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Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by the Resilience Alliance.Morinville, C., and L. M. Harris. 2014. Participation, politics, and panaceas: exploring the possibilities and limits of participatoryurban water governance in Accra, Ghana. Ecology and Society 19(3): 36. http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-06623-190336Research, part of a Special Feature on Urban Water GovernanceParticipation, politics, and panaceas: exploring the possibilities and limits ofparticipatory urban water governance in Accra, GhanaCynthia Morinville 1 and Leila M. Harris 1ABSTRACT. Water governance debates have increasingly recognized the importance of adaptive governance for short- and long-termsustainability, especially with respect to increasing climate unpredictability and growing urbanization. A parallel focus on enhancingcommunity participation pervades international development recommendations and policy literature. Indeed, there are often implicitand explicit connections made between the participatory character of water governance institutions and their adaptive capacity. Thesocial-ecological systems literature, however, has also urged caution with respect to embracing panaceas, with increasing calls to beattentive to the limitations of proposed “solutions.” We discuss the parallels between the adaptive governance, comanagement, andparticipatory resource governance literatures and analyze efforts to encourage such participation in urban water governance throughLocal Water Boards in Accra, Ghana. Drawing on interview data, participant observations, and a survey of 243 individuals, we exploredwhat participatory spaces have been opened or foreclosed as well as the possibilities for adaptive urban water governance in Accra.Applying insights from recent debates about panaceas, we argue that discerning the potential and limits for sustainable resourcegovernance and associated development goals requires that participatory mechanisms be subjected to systematic and contextual analysis.Key Words: adaptive governance; Ghana; Local Water Boards; participatory governance; water governanceINTRODUCTIONIncreasing population, urbanization, and climate variationpresent cities with a number of water governance challenges.Adaptive water governance is often presented as an approach tomore effectively and equitably meet human and ecosystem needsin the face of hydrologic change and uncertainty (Huntjens et al.2011, Pahl-Wostl et al. 2012). In the global South, theseapproaches intersect with a strong focus on participatorygovernance institutions in both water governance andinternational development recommendations. We explore therelationship between these parallel and convergent trends ofadaptive capacity and participatory governance. In our case studyof underserved settlements in Accra, Ghana, we also consider thepotential to deliver on the promise of adaptable and inclusiveinstitutions and governance systems, as well as extended wateraccess. Beginning with some theoretical discussion, we then offeran empirical examination of these approaches through a casestudy of the Local Water Boards (LWBs) recently established inseveral communities of Accra, Ghana. Like many urban areas ofthe global South, Accra is part of a functioning democracy butfaces considerable poverty levels, inadequate infrastructure, andongoing challenges related to both extending water access andfostering more inclusive governance. At present, approximatelyhalf  of the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (GAMA) is servedby a piped system administered by the municipal public utility,Ghana Water Company Limited (GWCL; Ainuson 2010, Adanket al. 2011). Although this article considers some of the challengesassociated with extending access to water and sanitation servicesin underserved areas of Accra, the primary focus is on currentefforts to promote participation, most notably through LWBs,and the implications for adaptive and participatory watergovernance. We review the relevant literature on adaptive governance,participation, and panaceas. We then present a detailed discussionof our case study’s context and methodology. We analyze resultsand argue that although LWBs are promising mechanisms topromote greater participation in urban water governance inAccra, and perhaps other cities in the global South facing similarchallenges, significant limitations remain. Such mechanismsshould therefore be subjected to close scrutiny and thoughtfulevaluation rather than treated as a panacea.CONVERGING APPROACHES: ADAPTIVE ANDPARTICIPATORY WATER GOVERNANCEAdaptive governance and social-ecological systemsThe concept of adaptive governance, including adaptive watergovernance, draws on debates in natural resource managementgenerally and adaptive management and comanagement inparticular (Dietz et al. 2003, Olsson et al. 2004, Nadasdy 2007).Governance, as opposed to management, refers to how decisionsare made and by whom; adaptive governance thus aims to addressthe complexity and nonequilibristic character of ecosystemsthrough governance processes that foster dynamic learning anditerative feedback by constantly reassessing decision making andoutcomes (Lee 1999, Olsson et al. 2004, 2006). Managementactions are considered as ongoing experiments that can testhypotheses about expected results and therefore seen as anopportunity and imperative to learn and modify approaches(Folke et al. 2005). This approach has been bolstered both by agrowing appreciation of the inadequacy of top-down approachesto resource management and an enriched understanding of thecomplexity of human and ecological systems. Building on thefield of social-ecological systems, which highlights theinterdependence, complexity, and uncertainty of social andenvironmental systems, adaptive governance also focuses onextending ecosystem and resilience concepts to include a “humandimension” as well as on the need to adopt a “systems thinking”approach to achieve resilience (Holling 1978, Holling and Meffe1996). Linked to adaptive governance, the comanagementapproach also aims to move beyond top-down decision makingand include the input of local populations. As summarized byFolke et al. (2005:448), comanagement “relies on the1The University of British Columbia, Institute for Resources, Environment and SustainabilityEcology and Society 19(3): 36http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol19/iss3/art36/collaboration of a diverse set of stakeholders, operating atdifferent levels, often through networks from local users tomunicipalities, to regional and national organizations, and alsoto international bodies” (see also Olsson et al. 2004). Together,these approaches have been termed “adaptive co-management”(Olsson et al. 2004), which represents a convergence of thoughtaround participatory and adaptive institutions and governancepractices as key to fostering greater effectiveness and equity inresource governance and to avoid problems emerging from a lackof direct engagement with affected populations, which can leadto inadequate monitoring, scalar mismatches, and failuresattributable to contextually inappropriate or one-size-fits-allapproaches (see Ostrom 1990, Cumming et al. 2006).  