Leong, Ching & Raul Lejano (2016, December). Thick narratives and the persistence of institutions: Using the Q methodology to analyse IWRM reforms around the Yellow River. Policy Sciences, 49, 445–465.(doi: 10.1007/s11077-016-9253-1)

Abstract: A dominant form of integrated water resources management (IWRM) assumes that existing parochial path dependencies need to be overcome to transform fragmented, contested regimes into the integrative design of IWRM. This paper is an exploratory study of stakeholder perceptions around China’s Yellow River, which has been hailed as a successful case of IWRM. We find that while water reforms have ostensibly achieved a programme that adheres to the formal discourse of IWRM, subjective perceptions of the stakeholders, as revealed by the Q methodology, still display elements of a localized, fragmented narrative, requiring constant negotiation. Primary elements of the discourse include the following positions: (1) localized, contextual approaches to governance persist; (2) market efficiency and environmental protection are seen as competing goals; and (3) technology creates new gains, but constant negotiation is needed to distribute them fairly. These narratives show that rather than “overturning” old paths, the water reforms created a deliberatory arena in which old and new ideas meld into what we refer to as a “thick” institutional narrative. Our work provides a new perspective on policy change, as well as the persistence of institutional life.

Ching Leong <ching@nus.edu.sg> is in the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore, Singapore.

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