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Identifying and prioritising water research questions for South Africa
Expanded Title:BACKGROUND AND RATIONALE Limited historical data are available to describe water research in South Africa over the first half of the 20th century. Many authors recognise that this period was dominated by technological developments, breakthrough research and projects in water storage and transfer, and frequently characterised by a positivist approach to nature and development (Tempelhoff et al., 2009; Tewari, 2009; Tempelhoff et al., 2007; Tempelhoff, 2006; Turton et al., 2006; Allan, 2004; Turton and Meissner, 2002; Allan, 1999). A new era in water research in South Africa began with the promulgation of the Water Research Act No. 34 of 1971. The Act led to the formation of the Water Research Commission (WRC) and the Water Research Fund with the purpose of initiating, managing and financing water research. The objectives of the WRC, as stated in the Act, were to co-ordinate, promote, and encourage research in respect of a wide range of purposes and activities (Republic of South Africa, 1971). A shift in the political landscape, marked by the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994, contributed to a major shift in the existing water resource management paradigm. Legislative reform coincided with growing concerns about the state of the country’s waterways and the rising capital expenses in supply schemes, coupled with the growing environmental concerns globally (Herold, 2009; Funke et al., 2007; Schreiner, 2006). The legislative reform in South Africa is lauded as being the first country in the world to have promulgated national water legislation which uses water to achieve societal transformation and focusing attention on environmental and social justice (Funke et al., 2007). This study commences with the identification of the prevailing paradigms that have influenced the history of water research in South Africa by analysing the publication output over the last four decades and in identifying research questions proposed by a range of researchers active in the water sector in South Africa. AIMS AND OBJECTIVES The overall aim of this project is to generate research questions capable of addressing immediate and medium-to-long term water-related issues and challenges facing South Africa, and to do so with some assurance that these questions will be acceptable to researchers and practitioners alike. The aim is met by addressing the following objectives which: • Explore the prevailing paradigms that have influenced the history of water research in South Africa • Identify and evaluating research questions proposed by a range of researchers active in the water sector in South Africa • Critique past and present paradigms of South African water research in order to develop insight into future water research questions and approaches. LITERATURE A paradigm can identify a conceptual framework that is composed of a class of common elements, theories, laws and generalisations that is widely acknowledged within a scientific school of thought or discipline. Paradigms also shift for a variety of reasons and under various influences. According to Kuhn (1962), when enough significant anomalies have accrued against a current paradigm, then the scientific discipline is thrown into a state of crisis. During this crisis, new ideas, and even those previously discarded, are tested further. A change of worldview begins when a significant anomaly is recognised within an existing paradigm. The signals and changes in paradigms, with attention to paradigm changes in water resource management, provides the context from which to explore corresponding changes in the water research enterprise in South Africa. One of the earliest paradigms in water resource management began at the start of the 20th century and is most often acclaimed as the hydraulic mission because it is characterized by major engineering activities involving the construction of water infrastructure to capture, store and distribute water. The majority of water projects in this period were concerned with supplying more water, more efficiently to more areas (Tempelhoff et al., 2009; Van Vuuren, 2009). The demand-side of water resource management focuses attention on how to manage water demand and use. This shift is influenced to an extent by various social advocacy movements, but is also influenced by increasing recognition of resource scarcity, heightened interest in sustainable development considerations, post-modern philosophies and increased prominence of environmental justice, equity and democratisation of resources (Tempelhoff et al., 2009; Ohlsson and Turton, 2000). Global changes in water resource management are explained further in observing the shift in paradigms (Allan, 2005). His work focuses on the development of analytical methods to address the problem of water resource allocation. Allan’s contribution lies in identifying paradigms that are reliant on economic, legal and political factors that influence the water sector in semi-arid countries. These shifts are observed in a transition of five water management paradigms, each with its own distinct focus and function. The third paradigm in Allan’s (2005) framework is particularly pertinent to this study because it coincides with the period immediate prior to and after the promulgation of the Water Research Act No. 34 of 1971 in South Africa. During this same period, Allan identifies a general global shift towards sustainable resource management and a concerted effort to redress the damage done by previous paradigms. The fourth paradigm is characterised by a period of economic expansion (particularly in the North), and in smart economic decisions that offer several environmental advantages. Finally, the fifth paradigm is dominated by political and institutional change which becomes increasingly aligned with global shifts towards sustainability and also a rapid decline in the hydraulic mission. In this study, observations of shifts in water management paradigms provide an interesting point of departure from which to consider how