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Watertime addresses the issue of how to improve the quality of urban life by reaching economically, socially and environmentally sustainable decisions on water systems in cities. The team of partners is drawn from different parts of Europe - Spain, Italy, UK, Germany, Finland, Hungary - and with a range of expertise, including economics, political science, environmental science and law, water institutions. The project will study current decision-making on water systems in 29 European cities, and long-term historical experience. Two final reports will be produced: one on best practices, and the other developing a model for participative decision-making. The work will be disseminated to stakeholders and public authorities, who will also be involved during the course of the research.

The Challenge
Water supply and sanitation services are critical for public health, have high environmental impacts and provide essential services for Europe’s urban citizens, as well as for Europe’s industry. The development of urban water supply and sanitation systems is high on the agenda of cities in all EU member states and accession countries. In most European cities, the infrastructure is in need of renewal, requiring substantial investment; EU legislation, culminating in the Water Framework Directive and the recent Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive, is requiring new environmental and economic issues to be addressed; and the sector is increasingly influenced by the growing role of multinational companies in the delivery of these basic services.

City decision-makers face a host of new challenges relating to the organisation of water and sanitation systems, including the mix of roles for public authorities, private sector, stakeholders and citizens in the management, financing and regulation of systems. These decisions have significant long-term implications for the quality of urban life.

There is growing evidence that city decision-makers need access to practical guidance on how to implement a thorough, transparent and participatory decision making process on these issues. Decisions may be made in favour of one organisational mode without fully considering the short and long-term consequences for consumers, taxpayers and the environment, or without testing business plans against credible options. Decisions may be made with little transparency, or with little involvement of stakeholders such as consumers, environmental associations and trade unions. There may be limited consideration of how systems can be adjusted to unforeseen social, economic or environmental impacts. In all these respects, there may be a lack of information and exchange on the experiences of other European cities. As a result, decisions on water supply and sanitation systems may lack economic, social, environmental and technical sustainability.


Scientific objectives and approach

General objectives:

-Analyse decision making processes on the design and organisation of water systems in selected European cities;
- Elaborate set of recommended best practice for decision makers;
-Elaborate a decision-making model that will enable a comparative evaluation of various options and thus result in more sustainable water systems and an improved quality of urban life;
- Disseminate findings and developed instruments among decision-makers and other stakeholders

The project addresses the question of how to reach sustainable decisions on the question of water systems. This is an issue of great importance to the quality of urban life in the EU and Accession Countries; the cost of necessary investments in water and sanitation are very high; and various forms of public, private and public-private partnership are possible.

The work will consist of a series of research packages.
1. Establish an initial common analytical framework and to research the common European and international factors affecting decision-making on water in cities.
2. Conduct detailed case studies of decision-making on water systems in 29 European cities, in 13 countries covering the north and south of the EU, and accession countries, selected because significant decisions affecting their water systems have been made in recent years: The participants and key factors in these decisions will be analysed, together with indicators of the sustainability of these decisions - economically, socially and environmentally.
3. In parallel an analysis will be carried out of the long-term historical consequences of decisions made on water systems in these Europe over time.
4. The data from these reports will be integrated and used to construct a framework for decision-making and evaluation methodology.
5. Two final reports will be produced: one identifying best practice in decision-making on water systems and the other developing a model for a participative decision-making process.
6. The results will be publicly disseminated through a special website, and also via specially convened meetings of stakeholders and public authorities


Specific objectives:

Analyse decision making processes on the design and organisation of water systems in selected European cities;

  • Identify the forms of organisation of water and sewerage systems used in the cities (e.g. public and private roles in provision, production, regulation, finance, levels of government) and the reforms made in the recent period. Identify the decision making bodies and stakeholders participating in the process, the relationship of the decision making process to the regional, national and European levels, the transparency and public openness of the process, the range of factors taken into account; Relate findings to the historical context of water development in the cities, and in Europe generally, through a parallel ‘City in Time’ analysis;
  • Assess the sustainability of decisions made against a range of political, economic, social, technical and environmental consideration of the effects on the quality of urban life.

