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Water and the politics of sustainability transitions: from regime actor conflicts to system governance organizations

Hess, David J., Brown, Kate Pride
Journal of environmental policy & planning 2018 v.20 no.2 pp. 128-142
cities, governance, issues and policy, models, politics, stakeholders, urbanization, water supply, water utilities, United States
This study contributes to the analysis of the politics of sustainability transitions by developing a focus on regime actor conflicts and a processual model for how these conflicts develop and are resolved. In a comparison of water-supply systems in four U.S. cities, we show how conflicts among regime actors and political jurisdictions lead to the formation of system governance organizations (SGOs) that bridge jurisdictional boundaries to manage conflicts over a technological system (TS). SGOs coordinate relations among water utilities and diverse stakeholders to reduce pervasive conflicts, but they can also serve as drivers of improved sustainability. We analyze resistance that can emerge, such as from urban growth coalitions, which limit the capacity of SGOs to drive changes. We develop a four-stage processual model (first-order regime conflicts, SGO formation, sustainability transition expansion, and second-order regime conflicts) that opens research in the politics of transitions to the dynamic of regime actor conflicts and provides the basis for generalizations about the causes of SGO formation and their effects on the governance of TSs such as water-supply infrastructure. Policy implications regarding how to improve political support for SGO sustainability efforts are also discussed.