and participation set out by the editors in the introductory chapter to this book.This chapter will examine four different policy approaches and their impact on water governance: (1) efficiency-based analysis; (2) institutional analysis and development; (3) physically-based watershed and river basin approaches; and (4) discursive policy analysis. Each of these approaches developed first in the United States and spread elsewhere, often becoming greatly modified as they disseminated. In each case, we will examine the context and key influences in which each approach was invented, central concepts and underlying theoretical logic, how the approach has evolved, and an overall assessment. The conclusion will indicate how policy analysis must change to better serve equity and participation.The Gospel of Efficiency and Moving Water to its Best Use The progressive conservation movement of the early twentieth century placed water at the heart of the new doctrine championed by reformers. The period’s authoritative historian, Samuel P. Hays (1959) wrote that the conservation movement had little to do with popular support or the people’s wishes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationWater Justice
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781316831847
ISBN (Print)9781107179080
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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