Transforming urban water governance through social (triple-loop) learning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The sustainable development of cities is threatened by a worldwide water crisis. Improved social learning is urgently needed to transform urban water governance and make it more integrated and adaptive. However, empirical studies remain few and fragmented. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to analyse how social learning has supported or inhibited sustainable transformations in urban water governance. On the basis of multiple case studies conducted in urban, flood-prone areas in Colombia, the Philippines, South Africa, India, and Sweden, we study learning processes related to different aspects of water management and governance. Our results show that transformations in water governance are often triggered by crises, whereas other potentials for transformation are not tapped into. Furthermore, learning is often inhibited by “lock-ins” created by powerful actors. We conclude that there is a need for more proactive design of governance structures for triple-loop learning that take into account the identified barriers and supporting principles.


External organisations
  • Delft University of Technology
  • Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI)
  • Durban University of Technology
  • Stockholm Resilience Center
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Public Administration Studies
  • Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)


  • climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction, flood risk, integrated water resources management, social learning, transformation, urban water services, water governance
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)144-154
JournalEnvironmental Policy and Governance
Issue number2
Early online date2019 Jan 10
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch