The importance of networks

Developing relationships and engaging in conversations to build your knowledge, develop your contact base, and improve your effectiveness to address water management challenges

Water managers across the globe, by the nature of our profession, face challenges and draw upon our own knowledge and understanding to implement solutions.

On a weekly and sometimes daily basis, studies have been released that articulate the dire state of global water resources. For example, last week, the American Geophysical Union released a study that shows that by 2050, groundwater supplies for 1.8 billion people will be fully or nearly depleted because of excessive pumping for drinking water or agriculture.

Where there are these devastating challenges, there are also technical and managerial solutions available. Linking people who have expertise with those looking for these solutions can be done through networks, such as IWA-Connect, SuSanA, specialist facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, and others. Networks provide more than only information, research, and news. The AWP is looking to leverage existing networks to share knowledge among practitioners in the Asia Pacific. Networks allow for professionals to link directly with others that have faced similar issues and been able to tackle these issues overtime periods spanning years or even decades.

Knowledge in the field of water resource management and Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) in particular is often built through practice and is highly linked with contextual factors and personal experience. As a consequence, this knowledge can often be seen as abstract and difficult to articulate and access. This is where networks can be essential, as conversations flow in two directions, and knowledge and understanding can be built and developed through dialogue.

Three types of IWRM knowledge

Mukhtarov and Gerlak (2014) usefully distinguish between three types of knowledge in IWRM: prescriptive, discursive, and practical:

  • Prescriptive: best-practice knowledge, where there are clear definitions of problems and solutions. IWRM plans, legislation, policies and procedural documents all are examples of prescriptive knowledge.
  • Discursive: frameworks for addressing conflicting values. UN-Water literature, World Water Development Reports, and International declarations are examples of discursive knowledge.
  • Practical: knowledge resulting from collaborative, on-ground interaction. Participatory planning processes, case studies, and evaluation reports represent the outputs from this kind of knowledge.

While prescriptive and discursive knowledge categories can be communicated well through published standards, reports, frameworks and software, practical knowledge is a more difficult nut to crack. Sharing lessons learned and strategic decisions made through the process of implementing and IWRM project can be difficult to unpack in a way that fits neatly into a report, for example. Networks may prove to be a fruitful way to share practical knowledge.

Sharing and building upon practical knowledge for improved water management

Often, practical knowledge stays within organisations, although the benefit of sharing this type of knowledge can be instrumental to others looking to solve complex challenges. It is often through networks that this type of knowledge is made accessible. When members of an online community are aligned through having a common cause, and some personal interaction, they can build relationships and develop their own competences. In today’s connected world, technology is no longer a barrier.

Through networks, we water management practitioners can reach out to mentors and collaborators. We can track conversations and participate in discussions, and support one another without having to travel the world or even pick up the phone. We can debate new technologies and new approaches, and we can instantly connect with experts who can give us feedback and insight to guide how we engage in our work.


Mukhtarov, F. & Gerlak, A.K. (2014) Epistemic forms of integrated water resources management: towards knowledge versatility. Policy Sci, 47:101–120.

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