Elaborate set of recommended best practice for decision makers;

  • Identify all positive and negative examples from the selected case studies and from the parallel ‘city in time’ study;
  • integrate findings and recommended practices for decision makers with available knowledge on relevant extra-European experience (e.g. USA in matters of regulation);
  • systematise best practices for decision makers - pre- and post-decision - based on lessons learnt from the selected case studies.

Elaborate a decision-making model that will enable a comparative evaluation of various options and thus result in more sustainable water systems and an improved quality of urban life;

  • identify factors which are critical for social, economic and environmental sustainability;
  • develop a systematic methodology for addressing these factors and assessing long-term consequences of decisions for quality of life in city;
  • frame this methodology to incorporate procedural transparency and stakeholder participation.

Disseminate findings and developed instruments among decision-makers and other stakeholders:

  • set up dialogue with government ministries, regulators, local authorities and stakeholder organisations as part of the process of conducting the case studies;
  • create a website with information from the project, links to project data sets and interactive facility;
  • identify suitable 'multipliers' for dissemination of findings and developed instruments on a European level (e.g. workshops, seminars, conferences, publications);
  • involve interested stakeholder organisations for widest dissemination among their European affiliate organisations;
  • translate and publish (on the web and in print) the recommendations on best practice, as well as the final decision-making model.


Advancing the State of the Art
The research study advances the state-of-the-art on a number of counts. First, it will represent the first comprehensive study of decision-making processes in the reform of urban water systems in EU and candidate countries. The most outstanding example to date certainly remains: Barraqué, B. (1995) Les politiques de l’eau en Europe. Paris: Éditions la Découverte. The book, however, provides an overview of policy developments in water resources management in European countries without focusing on local decision making processes and only includes EU member states with no consideration for eastern European countries. There is a need for a new study dedicated to the implications of local decision-making on reforming water supply and sanitation. The prospective extension of EU membership to central and eastern European countries, and the importance of environmental standards in this process, also requires closer attention to the reform processes in countries such as Hungary and Estonia.

Secondly, the research methodology is innovative and inter-disciplinary. It seeks to develop and integrate principles of sustainability impact assessment in terms of using a range of indicators to analyse the decision-making process and the quality of life impacts across the political, economic, social, technical and environmental spheres. It also seeks to incorporate futures research and path dependency analysis, in order to establish the interconnections between decisions made through time. The methodology also draws on interest group theory to analyse the role of different actors, and their collective interests, in determining the allocation of government resources and aims to further develop the existing literature on its application to privatisation and regulation.

Finally, the study aims to focus on issues of process as well as substance and to produce a decision-making model that places participation, stakeholder dialogue and flexibility at its core. Currently decision-making on urban water systems reform in Europe is characterised by a near universal lack of transparency and restricted or inadequate stakeholder participation and there is no established model either for citizen participation or for decision-making as a whole.


'The City in Time'
A highly innovative aspect of the research study is the integration of a long-term historical and future perspective into the case study analysis through work package 3- City in Time. If decision-makers are to assess and forecast alternative futures and identify preferable development paths, then it is essential that they are able to undertake a proper knowledge-based analysis of the present and the past.

City in Time aims to use futures research, as introduced in B5, to illustrate the interconnectedness of past, present and future decision-making. It seeks to study the development of water systems in a wide institutional context covering political, institutional, economic, social, technical and environmental dimensions and identify the long term patterns of decision-making, as well as the underlying driving and constraining factors in the case study cities.

City in Time will specifically seek to address the following questions:

  • what were the strategic decisions that have mostly affected the development (binding, limiting, postponing)?
  • who and what factors define and create the demand for services?
  • how does the historical context constrain potential best practices for the future?
  • what limits do technical choices in the past impose on decision-making?
  • on what basis have selected strategies been formulated and decided upon during different time periods?
  • how has the role of public private partnership (PPP) changed over the years and how is it likely to change in the future?