Complementary concepts sharing an implicit focus oncollaboration between different actors and across scales includepolycentricity, the necessity of multiple decision centers;multiscalar approaches, nesting these units at multiple scales,particularly to avoid “scalar mismatches”; and social learning,the experimental design of management adopting a “learning-by-doing” approach (Folke et al. 2002, 2005, Berkes et al. 2003,Gunderson et al. 2006, Lebel et al. 2006, Huitema et al. 2009,Pahl-Wostl 2009, Pahl-Wostl et al. 2011, Bakker and Morinville2013). Arguably, the need to engage local actors also inheres inthese related concepts. For instance, the threat of scalarmismatches is heightened when actors are not engaged ingovernance processes across scales. This can lead to processes ordecisions at a particular scale that do not scale up or scale downand may not secure a buy-in from all relevant actors. Moreover,as Ostrom’s (1990) exploration of common pool resourcegovernance clearly demonstrates, failure to engage local actorsfrequently results in inadequate monitoring, ineffectivegovernance, and poor outcomes. These multiple approachesdemonstrate a strong imperative, both explicit and implicit, forparticipation. The international development and watergovernance literatures, to which we turn next, echo thisparticipatory imperative with a similar focus on effectivegovernance in addition to considerations such as equity (Agarwal2001, 2010).Participatory water governance and international developmentperspectivesSince the 1980s, participatory governance has evolved into amainstream discourse in international development theory andpractice (Hickey and Mohan 2004), as well as in the realms ofwater governance (Harris et al. 2013) and conservation (Nadasdy2005). As noted previously, these perspectives parallel many ofthe insights of adaptive governance approaches, although thelatter have tended to focus mainly on North American, European,and industrialized contexts (McLain and Lee 1996, Olsson et al.2004, Nadasdy 2005, Armitage et al. 2008, 2011). Internationaldevelopment literatures, as with adaptive comanagementscholarship, often present participation as central to overcomingthe disjuncture between top-down policies and localities,improving outcomes by applying local knowledges, e.g., forpoverty alleviation (Ahmad 2003), or leading to more effectivemonitoring by directly involving communities in ruleestablishment and enforcement (Ostrom 1990). Furthermore,participation and community-based planning are increasinglyconsidered as crucial components of climate change adaptationprograms aiming to foster better preparedness and thus resiliencefor vulnerable communities (Lim et al. 2004, Tompkins and Adger2004, Few et al. 2007, Westerhoff and Smit 2009). Severalnoteworthy international agreements, including the AarhusConvention on Participatory Management for EnvironmentalMatters (UNECE 1998), the Dublin Principles (1992), and theBonn Recommendations for Action (Secretariat of theInternational Conference on Freshwater 2001), reiterate thesuggestion that policies regarding water be developed on the basisof consultations with those affected; the latter two agreementsoffer recommendations specific to water issues (see also Goldin2013 for a discussion of participatory water governance).Proponents have also argued that, in addition to ensuring effectivenatural resource management, participatory processes are a wayof fostering equity and community empowerment, includingamong women and other marginalized members of society(Schreiner et al. 2004).Power, politics, and panaceaDespite such diverse and frequent calls for participation, theempirical evidence with respect to its manifold putative benefitsremains ambivalent (Cleaver 2001, Cooke and Kothari 2001,Hickey and Mohan 2004). Although some case studies documentthe advantages of participatory and deliberative governanceprocesses (e.g., Lebel et al. 2006), others demonstrate the manyways in which participation instead often falls short of realizingstated social and environmental objectives (e.g., O’Reilly andDhanju 2012). Participatory approaches have performedparticularly poorly with respect to community empowermentgoals; supportive evidence is both thin (Parkes et al. 2010) anddisputed by documentation across a range of contexts suggestingthat communities may be further marginalized by participation-reliant governance processes (e.g., Agarwal 2001). Although theparticipatory governance literature has paid increasing attentionto issues of social power (Cooke and Kothari 2001, Hickey andMohan 2004, Nadasdy 2005), the adaptive comanagementliterature has focused relatively less on these questions, assummarized previously (for promising discussions, see Nadasdy2003, Kofinas 2005, Spaeder 2005, Armitage 2008, Pahl-Wostl2009, Pahl-Wostl et al. 2011, Bakker and Morinville 2013). Wesuggest that more careful and critical assessments of participationand social power are warranted for adaptive governance, sociallearning, and parallel discussions aligned more closely with social-ecological systems debates. As we detail subsequently, mandatingparticipation without sufficient attention to the influences ofsocial context, power dynamics, and politics risks creating whatOstrom and Cox (2010:452) have described as a panacea problem(see also Ostrom 2007, Pahl-Wostl et al. 2012):  The panacea problem occurs whenever a single presumedsolution is applied to a wide range of problems. Thisproblem has two distinct dimensions. The first dimensionoccurs in situations where a theory is too precise to beflexibly adapted to the range of cases to which it is applied[also know as a blueprint approach to governance]. Theother dimension involves theories that are excessivelyvague instead of excessively precise. We suggest that adaptive governance perspectives, with theirimplicit focus on participation as described previously, mightEcology and Society 19(3): 36http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol19/iss3/art36/therefore benefit from the critical perspectives on participatoryapproaches outlined in international development and watergovernance, and conservation literatures, if  they are to avoid suchpanacea problem. We review these critiques before moving on toour case study of Accra’s LWBs.Critical perspectives on participationAn increasing body of critical work has called participation intoquestion, charging that the concept of “community” is too oftenromanticized (Cleaver 2001), that preoccupation with the “local”overlooks the multiscalar (re)production of power relations, andthat participation has emerged as “hegemonic” in ways thatpotentially sideline discussions of alternatives (Harris et al. 2013).It is also suggested that participatory approaches may result in aburdensome “devolution” of responsibility to vulnerablecommunities (see Walker 1999, Ribot 2002, Kesby 2005);considering the significant capacity, time, and resourcerequirements, tasking marginalized groups with solving watergovernance challenges may be inappropriate (Harris 2009). Manyscholars accordingly express concerns about the potential ofparticipatory governance to entrench power dynamics, usher innew modes of governmentality, or perpetuate inequalities(Agarwal 2001, Cooke and Kothari 2001, Ribot 2002, Harris2005, 2009, Kesby 2005, Goldin 2010). Moreover, an emphasison “formal” participation oftentimes values concrete andcountable issues like meeting attendance over less tangiblequestions such as the quality or equity dimensions ofparticipation, particularly with attention to gender, caste, class,race, and so forth (see Agarwal 2001, Barnes 2013, Morales andHarris, in press), in addition to neglecting participation that mayoccur outside of formally recognized spaces.