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Reductionist and integrative research approaches to complex water security policy challenges

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • Mark Zeitoun
  • Bruce Lankford
  • Tobias Krueger
  • Tim Forsyth
  • Richard Carter
  • Arjen Y. Hoekstra
  • Richard Taylor
  • Olli Varis
  • Frances Cleaver
  • Rutgerd Boelens
  • Larry Swatuk
  • David Tickner
  • Christopher A. Scott
  • Naho Mirumachi
  • Nathanial Matthews
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/07/2016
<mark>Journal</mark>Global Environmental Change
Number of pages12
Pages (from-to)143-154
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English
Externally publishedYes


This article reviews and contrasts two approaches that water security researchers employ to advance understanding of the complexity of water-society policy challenges. A prevailing reductionist approach seeks to represent uncertainty through calculable risk, links national GDP tightly to hydro-climatological causes, and underplays diversity and politics in society. When adopted uncritically, this approach limits policy-makers to interventions that may reproduce inequalities, and that are too rigid to deal with future changes in society and climate. A second, more integrative, approach is found to address a range of uncertainties, explicitly recognise diversity in society and the environment, incorporate water resources that are less-easily controlled, and consider adaptive approaches to move beyond conventional supply-side prescriptions. The resultant policy recommendations are diverse, inclusive, and more likely to reach the marginalised in society, though they often encounter policy-uptake obstacles. The article concludes by defining a route towards more effective water security research and policy, which stresses analysis that matches the state of knowledge possessed, an expanded research agenda, and explicitly addresses inequities.