NEWAVE PhD 11: Assessing the sustainability of water governance systems in global comparison

, , DE

Host institution: Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, Germany
Principal supervisor: Prof. Jens Newig
Co-supervisor: Prof. Sergio Villamayor-Tomas
Non-academic co-supervisor: Dr. Monika Weber-Fahr
Expected starting date: before 15 October 2020
Duration: 3 years


Numerous approaches exist to sustainably govern the world’s waters. These include participatory planning, privatization, river basin and watershed governance, or water pricing, just to name a few. It is, however, unclear, which of these governance approaches – or combinations thereof – have proven effective in maintaining or restoring environmentally sustainable water resources and ecosystems. This ESR project will contribute to generating both conceptual advances and robust empirical evidence on which approaches work in which contexts towards achieving sustainable water governance. To this end, the project will first review the literature on existing empirical studies on ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of water governance approaches (objective 1). Building on this, the project will seek to analytically dissect existing water governance institutions into ‘building blocks’ (objective 2). Ideally, all water governance institutions can be split up into a finite number of such building blocks. The further empirical analysis (objective 3) will then assess the performance of water governance institutions in selected countries by drawing on existing academic literature, document analysis and key expert interviews. Governance institutions will be analysed according to the building blocks they consist of, allowing for Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) of which combination of building blocks leads to sustainable outcomes (or not). Results will be discussed with leading experts and practitioners in the field in order to enhance usability and robustness of the research (objective 4).

This PhD position will:

  1. Identify ‘success’ and ‘failure’ (in terms of water-related sustainability) of existing water governance institutions through a systematic review of the empirical literature
  2. Analyse a broad range of existing concepts and approaches to water governance as to the institutional building blocks they are made of, with the aim of developing an analytical framework to empirically assess very different water governance institutions
  3. Empirically assess the performance of existing water governance institutions in approx. 15 countries in different continents through a comparative study, using the evaluative framework developed in (2)
  4. Draw conclusions for existing (combinations of) water governance institutions, in consultation with leading experts and practitioners.

Expected results:

  1. Identification of principal institutional building blocks of existing water governance institutions
  2. Evidence-informed assessment of how (combinations of) governance institutions deliver in terms of water-related sustainability
  3. Knowledge on the influence of context on the performance of water governance institutions.
About Leuphana University Lüneburg

Leuphana University Lüneburg is a young university, focusing on research in sustainability, cultural and political science, education, and management and entrepreneurship. With some 10,000 students and 700 researchers (including 160 professors), Leuphana has repeatedly been awarded for innovation, e.g. with the EU’s Innovation Incubator (more than € 50m). Founded in 2010, the Faculty of Sustainability integrates some 30 professorships spanning the natural and social sciences with a focus on interdisciplinary research and teaching. The Research Group on Governance, Participation and Sustainability, led by Prof. Newig, is a world-leading multidisciplinary group of senior and early-career social scientists which seeks to address the big challenges of governance in the context of environmental and sustainability politics, focusing in particular on sustainable water governance. The group’s work is committed to producing reliable evidence on what kind of governance interventions “work” in what contexts.

We seek
  • Above-average MSc (or equivalent degree) in Environmental Policy, Political Science, Public Administration, Environmental Science, Water Resources Management, or related fields
  • Excellent English communications skills (written and oral)
  • A commitment to academic excellence with a track record of high impact research
  • Interest to apply and further develop methods of evidence cumulation such as meta-analytical methods
  • Proven skills in executing empirical research in challenging contexts
  • Capacity to work independently and as part of a team
  • Examples of high-quality written work, such as a journal paper or equivalent
  • Outstanding interpersonal skills to work with different stakeholders
Eligibility criteria*
  • You must – at the date of recruitment – have obtained the MSc degree entitling you to embark on a doctorate
  • You must – at the date of recruitment – be within the first four years (full-time equivalent research experience) of your research career and not have a doctoral degree
  • Mobility rule: you must not have resided or carried out your main activity (work, studies, etc.) in the country of the host organisation you are applying for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately prior to the recruitment date. Compulsory national service and/or short stays such as holidays are not taken into account.

*Please make sure you comply with the eligibility criteria before applying. You need to be able to provide documentation proving your eligibility for recruitment. You can read the full description of eligibility criteria in the Information Note for ITN Fellows.


Dr. Jens Newig
Professor of Governance and Sustainability
Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany

Dr.Sergio Villamayor-Tomas
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain

Dr. Monika Weber-Fahr
Executive Secretary
Global Water Partnership (GWP), Sweden