Community water governance in Scotland : exploring meaning, practices, and order

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


    Amidst concerns about the global climate crisis, water allocation, management and governance have risen to the top of national and international agendas, including in countries traditionally viewed as having abundant water resources. Communities may – and some would argue should – be part of responding to these challenges. This research takes an interpretive approach to study how community involvement in water governance is understood and enacted. The research is set in the publicly managed and highly regulated context of water services, i.e., the activities associated with domestic drinking and wastewater provision and the avoidance and mitigation of harmful consequences of flooding in Scotland. This thesis provides a theoretically informed analysis of the role of communities in water governance using the concepts of meaning, practices and ordering derived from Emma Carmel’s Governance Analysis and grounded in wider interpretive policy theory. Building on data gathered from methods including interviews (walking and seated), observations, document analysis and systematic mapping, the study illustrates how governing takes place in real-life settings. The research provides much-needed insight into the practices and interactions of communities and practitioners, in particular, a subset of them called frontline workers. The thesis makes three contributions to scholarship. It deepens understanding of ‘community water governance’ based on multiple conceptual and empirical sources. Second, it presents new empirical insights into water services in Scotland, a setting which has received limited in-depth examination in academic literature. Finally, it enriches understanding of both communities and frontline workers and their contributions to addressing water challenges. The thesis shows that water governance is not solely a technical exercise but a social and political process of navigating social relations. Water governance needs to be understood first, as a contingent and relational practice in which communities and practitioners skilfully negotiate complex and ambiguous goals, and second, as having implications beyond the domain of water.
    Date of Award29 Nov 2023
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of St Andrews
    SupervisorShona Louise Russell (Supervisor) & Kerry Waylen (Supervisor)


    • Water governance
    • Community water governance
    • Community engagement
    • Water services
    • Flooding
    • Street-level bureaucracy

    Access Status

    • Full text embargoed until
    • 4 August 2025

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