[1] Power dynamics,as necessary corollaries of empowerment, must therefore behighlighted in scholarship concerned with the roles of formal andinformal processes in fostering or constraining meaningfulparticipation (Agarwal 2001, Zwarteveen et al. 2010, Barnes 2013,Morales and Harris, in press). O’Reilly and Dhanju (2012:627)write that “when participatory approaches do not engage witheveryday power dynamics, either among citizens, or betweencitizens and the state—they become technical routines or simplya discourse applied without commitment to political change.” Allof these insights, we suggest, offer openings for productivediscussions in the adaptive governance and comanagementliteratures, as well as a point of departure for our case study ofLWBs in urban Accra, Ghana.CASE STUDYThis study is part of a broader comparative and collaborativeproject on water access and participatory governance in informaland underserved settlements of Accra, Ghana, and Cape Town,South Africa (EDGES [Environment and Development: Gender,Equity, Sustainability], http://www.edges.ubc.ca). The researchwe present is specifically concerned with the implementation ofLWBs in several underserved areas of Accra as an approach toparticipatory water governance. As with most other contexts,water governance in Accra includes a strong focus onparticipatory approaches; calls for participation are found acrossmultiple scales and institutions, including the World Bank, theGovernment of Ghana, the municipality of Accra, as well asamong nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that operate inthe communities studied. The World Bank (2014), for instance,clearly states that “participation and civic engagement” is aprimary theme of its Urban Water Project in Ghana. CooperativeHousing Foundation International Ghana (http://www.chfinternationalghana.org/), hereafter CHF, an NGO operatingin Accra,[2] also maintains: “Using a community-driven approachthat involves residents and a broad range of stakeholders, CHFis helping to improve availability and access to water andsanitation services.” Accra accordingly presents an interestingcase to consider the potential and limits of participatory watergovernance, offering insights that may also be relevant for othercontexts in the global South and across the globe.ContextGhana’s capital city, Accra, is a fast-growing, coastal urban centerfacing considerable planning challenges, including a populationexpected to increase more than twofold in the coming decade(Government of Ghana 2011) and the uncertain impacts ofclimate change (Douglas et al. 2008). The GWCL is the mainprovider of drinking water in the GAMA. Estimates regardingwater access across Accra vary considerably; one source reportsthat, in 2010, 59% of households in Accra had a connection(Ghana News Agency, cited in Ainuson 2010), and anothersuggests that 51% of the population in GAMA has direct accessto the municipal utility water supply (Adank et al. 2011). ForGhana nationally, another source states that 91% of urbanresidents, including but not limited to residents of Accra, haveaccess to improved drinking water,[3] but only 32% of residentshave their own connection (WHO/UNICEF 2012). The system isalso commonly reported to suffer shortfalls between demand andsupply. In response, GWCL relies on a rationing schedule tomanually isolate certain neighborhoods and direct water to otherareas of the city on certain days. Certain neighborhoods arescheduled to receive water seven days a week, whereas others areonly scheduled to have access once per week. Intermittent supplyis also reportedly common apart from the rationing schedule,meaning that some households receive water only for a couple ofhours even on days with scheduled service. Thus, even with ∼50%coverage, it is estimated that only 25% of Accra’s residents havecontinuous water access (Ainuson 2010). Unconnectedhouseholds and those affected by shortages often rely onsecondary and tertiary providers, e.g., tanker services, watervendors or kiosks, and sachet or bottled water, providers whooften obtain their water directly from GWCL and then sell it fora profit. It is notable that some of these sources would qualify as“improved water sources,” thus helping to explain the 91%estimate cited previously (see footnote 3). As we discusssubsequently, in the communities investigated, several of thesemodes of access, e.g., water tanks used by vendors, may bemediated by NGOs or community entities such as LWBs.MethodologyFive communities were involved with this study, detailed inCommunities investigated. The case study is based on a mixed-methods approach, including both quantitative and qualitativedata collection. Specifically, the data we mobilize draw from (1)a series of 43 qualitative, in-depth semistructured and expertinterviews; (2) participant observations at community meetingsand events; and (3) a quantitative survey of 243 individuals,conducted in 2 communities of urban Accra. In-depth semistructured interviews were conducted withcommunity members/residents, selected through a snowballsampling method, and members of LWBs during 2011-2012 in 4Ecology and Society 19(3): 36http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol19/iss3/art36/Table 1. Communities investigated. Community DescriptionTeshie Indigenous community.Older coastal settlement.Serious water shortages: the two mains supplying Accra near their end as they reach the community.Ashaiman Recently established in-migrant community.Peri-urban location on the northeast outskirts of GAMA.Connectivity maps and information provided by GWCL suggest that the community should have relatively good access to thepiped network given its proximity to the Tema reservoir.Many households cannot afford the high connection fees and monthly invoices.Nima Often cited as Accra’s largest slum with particularly poor infrastructure and acute poverty.Largely connected to GWCL’s piped water network.Subjected to rationing that reduces services to two to three days/week.High elevation results in water shortages due to low system pressure.Ayidiki Considerable recent in-migration and population growth.Middle-level elevation renders the settlement prone to pressure-related shortages.Piped network reaches the settlement but connectivity remains limited.Lack of infrastructure results in water availability issues.Sukura Lower elevation.Most favorable situation in terms of water access among our study sites.Settlement often characterized as precarious in terms of infrastructure and poverty.underserved communities of GAMA: Teshie, Nima, Ayidiki, andSukura. LWBs were functioning in the first 3 communities, withnone in place in Sukura. Inclusion of communities without LWBsis part of our broader research effort on water access andgovernance in GAMA and allows us to consider questions ofinterest with respect to the effectiveness of the LWBs, as well aspossibilities for participatory governance in instances where suchformal institutions do not exist. Although an in-depth evaluationof other participatory mechanisms and possibilities is beyond ourscope, we include a brief  discussion in Results and discussion (seealso Peloso 2014). Expert interviews were also conducted withutility representatives, NGO staff, and government officials at themunicipal level in 2011-2012.  