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Identifying opportunities to improve governance of aquatic agricultural systems through participatory action research

J. Marina Apgar, formerly WorldFish, Penang, Malaysia; currently Institute of Development Studies, Brighton, UK
Philippa J. Cohen, WorldFish, Honiara, Solomon Islands; ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia
Blake D. Ratner, WorldFish, Penang, Malaysia
Sanjiv de Silva, International Water Management Institute, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Marie-Charlotte Buisson, International Water Management Institute, New-Delhi, India
Catherine Longley, formerly WorldFish, Lusaka, Zambia; currently Independent Consultant
Ram C. Bastakoti, International Water Management Institute, Kathmandu, Nepal
Everisto Mapedza, International Water Management Institute, Pretoria, South Africa


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Challenges of governance often constitute critical obstacles to efforts to equitably improve livelihoods in social-ecological systems. Yet, just as often, these challenges go unspoken, or are viewed as fixed parts of the context, beyond the scope of influence of agricultural, development, or natural resource management initiatives. What does it take to get governance obstacles and opportunities out in the open, creating the space for constructive dialogue and collective action that can help to address them? We respond to this question by comparing experiences of participatory action research (PAR) in coastal and floodplain systems in four countries (Zambia, Solomon Islands, Bangladesh, and Cambodia) with a focus on understanding how to build more equitable governance arrangements. We found that governance improvement was often an implicit or secondary objective of initiatives that initially sought to address more technical natural resource or livelihood-related development challenges. We argue that using PAR principles of ownership, equity, shared analysis, and feedback built trust and helped to identify and act upon opportunities to address more difficult-to-shift dimensions of governance particularly in terms of stakeholder representation, distribution of authority, and accountability. Our findings suggest that the engaged and embedded approach of researcher-facilitators can help move from identifying opportunities for governance change to supporting stakeholders as they build more equitable governance arrangements.

Key words

aquatic agricultural systems; equity; facilitation; governance; participatory action research; representation; transformation

Copyright © 2017 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087