the scientific output, measured in terms of publications of water research in South Africa, are characterised by their response to the various paradigmatic changes. Scientometric methods are used to collect a series of appropriate publications or reference material. Sets of keywords and/or noun-phrases amongst the journal articles are analysed with respect to their frequency to each other within the article and towards other articles. This is known as a topic/word/concept co-occurrence network. Scientometrics of published works provides an interpretative account that is used to identify patterns of change and to understand the relationships that influence these trends. However, scientometrics is not an appropriate method for determining future water research questions. For this purpose the study uses a form of horizon scanning to identify future research questions and strategies similar to studies undertaken by Sutherland and Woodroof (2009, pp. 525) which are to: (i) scope the issue; (ii) gather information; (iii) spot signals; (iv) watch trends; (v) make sense of the future; and (vi) agree on the response. This study uses a similar approach which is supported by a collaborative, multi-stakeholder process to identify and examine threats or trends in society, the environment or a sector, and identify needs that will enable appropriate management (Shackleton et al., 2011; Sutherland and Woodroof, 2009). METHODOLOGY Scientometrics analysis A conceptual narrative on water research in South Africa is central to the discussion on water research paradigms, knowledge and appropriate adaptive capacity. Many authors (for example, LaRowe et al., 2009; Herr et al., 2008; Hood and Wilson, 2001; Van Raan, 2003; Todrov, 1989) have discussed how these approaches provide an objective and evidence-based means of assessing the state of a research or scientific field. The key data for this method are research outputs, either in the form of publication, collaboration, intellectual property, policy influence and application. Locating relevant water-related publications objectively and comprehensively is a challenge within itself. This challenge stems from the definition of water research used herewith. In this study, the journal search set comprised a two-fold approach: firstly, journals that had five or more articles in searching the terms: water and South Africa (or derivatives thereof). Secondly, snap polls and pilot surveys undertaken towards the end of 2011 that included questions asking practitioners where they published and read South African water-related research. The results from the significant publication count criteria and stakeholder input resulted in 171 publications forming part of the journal search set. These journal titles were then added to the query and searched further. The final search query searched for journal articles that contained water and South Africa in their topic within the journal search set. There are limitations in the use and interpretation of scientometric maps since the output only provides a representation of relationships between terms found in published content. The results should be interpreted with caution even though the evolution of scientometric methods represents the most effective known method of simply representing scientific relationships, output or developments on a particular scale. The search for water research questions A form of horizon scanning is used to identify and evaluate research questions that are currently being asked by researchers. There are three main methodological steps that are typically used: 1) identify and create a collaborative stakeholder network; 2) collect data from this network regarding their research expertise, opinions on research considerations and research questions; and 3) analyse this data by allowing the network to deliberate the results and produce a final set of results of research opinion and questions. Sutherland and Woodroof (2009) provide a substantial taxonomy of horizon scanning methods used in identifying and prioritising future research questions, scenarios and needs. They follow a combination of open forums, trend analysis, questionnaire and expert consultation. Arguably a strength, and at the same time a weakness of the current study, was the desired intention to involve a wide variety of stakeholders with an interest in water and water research, and to engage these participants through the ‘voice’ of a research initiative, rather than through that of the researchers. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION The number of journal articles and research reports published per year shows an increase in annual publication counts; a rise in Water SA articles; and a marked increase in WRC research reports. South Africa’s water-related research output has steadily increased and the research is found in more diverse, international journals. Scientometric maps created using Sci2 and VOSviewer comprises five year time-slices from 1977 to 2011 and is graphically depicted in label or density format. Label format presents more prominent words in the network as larger spheres. Elements of the map using keywords for the period 1977 to 2011 shows the dominance of research output that focus on management, development, models, water quality and system treatment. The first time-slice of 1977 to 1981 shows a small, but scattered research effort with an emphasis on water quality. The map from 1982 to 1986 indicates further scattering of research output with a small shift to natural biological systems and the first elements of approaching water affairs at a catchment scale. Treatment systems and industrial water present the major focus in the time-slice for 1987 to 1991. In the early post-apartheid years from 1992 to 1996, shows how disciplines start to connect with one another. While treatment systems still dominate, management, development and urban research begin to show prominence within water research. These emerging areas of inquiry increase their presence during and following the country’s major water policy reconstruction in the period from 1997 to 2001. At this point the research is at its most