In addition, data were gathered through participant observationsat community meetings and events, including a 2012 communityfeedback session focused on the LWBs. The participants in thissession included those sites we had studied with LWBs, as well asone additional community with an active LWB where we had notdone previous research (Avenor). At this feedback session, wepresented our results and solicited community responses andreactions. We provide a sense of the reactions at several points inthe discussion that follows. The quantitative survey was implemented in collaboration withlocal partners as part of a broader multiyear research project[4] in2012 in the communities of Teshie (n = 120) and Ashaiman (n =123). Although Teshie has a functioning LWB, Ashaiman doesnot. Again, the presence of an LWB in only 1 of the 2 communitiesallows for some comparisons, which we discuss, albeit briefly, inResults and discussion. The survey constitutes a secondary dataset and is referred to throughout to contextualize the trends thatwere highlighted by the qualitative components of the study.  Although we draw on experiences of LWBs from severalcommunities, we do not report our results in a comparativefashion but rather seek to identify the range of experiences withLWBs across Accra. Our focus on multiple communities, however,allows us to speak to the broader range of issues that might be atplay in various LWBs. For the analysis, respondents’ statementswere coded and then organized by themes, informed by theliterature presented in Converging approaches: adaptive andparticipatory water governance. For each theme presented inResults and discussion, we draw on a key example, vignette, orillustrative quote to demonstrate the range of issues relevant tothe implementation of LWBs in these communities. Given ourinterest in speaking to the range of experiences, we aim to presenta broad-ranging discussion and not necessarily to suggest thatthese trends are generalizable to all of Accra or all LWBs.However, whenever community or organizational dynamics docome across as less generalizable, and very specific to that context,we specify accordingly.Communities investigatedAll five communities investigated qualify as underserved areaswhen it comes to water provision and other basic services andcorrespond to the United Nations Human SettlementsProgramme (UN-HABITAT) definition of slums.[5] We providea brief  overview of our study communities in Table 1.Local water boardsLWBs were initiated in 2007 and are currently operational acrossurban Accra, including in 3 of the communities investigated, i.e.,Nima, Teshie, and Ayidiki. Although all boards share somegeneral characteristics, they also differ considerably dependingon the locality or the particular partners involved. LWBs generallyinclude elected representatives from a number of “interestgroups,” e.g., women, youth, elders, and so forth, within acommunity for a total of 10 to 15 members. Teshie’s water boardwas the first to be established by the utility company (GWCL) in2007 as part of a propoor initiative (interview with GWCLofficial, 19 July 2011; interview with LWB member, 11 July 2011).The utility later established LWBs in 6 other communities ofAccra, including Nima in 2008. CHF became involved withNima’s LWB in 2009. Targeting Nima and other communitiesEcology and Society 19(3): 36http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol19/iss3/art36/based on the poor water and sanitation conditions, CHF went onto follow the model of Nima’s LWB and established similar boards[6] in 2 other communities of Accra, including Ayidiki in 2010,and 2 communities outside of Accra (interview with CHF, 13 July2011). More recently, the Public Utility Regulatory Commission(PURC) also established boards in several communities of Accraas part of a pilot project, including 1 in Teshie.  Although a primary goal of the LWBs is to promote localparticipation, the boards are also, at times, responsible for theprovision of a certain portion of the water in the community. Forinstance, the LWB in Teshie is responsible for the administrationof a tanker as well as several water kiosks, including hiring a driverfor the tanker and vendors for the kiosks. The tanker is filled ata provision point administered by GWCL where water is paid forup front by the LWB. The LWB in turn facilitates distribution ofthe water to vendors, who then sell it to community members ata fixed price established jointly by the board, GWCL, and PURC.Water kiosks in Nima and Ayidiki are slightly different than theones found in Teshie. No tankers are involved, and the kiosks relyon a direct connection to the mains. Water is nonetheless storedin polytanks[7] to avoid access problems associated with shortagesor inconsistent delivery through the municipal network. GWCLagain charges the board for the water, and the board employsvendors who sell it to community members at a fixed price. Nima’sLWB, with the financial help of CHF, in turn funded by the UnitedStates Agency for International Development (USAID) and theBill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will also add two boreholesto supply the community in times of shortage.[8] LWBs establishedin partnership with CHF also focus considerable effort onbehavioral change related to sanitation. Furthermore, LWBs canalso facilitate the process of getting a private connection to thenetwork or a private latrine. Although the LWB mediates suchactivities, not everything goes through the organization, and notall water flowing through a community is administered by theLWB. For instance, individuals connected directly to the mainsare not reliant on the extensions provided by the board, and manyprivate vendor services also operate within these communities.RESULTS AND DISCUSSIONWe draw primarily from qualitative data gathered via interviewsand participant observations to highlight, through residents’ ownwords and vignettes, the possibilities and limits of participatorywater governance in the form of LWBs currently operationalwithin Accra. The results are organized according to themes thatemerged through the qualitative data, as well as those identifiedin the participatory governance literature. In terms of the analysis,the themes highlighted speak both to the elements that werestressed as effective, or operating well, as well as