How policy travels through people: understanding the values and practices of actors in a water governance system

Achieving ‘water for all’ whilst ensuring the sustainable management of water resources is a global priority under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 6), and increasingly urgent in the context of rapid population growth and climate change. Despite the significant progress made to date in increasing access to clean water, many communities in rural Africa have been left behind. They still lack clean water for the most basic of needs, such as drinking and washing. Evidence suggests that even where water points have been constructed (eg, a well with a hand pump) many break down prematurely, due to complex technical and socio-political factors.

In the context of decentralised governance, addressing these problems necessitates a better understanding how people on the frontline of service delivery interpret and go about implementing water policies. Using ethnographic methods, this research seeks to understand the values and everyday practices of different actors at district-level, in the context of Malawi. It will explore the constraints these actors face (be they financial, political or social) and the diverse strategies they employ in ‘getting the job done’. It is hoped that the research findings will help to inform future policy-making and practice in the rural water supply sector, particularly the tailoring of support to frontline actors.

This research will be completed in parallel to the consortium ‘UPGRO – Hidden Crisis: unravelling current failures for future success in rural groundwater supply’ (funded by NERC/DFID/ ESRC).

Naomi has written a number of blogs about her research:

The Politics Of Water 1: Investigating the sustainability of rural water projects in Balaka District, Malawi

The Politics Of Water 2: Communities

The Politics of Water 3: Area Mechanics in Malawi

Naomi Oates



Dr Steve Connelly

Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Professor Alan MacDonald

British Geological Survey