The City of Time work package will seek to use the following data in order to analyse past and future decision-making:

  • dates and sequence of key decisions on systems e.g. special public bodies, responsibilities to local government or central government, changes of ownership of systems between private sector, national and local governments; changes of operators between sectors; changes in pricing and charging methods; introduction of water rights;
  • local and national (and international) past decisions, which constrain and limit present choices e.g. connection of bulk water supply sources; boundaries of administrative units; taxation and borrowing powers of local governments;
  • factors and interest groups involved in the past e.g. emergence of public health issues; origins of private sector role; environmental issues and local traditions; economic development; restructurings at entry to and exit from former communist regimes in eastern European countries.


Work plan
The work plan is structured around six work packages that represent distinct components of the projects with specific verifiable objectives and deliverables.

The project first seeks to consolidate existing theory, best practice and data sources as the basis for developing its analytical framework (work package 1) in consultation with stakeholders. This framework will be tested on one city case study (Córdoba) and modified accordingly. It will then be applied as a common framework for undertaking 29 case studies (work package 2) and the parallel ‘City in Time’ component (work package 3). The results of these will then be integrated (work package 4) and the findings will provide the basis for the draft decision-making model (work package 5). This model will be tested by three outside demonstration cities(Athens, Vienna, St Petersburg -work package 5) and will be the subject of consultation amongst a range of stakeholders representing a selection of case study cities. The development of a water system decision-making model together with a set of best practice recommendations based on the case studies will be the final outputs of the project (work package 5).

At each stage public outputs will be disseminated through a website and a series of stakeholder meetings, which will actively encourage dialogue and feedback. The project will also make use of appropriate specialist media. The final products – the decision-making model (20 pages) and a summary of recommended best practice (20 pages) based on the lessons of the case studies, will be translated and published in web and (high quality) print version (work package 6).


Choice of Case Studies
The method of approach is to apply a common analytical framework to 29 city case studies, in 13 different countries, covering both northern and southern EU member states, as well as 5 Eastern European candidate countries, in order to analyse the sustainability of decision-making and the impact on the quality of urban life in a variety of decision-making contexts. In all cases the partners have existing knowledge of decisions and processes in these cities over the last 10-15 years, and contacts in the cities.

A list of the selected case study countries and cities is provided in TABLE 1 below. The case studies were chosen on the basis of the:

  • diversity of experience of the cities, including diversity within one country, and therefore the potential for improving understanding, developing good practice and disseminating relevant lessons;
  • relevance of experience for today’s policy makers;
  • feasibility of the case studies in terms of the team members' existing level of knowledge and contacts;
  • geographical representation - north and south EU, as well as candidate countries thus representing the full range of water requirements and challenges experienced in Europe;
  • language capability of the team to work in the cities;
  • partnership expertise and knowledge of the cities and countries.

Case study country Model-testing country


Country City Partner
Estonia Tallinn Institute of Environmental Engineering and Biotechnology (IEEB), Tampere University of Technology, Finland
Finland Hameenlinna, Tampere Institute of Environmental Engineering and Biotechnology (IEEB), Tampere University of Technology, Finland
France Grenoble PSIRU, University of Greenwich, UK
Germany Berlin, Munich International Water Affairs, Hamburg, Germany
(email only)
Hungary Budapest, Debrecen, Szeged Eötvös József College, Budapest, Hungary
Italy Arezzo, Bologna, Milan, Rome PSIRU, University of Greenwich, UK
Lithuania Kaunas, Vilnius Institute of Environmental Engineering and Biotechnology (IEEB), Tampere University of Technology, Finland
Netherlands Rotterdam PSIRU, University of Greenwich, UK
Poland Gdansk, Lodz, Warsaw PSIRU, University of Greenwich, UK
Romania Bucharest, Timisoara ERL, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain
Spain Cordoba; Madrid; Mancomunidad del Sureste de Gran Canaria; Palma de Mallorca ERL, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain
Sweden Stockholm Institute of Environmental Engineering and Biotechnology (IEEB), Tampere University of Technology, Finland
UK Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds PSIRU, University of Greenwich, UK

For contact details, please see Watertime Partners.


Information about WaterTime in other languages:

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