Approaches to Participation in Sustainable River Management: A Comparative Analysis of Contemporary Practices in Europe and New Zealand

By Claire Gregory, Karen Fisher, Gary Brierley and Nick Clifford.

Published by The Sustainability Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Participation has been identified as a key element for efforts to manage rivers more sustainably. While repairing biophysical processes to support improved habitat quality is at the core of many management initiatives, re-connecting local people to river environments is also vital. Governance frameworks for river management have typically applied ‘top down’ approaches, which stifle opportunities for community involvement. Using an emerging literature of ‘middle ground’ frameworks for environmental management, this paper explores contemporary practices of participation within sustainable river management in New Zealand and Europe. Frameworks in New Zealand represent a ‘bottom up’, organic approach, while frameworks in Europe are largely guided by the European Union Water Framework Directive. This comparison illuminates the diversity of approaches which display characteristics of a ‘middle ground’ framework, allowing community perspectives to be considered in tandem with wider regional, national and international policy. In recognizing this diversity, it is vital that ‘one size fits all’ framework for governance is not imposed, if efforts are to respect the socio-ecological and political diversity of each river system. Principles are identified which maximize the strengths and opportunities which middle ground approaches offer to achieve effective participation for sustainable river management.

Keywords: Sustainable River Management, Governance, Participation, Middle Ground, European Union Water Framework Directive

The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp.85-108. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.106MB).

Claire Gregory

PhD Candidate, School of Environment, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand

Claire Gregory is a PhD candidate in the School of Environment at the University of Auckland. Her research interests lie in the governance of river systems and the intersection of biophysical and social river science. Her previous work explored the process of vision development and implementation in river rehabilitation initiatives. Her current PhD work is examining the diversity of governance spaces sustainable river management can occupy. She holds a Bachelor of Science (Honours) and Master of Science from the University of Auckland.

Dr. Karen Fisher

Lecturer, School of Environment, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand

Karen Fisher is a lecturer with the School of Environment at the University of Auckland. She is primarily concerned with investigating governance, development and the environment. She is particularly interested in the role played by the private sector in facilitating development and the implications for society, particularly the poor. Her past research has focused on hybrid governance arrangements for urban water supply and evaluating opportunities for participation in a large-scale development project. Future research will continue to explore the complexities of water governance arrangements and urban-rural dynamics in light of climate variability and change. In addition, she is becoming increasingly interested in methodological issues that arise in the conduct of development-oriented research. In addition to her own research projects she has also worked in groups conducting research on a range of resource management-related issues in the Asia-Pacific region.

Prof. Gary Brierley

Chair, School of Environment, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand

Gary Brierley is Chair of Physical Geography at the University of Auckland. Gary Brierley is a river scientist who specialises in the use of science in management applications (especially river rehabilitation and conservation). There has been extensive uptake of a research tool that he co-developed (the River Styles framework ( His primary research interests presently lie in the development and application of coherent scientific guidance with which to promote an era of river repair in a manner that respects the inherent diversity and variability of river systems. Key themes for Professor Brierley’s research output include: sedimentology, human impacts on river systems, sediment budgets, river management, environmental governance and education. He has published extensively, and is co-author of two recent books, Geomorphology and River Management (Brierley & Fryirs 2005, Blackwell Press) and River Futures (Brierley & Fryirs (eds) 2008, Island Press). He holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) from Durham University, and a Master of Science and PhD from Simon Fraser University.

Prof. Nick Clifford

Professor, Department of Geography, Kings College London, London, UK

Nick Clifford is Professor of Physical Geography at King’s College London, and has over 20 years of research experience in fluvial and estuarine geomorphology. His research interests lie in the fields of river processes and management; in sustainable use of natural systems (especially water); and in geographical and environmental methods, techniques and philosophy. Present research foci include improving assessment criteria for river rehabilitation work; effects of signal crayfish on sediment transport and physical habitat in the River Windrush, Oxfordshire, UK; and the interface of water science, society and policy, directed towards the exploration of novel means of environmental knowledge creation and knowledge transfer.


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