those elementsthat were highlighted as being ineffective, inequitable, or in needof improvement with respect to participatory governance aims.Although not comprehensive, the subsequent themes andillustrations give us a sense of the degree to which LWBscontribute to effective or equitable water governance or meetingthe objectives of participatory and adaptive governance in thecommunities investigated.Communication channelFirst, the LWBs can serve as a channel for communicationbetween the community and the utility (GWCL). One LWBchairperson expressed, for instance, the sense that LWBs serve tocommunicate key challenges and needs of the community to thewater utility:  There is a lot of collaboration because they know us, wealso know them. They call us, we call them. We havemeetings concerning water related programs in thecommunity. So for instance, when they were doing thepipe laying they had to disconnect a particular group lineand these community members came here to complain tous. I also called GWCL to lodge the complaint and theycame and rectified it. (Interview with LWB chairperson,14 July 2011).  This function appears critical considering GWCL’s generalabsence in underserved communities. LWBs may therefore offeran opportunity to hold the utility or community accountable toone another. Community members interviewed also suggestedthat LWBs have become the go-to organization when issuesregarding water arise. At the same time, data from the surveyreport that there is not a great deal of familiarity with watermanagement entities, with 96% reporting no such committeesexist, only 2 respondents (< 1%) reporting they would “go to anNGO” to raise concerns related to water, and 26% reporting theywould “go to a local councilor or representative,” in turn likely tobe a member of the board. This suggests that LWBs may offerone avenue for residents to voice their concerns. Nonetheless,possibilities for broad community engagement appear to remainlimited given that few survey respondents seem to be aware of thepresence of entities such as LWBs in their communities. Furthermore, a representative from the utility reported thatcommunication with the community typically occurs after issuesarise rather than through regular interactions. Communicationsremain reactionary, ad hoc, and rooted in specific problems(interview with utility representative, 19 July 2011). LWBs thusoffer certain elements of adaptive governance institutions: apolycentric system nested at multiple scales. That being said,current challenges to effective communication present limits froma social learning perspective. If  we consider that there needs tobe regular and transparent communication between entities tobuild trust and share information for adaptive responses, theevidence on communication supports the argument that LWBsappear to have potential but face clear limitations at present.Extended access and fixed price for waterLWBs, despite falling short of universal coverage by a largemargin, also serve to extend water and sanitation access tounderserved communities. Although this is in line with promisedbenefits, the schemes implemented also result in communitieshaving to prepay for water infrastructure and services.[9] This canhelp to overcome long-standing issues regarding nonrevenuewater, estimated at 50% of current production in GAMA.However, it does little to alleviate affordability challenges that aresignificant for many residents of these areas; consider that 68%of survey respondents in Accra reported that they do not findwater to be “affordable.” At the same time, LWBs sell water at anestablished price, negotiated between the utility, vendors, and thedifferent partner organizations, which can set expectations, andreduce potential stress associated with haggling prices on a dailybasis for community members (see Wutich and Ragsdale 2008 fora broader discussion on stress and water access based on aCochabamba, Bolivia, case study).Ecology and Society 19(3): 36http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol19/iss3/art36/Infrastructural legacyLinked with extending water access to underserved communities,infrastructural development constitutes one of the maincontributions and lasting impacts of LWBs for communities. Forexample, a partnership with a Dutch development organizationresulted in the donation of a tanker to Teshie’s LWB, helping thecommunity to cope in times of shortages. In Nima, CHF fundedthe drilling of two boreholes supplementing water supply to thecommunity. In Ayidiki, CHF contributed to laying down pipesacross the area, thereby extending coverage. In many other cases,the LWBs and partner organizations installed large tanks to storewater for times when the communities are subject to rationing orface other shortages. Generally funded by large donor agencies,such as USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, thesepartnerships also have the potential to bring tensions given thedifferent development agendas of involved partners, as we discusssubsequently.Procedural nature of developmentThe heavily procedural nature of water-related development inAccra presents further limits to LWBs’ ability to extend wateraccess or promote more learning and adaptive governance inunderserved areas. Despite LWBs often facilitating the process ofgetting a new connection or building a permitted latrine forcommunity members, as noted previously, the steps required forsuch development are considerable. The process generally involvesthe homeowner or household head, the LWB, the NGO, amicrofinance organization, the utility, and the submetro, the localgovernment responsible for sanctioning the development plans.The complex process may discourage participation and, in turn,limit LWBs’ potential to broker improvements regarding wateraccess or infrastructure in communities. An LWB member alludedto these challenges when describing the working relationship withthe submetro:[10]  Well for the municipality helping us, there is a bit ofcollaboration but not much at all it’s not helpful wemainly work with CHF, the water company and thesubmetro. But what I’m saying is that the submetro it’sa challenge, it’s very difficult because as a governmentinitiative to get Accra as a millennium city, we werethinking that this intervention from CHF and USAID,there [would] be some speed. But you don’t see that, youdon’t see that coming from the submetro. There issomething, I cannot describe. (Interview with LWBmember, 14 July 2011) This statement illustrates the frustration linked with having tonegotiate the complex multiscalar governance landscape, as wellas the difficulties of engagement and working with particularentities such as the submetro. Again, akin to the broaderparticipatory governance literature, this begs a question regardingthe specific instances for which participation is the key, and thosefor which broader institutional or governance reform may be moresuitable for improved access, accountability, efficiency, or equitygoals.Burden on communitiesLWBs are based on the voluntary work of their members, whichecho challenges and concerns raised in the literature with regardto devolving the burden of water