polarised, with treatment systems and basic science dominating one area while development, assessment and management sciences dominate another. The penultimate time-slice from 2002 to 2006 shows emerging research fields which relate to the increase in overall publications in which the word ‘management’ becomes more pronounced and more social science orientated terms such as community, impact and application make an appearance. The final time-slice from 2007 to 2011 shows management as the current dominant research area of prominence. While engineering sciences such as treatment systems are present, they are dominated by assessment research, modelling and community related research. Question gathering The stakeholders captured by the research signed up and engaged in the process for numerous reasons. Some simply wanted to remain informed of the process and results. Others saw an opportunity to participate in the surveys and discussions, while others used the portal to ask further information about water research. When the study was completed in December 2012, there were 2260 unique stakeholder contacts on the database. The stakeholders contained within the database were diverse in their involvement in the South African water sector but appeared well connected within the water sector networks. Overall, stakeholders in the database were affiliated to 572 organisations or institutions. By the time the main survey closed in December 2012 there were 641 completed responses. Of the 1674 questions submitted, 4629 keywords/categories were provided of which 844 of these were unique. The most striking result is that of 245 occurrences of the keyword management. A large proportion of the submitted questions had a management-oriented line of inquiry. Following further refinements, including the removal of duplicates, quality control of questions and suitability of questions, a total of 401 questions were presented as the input data to the Water research horizon scanning workshop in October 2012 in Cape Town. Delegates were asked to reduce the list of 401 questions to approximately a quarter of the theme totals. The final dataset amounted to 59 priority water research questions across the six themes. Research output and links to paradigms South Africa has undergone significant changes in the output and structure of water research over the past four decades. There has been substantial growth in output with a total relevant sample publication record of 6007 articles and research reports and a current annual output of over 350 articles and reports per year. The number and different sources of journal articles over this period have increased and diversified while WRC research report output has also increased, albeit at a slower rate. The emergence of two main areas of research or fields of specialisation in the democratic transition (1992-1996) period is supported by greater diversity of publications than in previous years. The engineering or technical research outputs cluster together and again focus on treatment systems, processes and evaluation. This time the clustering is associated with management-based and planning oriented research. A transition period in water research occurred over a period that became increasing focused on quality constraints, fields of management and planning. It also indicates that the 2nd transition of Turton and Meissner (2002) was occurring with a new social contract around water that came not only from a new political regime and democratic transition that focused on redistribution, but also one that was spurred on by a movement of South African environmentalism, the beginning of the global sustainability debate and the rise of civil society activism. The period 1997-2001, around the major transformation of South Africa’s water laws and post establishment of the national Constitution, shows a strong polarisation between the main technical and management orientated disciplines. Researchers began to focus further on understanding the broader water context, use systems approaches and were beginning to plan for more than just engineering solutions. These results support the view that a transition was still underway with regard to the dominant paradigms but the word system had shifted noticeably towards the management and development related research disciplines and away from the technical. The most recent decade of water research represents the greatest change in water research paradigms. It represents over half (3456 of 6007) of the collected and analysed publications, and constitutes the most representative sample of current recent water research. In this period, words become clustered and centralised, with the images being most clustered in their centres and with few stand-alone concentration areas. This indicates how research has become more diverse yet interconnected and a shift towards other disciplines. The research effort in South Africa appears to have evolved into a new set of paradigms, albeit it tentative and uncertain, in which some emphasis is given to the social sciences disciplines and to concepts of governance and management. There is also evidence of research that focuses more attention on demand-side applications and interests, and integrated management. However, a third or reflexive transition phase (Allan, 2005) does not appear just yet. Keywords that relate to the green economy or risk awareness are not yet prominent. What is obvious is an increase in the prominence of collaboration across multiple disciplines over the last decade. Identifying and prioritizing questions: the link to paradigms The launch and strategies undertaken through the Aqua d’UCT initiative far surpassed expectations with regards to participation, uptake and response. The robust and yet diverse nature of the results and community interaction during the study was shown by the steady growth of interest from approximately 600 to over 2000 stakeholders on the research contact database by the time the study was completed in 2012. While many respondents wanted longer and more substantial research projects to be funded and established, the majority of research questions were