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Organizing water: the hidden role of intermediary work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date02/2009
JournalWater Alternatives
Journal number1
Volume2
Number of pages18
Pages16-33
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

The increasingly complex challenges of making water management more sustainable require a critical and detailed understanding of the social organisation of water. This paper examines the hitherto neglected role that 'intermediary' organisations play in reshaping the relations between the provision and use of water and sanitation services. In response to new regulatory, environmental, social, and commercial pressures the relationships between water utilities, consumers, and regulators are changing, creating openings for both new and existing organisations to take on intermediary functions. Drawing on recent EU-funded research we provide the first systematic analysis of intermediary organisations in the European water sector, examining the contexts of their emergence, the ways they work, the functions they perform, and the impacts they can have. With a combination of conceptual and empirical analysis we substantiate and elaborate the case for appreciating the often hidden work of intermediaries. We caution, however, against over-simplistic conclusions on harnessing this potential, highlighting instead the need to reframe perspectives on how water is organised to contemplate actor constellations and interactions beyond the common triad of provider, consumer, and regulator.