management to communities orto certain segments of these populations. One youthrepresentative emphasized the challenges of this voluntary laborfor community members:  This board is not paid. It is a volunteer job that we aredoing. It’s not being paid and look at me. I’m a youngguy, right. Abandon my jobs and sit in meetings and stufflike that. It is very challenging. You abandon your workthat you have to do on your [computer] and come sithere three or four hours discussing issues that would bringthis community ahead. But, I’ve [also] learn[ed] a wholelot from it not [every]thing that you do [has] to collectmoney or something like that. You have to sometime alsovolunteer some of your time to do this communal workand you’re pleased to do that. (Interview with LWBmember, 25 July 2011) We see the importance for any assessment of participatory andadaptive governance approaches to consider the burden ofdevolution as a central feature of these approaches. To the degreethat we expect communities to engage and provide feedback, orto invest time and resources, consideration must also be given tothe possibility of compensation, or to the likely uneven andskewed nature of the resulting participation if  such compensationis not available.External influenceAll LWBs investigated as part of this research were establishedby an agency external to the communities, which may limit theirability to represent community members in a grassroots sense.This raises questions regarding how transformative and trulyparticipatory the LWBs may be as a governance model, at leastin their current form. Many of these issues were confirmed in aCommunity Debrief  Session we held in 2012. We gatheredrepresentatives from three of Accra’s LWBs to discuss the resultsof this work. Among other issues, the feedback discussionemphasized the reliance on voluntary labor. Communitymembers also made allusions to the strictness of donors. Inparticular, board members felt limited in their potential torespond to community concerns given the lack of flexibilityaround funding requirements and donor agendas. Furthermore,the need for communities to commit to rigid multiyear plans offersfew opportunities for adjustments and presents significant limitsfor the adaptive capacity of these schemes. Contrary to the theoryof flexible and adaptive governance, reliance on external fundingand long-range planning processes meant that communities were,in effect, very limited in their ability to respond to changingconditions. As such, the current framework of Accra’s LWBs doesnot allow ready adaptation to new priorities, even when thesituation on the ground has shifted (see Hailey 2001 for adiscussion of the influence of external funders in general terms).Formal and informal participationLWBs represent formal institutions for participation in Accra,but as such, they may also circumscribe what is understood as“appropriate” participation. As highlighted by the literature onparticipatory governance, there is a need to consider other, i.e.,informal, modes of engagement. To do so, it is instructive toconsider ways that community members engage in decisionmaking related to water use, access, or condition, in short,governance, beyond the remit of the LWBs. We mobilize twoexamples to consider these types of informal and unsanctionedmodes of engagement. Ecology and Society 19(3): 36http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol19/iss3/art36/Our first example is the case of a vendor who split from one ofthe LWBs, taking over the polytank, i.e., storage tank, that theboard had provided. He suggested that the board had notmaintained regular water supply for him to sell and, as such, hadnot upheld its end of the bargain. He also suggested thatquarreling with certain members of the board made it difficult towork with them, pointing out the types of challenges that areinevitable with participatory governance (interview with watervendor, 22 July 2011). The board involved in this dispute dismissedthe vendor and derided his actions. During interviews, membersof the board highlighted that he was no longer a participant inthe board’s activities. This situation raises interesting questionsfrom a participatory governance perspective. The vendor wasclearly still engaged in managing and providing water in thecommunity. He interacted directly with private tanker servicesand was able to overcome difficulties associated withinterruptions in service. However, he was no longer considered a“participant” in a formal sense given his split from the LWB. Thisexample raises important questions regarding the types ofinvolvement that are recognized as “participatory” or consideredacceptable. Does the vendor’s continuing engagement with waterdelivery constitute a form of participation, or because he nolonger works within the remit of the board, are his activities ratherworking against the principles of participatory water governance,as some comments by LWB members might suggest?  Our second example concerns the establishment of a “splinter”second board in one of the communities we studied. In partbecause of political divisions and other challenges among themembership of the first board, a different external organizationthan the one involved with the original board established a secondLWB in the community. In the current situation, both entitiesquestion and dismiss the legitimacy of the other board,significantly limiting the efficiency of both boards to fulfill theirmandates and their ability to foster inclusive water governanceprocesses in the community (interview with government officialinvolved with LWBs, 12 July 2012). This not only raises questionsaround how participatory and adaptive water governance systemsshould be organized and implemented, but also underlines issueswith prescribed solutions superimposed by external agencies.  We find that both of these cases challenge simplistic ways ofunderstanding participation and also provide illustrations of theways that participatory approaches can become overly rigid,excluding other modes of engagement. As participation isincreasingly called for and mainstreamed, it becomes difficult, ifnot impossible, to recognize or validate that which falls outsidethose dominant frameworks, as with notions of hegemonicunderstandings in water governance (see Harris et al. 2013). Someof these alternative engagements could, nonetheless, holdtransformative potential for community participation and accessto water; again, consider the parallels in long-standing work oninformal institutions (e.g., Ostrom 1990).Politics and social powerBefore moving to a discussion, we present one last illustrativeexample looking more closely at the importance of the broadercontext in which participatory schemes unfold, or areimplemented, including factors such as social power, powerdynamics, and politics. We consider the case of Sukura. In theabsence of a preselected and formally sanctioned LWB,community members in this district have organized themselvesdifferently to engage the utility (GWCL) in a dialogue. Thecommunity worked on a Community Scorecard project to gradethe utility for the services the communities receives, and GWCLengaged in a