categorised as short- to medium-term projects taking only one to three years, or ten years and more to complete respectively. Nevertheless, these questions reflect the diverse research disciplines and specialisations as suggested by the keywords such as management, governance, planning, education, policy, planning and alternatives being most prominent. However, those questions of a more technical nature relating to treatment, quality and pollution, hydrology, climate, supply and ecology dominate the input dataset. In general, the final list of questions confirms three important observations: (a) over 78% of the questions that were offered and refined at the workshop seek to address short- to medium term research questions, typically questions dealing with service delivery, sanitation, access to water, pricing and water quality; (b) the majority of the questions confirm the existence of a transition paradigm, similar to what was identified earlier in the scientometrics analysis, and (c) there is a small a set of questions that are arguably more closely aligned with issues and concerns that feature some elements of Allan’s (2005) 3rd, 4th and 5th paradigm. Here the questions deal with medium to long-term critical concerns of sustainability, establishing green economies, and implementing new forms of integrated, adaptive governance. These kinds of questions pose extraordinary challenges necessitating considerable financial and institutional support. Delegates acknowledged that the workshop was an energising and interesting collaborative exercise. While there were some obvious gaps in the representation of participants, delegates were pleased to interact with diverse leaders in the field. Most delegates appreciated the quality of exchange and interaction during the formal and informal activities. However, strongest criticism was that the approach and methods used at the workshop were not designed to identify horizon scanning research questions per se. Rather delegates said that they felt coerced into responding to the questions that were put before them. Moreover, delegates felt that it was difficult to develop new questions that were of an horizon scanning, long-term nature for a number of reasons: the groups were too diverse; there was insufficient time to consider and develop meaningful questions; and the process was too demanding for the facilitators resulting in tasks being carried out in a mechanistic manner against a tight timeframe. CONCLUSIONS Scientometric results show that the publication record for water related research in South Africa contained 6007 from 1977 to 2011. Water Research Commission (WRC) research reports amounted to 1760 (29.30%) of this total. The remainder were peer-reviewed journal articles published in Water SA accounting for 1829 (30.45%) articles. The publication record also increased in number dramatically since 1990 with more articles being published annually than each previous year before throughout the dataset. Paradigms were identified through the scientometric mapping methods using the publication record to show a history of water research from 1977 to 2011. Overall, the research output focused predominantly on management, development, models, quality and system treatment. Technical matters dominant the historical record but other paradigms such as allocative efficiency, uncertainty and risk are also present. The change in paradigms is observed when these results are examined over successive time periods. Two major paradigm approaches were observed in the analysis of water research publications along with one significant transition period. The first set of paradigms, from 1977-1991, emphasises the hydraulic mission that sought to secure supply, understand basic natural systems. In the following ten years (1992-2001) there is transition in which quality constraints and fields of management and planning become prominent. This paradigm is in response to changes in water deficits and focus on end-use efficiency. A second transition occurs with a new social contract around water at a time when the new political regime enters government in a period of democratic transition, growing environmentalism and a rise of civil society activism. The need to plan, model catchments and include other disciplines is becoming evident in the research environment. The question prioritisation activities using horizon scanning methods provided an opportunity for the study to engage with a wide and diverse population of water research stakeholders and practitioners. The survey resulted in a substantial collection of research questions from water stakeholders and researchers. Many questions deal with immediate- to medium-term concerns while only a few aim to tackle long-term or systemic problems. Others are coupled or integrated questions that cover a number of disciplines. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH It is recommended that further detailed mapping and analysis be performed on publications to explore the reasons that might cause paradigm shifts as well as understand what is missing in the existing body of knowledge. Horizon scanning has many inappropriate elements for the South African context as it is limited to a degree by its reach and participation. It is recommended that further prioritisation activities are undertaken to guide research but that these are expert lead and informed at the earliest stage before taking the results to a wider audience for consultation. In the study, the questioning does, however, provide an overall perspective of what a large and diverse group of research stakeholders and practitioners believe is important even if these may not deal with long-term challenges but rather, more situated in addressing current and pressing research needs.
Date Published:01/11/2013
Document Type:Research Report
Document Subjects:Agricultural Water - Small holder irrigation
Document Format:Report
Document File Type:pdf
Research Report Type:Standard
WRC Report No:2170/1/13
ISBN No:978-1-4312-0467-0
Authors:Siebrits R; Winter K
Project No:K5/2170
Originator:WRC
Document Size:4 479 KB
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