Paternalism or participatory governance? Efforts and obstacles in implementing the Brazilian water policy in a large watershed

Marianna Siegmund-Schultze*, Verena Rodorff, Johann Köppel, Maria do Carmo Sobral

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


In many countries, governmental systems and their areas still mirror vanished historical logics rather than contemporary active citizenship based on environmental units. The Brazilian Water Act from 1997 institutionalizes the watershed as the planning unit and the creation of participatory watershed committees. What is the state of this radical shift in governance? Will the notorious system of alliances among powerful actors again impede participation of the broader public? How are the social actors dealing with their role as committee members? We establish our reasoning based on literature, documents published by a selected committee, observations while attending a plenary session, and carrying out key person interviews and a survey among members. Constellation analysis has been used to visualize the complex governance setting. The São Francisco River is a challenging case, as its watershed comprises a very large, heterogeneous and, about half of it, semiarid area. Sixty-two voluntary committee members are to govern the area of 16.6. million inhabitants. The established multi-level governance system (municipal, state, regional and federal scale) co-exists-external and internal frictions are unavoidable. So far, it appears that the governmental agencies are not yet ready to share responsibility. The committee members themselves are in a process of learning by doing. If participation is really wanted-in the study watershed and similarly others in the world-then both members of line organizations and the watershed committee need to build up more trust and should champion for the common goal. Nonetheless, controversies about the allocation and management of scarce water resources will continue be a tough challenge for the various actors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-130
Number of pages11
JournalLand Use Policy
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Brazil
  • Participation
  • Policy implementation
  • São Francisco River
  • Watershed committee


Dive into the research topics of 'Paternalism or participatory governance? Efforts and obstacles in implementing the Brazilian water policy in a large watershed'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this