self-assessment of its services. They later met togetherto discuss discrepancies in the grading and issues affecting thecommunity (interview with National Coalition Against thePrivatization of Water activists, 1 July 2011; interview with officialfrom the Coalition of NGOs on Water and Sanitation, orCONIWAS, 20 July 2011). First, even as these types of directengagement appear promising, again they were facilitated by anexternal entity, in this case CONIWAS. This again raises questionsregarding the influence of actors external to the community.Second, although the community is engaged in water governanceprocesses through the Community Scorecard program, it isinteresting to consider the history of its engagement. Sukura is an in-migrant community, and a majority of its residentsare Muslim. In 2001, the community was subjected to police raidstwice in the same week, after which community membersorganized themselves. In the words of one of our key informants:“Some of us began to say no, no, no, we will not allow this. Sowe began organizing ourselves also to have our own kind ofresistance” (interview with Local Action Committee [LAC]member, 1 July 2011). The Integrated Social Development Centrewas at the same time organizing its antiprivatization campaignand networked with community leaders from Sukura to facilitatethe establishment of an LAC. Water became one of the focal issuesof the community group advocating for social change within theneighborhood. The committee later worked with CONIWAS onthe Community Scorecard program (interview with LACmember, 1 July 2011). Although engagement clearly can bemotivated by a range of considerations, this example points tothe broader political context in which community participationin water governance is embedded. Engagement in water decisionmaking and governance was facilitated by the community beingcompelled to action for other reasons. Through examples such asthis one, it is clear that contextual factors and power dynamicsbetween community members, as well as between communitiesand state authorities, may be important to understand how andwhy participation might unfold in particular ways.DiscussionAs presented previously, participatory mechanisms, such as theLWBs implemented in Accra, hold potential for improving wateraccess and fostering more inclusive and adaptive watergovernance processes. Namely, Accra’s LWBs may open upchannels for discussions and foster stronger collaborativepartnerships between different stakeholders involved with watergovernance at different scales and in different capacities; extendwater access in underserved areas; contribute to reducingnonpayment issues or nonrevenue water of importance for theutility; reduce stress around pricing for community membersthrough the pre-establishment of prices; and contribute toinfrastructural development in the communities. At the same time, these schemes face significant limits. In thissense, elements of our results echo insights from the criticalliteratures on participation in international development andconservation. Specifically, we find that LWBs may also heightenaffordability challenges attributable to prepayment arrangements;Ecology and Society 19(3): 36http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol19/iss3/art36/remain limited in brokering higher levels of connectivity andextended services because of complex bureaucratic proceduresenforced at the municipal level; further burden the poor andvulnerable by relying on voluntary labor; do little to fostergrassroots participation and answer locally determined needs,because all schemes were implemented by external organizations;fail to recognize various types of participation because of anarrow focus on prescribed participatory mechanisms and formalpathways and institutions; and fail to recognize and take intoaccount the historical, social, and political context into whichthese mechanisms arise and are implemented.  Furthermore, it is important to note that participation remainssomewhat limited among the communities at large. Although wefound active community organizations in 3 of the communitiesstudied and other avenues for participation in the other 2, as inthe case of Sukura, which we have detailed (see also Peloso 2014for a discussion on Ashaiman), our survey data report that veryfew of the residents surveyed in Teshie and Ashaiman presentlyparticipate in water management groups or committees, with 86%of respondents answering “no” to this question.[11] Again, almostall respondents, 99%, suggested that “no such committees exist,”with the exception of 2 respondents in Teshie, despite the existenceof an LWB in that community, as discussed previously. The surveydata also report that many people would like to participate inwater governance; when asked directly if  they “wish they couldparticipate more in community meetings,” 57% “strongly agreed”or “agreed” with this statement. Although not exhaustive, thisportrait suggests that people are interested in participating inwater governance, with an even higher number (67%) indicatingthat they feel they would have something to offer. In both cases,there appears to be an interest or acknowledgement of theimportance of participation, but perhaps without knowing thepathways to allow that to happen. Participatory approaches mustbe mindful of the willingness and desire to participate, and whensuch a clear interest exists, make pathways available to enable thatengagement. However, when the opposite is true, and whencommunities may be overburdened or unable to commit resourcesto active engagement, other mechanisms must exist to promotecommunity feedback in a way that nonetheless facilitatesinstitutional learning and adaptive governance.  Furthermore, from a social-ecological perspective, the case studyof Accra’s LWB illustrates some of the complexities associatedwith implementing local governance in ways that usefullyintegrate with other levels and scales of governance, i.e., GWCLor internationally funded NGOs. It provides examples of howthese participatory institutions, although “successful” in somesenses, also lack adaptive capacities needed from a social-ecological perspective, involving, for instance, learning andadaptation across scales drawing on multiple levels of feedbackand interaction. For instance, our feedback session elicitedcomments suggesting that the funding timelines of donor agenciesdo not allow LWBs to be nimble and respond dynamically tochanging community needs and priorities. In this sense,participatory frameworks in Accra, and for urban watergovernance more generally, must seek out more effective ways tocommunicate with communities on a regular basis, while alsoworking toward flexible and adaptive mechanisms to incorporatethat feedback in governance processes or system design. At the same time, although participation mechanisms hold clearpotential, and are of course desirable on many levels, they mustnot be taken as a “be-all and end-all” approach to contemporaryurban water governance (see also Morinville and Harris 2013 fora related discussion on participation’s conceptual limits). In otherwords, we issue a word of caution with respect to