Polycentric Transformation in Kenyan Water Governance: A Dynamic Analysis of Institutional and Social-Ecological Change

Paul McCord, Jampel Dell'Angelo, Elizabeth Baldwin, Tom Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Beginning in 2002, Kenyan water governance transitioned from a monocentric, top-down system to one exhibiting traits of polycentricity. In this paper, we investigate the changes made to water policy following the 2002 reform, outcomes produced in a collection of community- and catchment-level user groups in the Mount Kenya region, and the conformance of these changes and outcomes with principles of polycentricity. A new framework is used to capture the complex institutional arrangements and interactions existing before and after the polycentric transformation. Unlike many previous polycentricity studies, the present research focuses primarily on the outcomes of the polycentric shift and determines if these correspond to predictions from polycentricity theory. We utilize survey data collected in 2013 from water managers, as well as archival research to interrogate congruence with principles of polycentricity. This study contributes to the broader discussion on polycentricity in two fundamental ways: (i) It documents the functioning of a water management system following a top-down imposed polycentric reform, and (ii) It empirically inspects whether these polycentric reforms have produced benefits predicted by polycentricity theorists, such as experimentation by local water users, increased collective action, and improved coordination between levels of management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)633-658
Number of pages26
JournalPolicy Studies Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • Kenya
  • collective action
  • institutional analysis
  • polycentricity
  • water governance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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