uncriticallyadopting a focus on participatory mechanisms for adaptive watergovernance approaches. Failure to do so, we suggest, may resultin what scholars have described as a panacea problem (Ostrom2007, Ostrom and Cox 2010, Pahl-Wostl et al. 2012), wherebyparticipation becomes at once too vague when advocated as aprimary focus of urban water governance, and yet too narrowand prescriptive when envisioned in the form of LWBs or otherparticular mechanisms such as the ones examined in our casestudy. We suggest that it is most useful, and appropriate, to ratherconsider the manifold opportunities and limits of anyparticipatory governance model as applied to a particular contextor locale. Furthermore, we also echo recent calls regarding theneed for adaptive water governance to attentively considerquestions of social power (Armitage 2008, Pahl-Wostl 2009, Pahl-Wostl et al. 2011, Bakker and Morinville 2013). Adaptivegovernance is, after all, attuned to outcomes and respondsaccordingly. In this same way, we think more nuancedappreciation of the limits and opportunities of specificgovernance mechanisms might enable refinement, attunement,and critical reflection.CONCLUSIONSThis article has sought to shed light on the limits of participatoryapproaches to urban water governance. Our interest in doing sois to consider ways that participation might most usefully help tofoster sustainability of resources or the resilience of urban social-ecological systems. Although Accra is not located in a water scarceregion per se, the metropolitan area faces considerable quotidianwater shortages likely to be heightened by climate change,urbanization, and population increases already underway(Douglas et al. 2008). Participation is critical to move towardmore efficient and equitable management of this limited resourceand its long-term sustainability. We see clear evidence in theprevious discussion of the ways that participation may offerpartial responses to issues of resources sharing, limiting wastage,or unaccounted for water, or perhaps ways that LWBs canfacilitate smooth interactions between the utility and thecommunity or help to monitor and respond to leakages or otherinfrastructural failures. Furthermore, although participation forsanitation and wastewater concerns was not central for us, lessonsfrom LWBs for water distribution may help to inform a numberof sanitation initiatives that are currently unfolding across Accra,some through the LWB framework. This is also an issue whereconsiderable equity, health, ecological, and broader sustainabilityconcerns are at stake.  We have highlighted a range of issues that suggest that there isfertile ground for participation in Accra’s most underservedcommunities. Our survey respondents clearly indicate a desire tobe involved and the partial successes of the LWBs to date alsospeak to the potential importance of greater participatorygovernance in the water sector. As such, we have argued thatLWBs, as one of the most visible mechanisms for participatoryengagement of these communities at present, have clearopportunities. However, we have also highlighted what we observeEcology and Society 19(3): 36http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol19/iss3/art36/as considerable limits, whether for equity, accountability,efficiency, or the broader adaptive and learning goals required foradaptive and resilient socio-hydrologic systems. In line with this,we have also detailed some conceptual issues related to the waysin which participation is often circumscribed to formal modes ofengagement. We find it important to question what counts asparticipation and what modes of engagement are left out by suchframeworks. Careful attention to the opportunities and limits ofdifferent participatory frameworks is precisely the sort of workrequired to avoid panacea thinking and work toward revampingour toolkit toward fostering more sustainability and resilience inurban water governance over the long term. [1] This echoes feminist scholars who have long been calling foran appreciation of the “informal” or “alternative” spheres ofengagement (e.g., McEwan 2000, Staeheli et al. 2004).[2] CHF is one of ∼65 NGOs working on water- and sanitation-related issues in Ghana (interview, 20 July 2011). Its core missioninvolves community-based water and sanitation solutions forinformal and slum settlements (CHF-Ghana, http://www.chfinternationalghana.org/).[3] “Improved” sources include public taps, standpipe, or rainwatersources; whereas “unimproved” sources include tanker trucks,surface water, or unprotected dug wells (WHO/UNICEF 2012).[4] L. M. Harris, J. A. Goldin, A. Darkwah, and UBC EDGESResearch Collaborative, unpublished manuscript. This survey wasconducted with the support of the Center for InternationalGovernance Innovation. Note that a parallel survey was alsoimplemented in two settlements of Cape Town, South Africa(Philippi and Khayelitsha), although we do not mobilize datafrom South Africa.[5] UN-HABITAT (2006) defines a slum household as a group ofindividuals living under the same roof in an urban area who lackone or more of the following: (1) durable housing of a permanentnature that protects against extreme climate conditions; (2)sufficient living space, which means not more than three peoplesharing the same room; (3) easy access to safe water in sufficientamounts at an affordable price; (4) access to adequate sanitationin the form of a private or public toilet shared by a reasonablenumber of people; and (5) security of tenure that prevents forcedevictions.[6] Boards under CHF administration are called “Water andSanitation Boards” (WSBs). To limit confusion, we maintain theuse of LWB throughout, given their shared function, particularlywith respect to citizen engagement.[7] Polytanks are large water storage tanks made of plastic, i.e.,polyethylene. They are common for vending and also amongwealthier households seeking to avoid problems associated withsupply.[8] The boreholes were drilled but not yet functioning at the timeof conducting fieldwork.[9] The LWB typically collects only the money for the water it sellsdirectly. Bills to consumers enjoying a direct connection to thepipe network must be paid to the utility directly.[10] There are currently 13 submetropolitan governance units inAccra, which together make up the Accra MetropolitanAssembly, the entity responsible for approving construction,including digging of new water or sewage infrastructure.[11] Compared, for instance, to the 77% who report that theyparticipate in church activities.Responses to this article can be read online at: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/issues/responses.php/6623Acknowledgments:We would like to thank colleagues from ICGC-UWC-UBCInternational WaTERS research network, Corin de Freitas, andthree anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions.A portion of the content presented in this paper has been publishedpreviously in the following book chapter: Morinville, C., and L. M.Harris. 2013. Participation’s limits: tracing the contours ofparticipatory water governance in Accra, Ghana. Pages 216-231 inL. M. 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