Epistemic forms of integrated water resources management: towards knowledge versatility

Farhad Mukhtarov, Andrea K. Gerlak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


In the past two decades, integrated water resources management (IWRM) has come to represent a dominant policy narrative in the field of water policy and governance. However, IWRM has come under strong criticism in recent years for what critics see as a poor record of implementation and heavy emphasis on technocratic solutions. We outline how the present debate around IWRM has become narrowly construed by focusing exclusively on IWRM as an analytical and prescriptive concept. We argue that this narrow conceptualization of IWRM, or the prescriptive epistemic form, which sets forth a set of guidelines for implementation in accordance with the logic of instrumentality, has in part resulted in a stalemate manifested in less research on the subject and scarcer attention of policy makers. To help advance beyond the stalemate, we propose two additional epistemic forms: discursive, as a point of reference for the discussion of power and values in water management and practical, or experiential and context-based understanding of water management. Recognizing this diversity of epistemic forms of IWRM to include the discursive and practical can create a shared space for multiple conflicting epistemologies and allow ways of knowing of non-expert stakeholders, thereby lessening the polarized nature of the discourse. Our typology of three epistemic forms—prescriptive, discursive and practical—offers public policy scholars a heuristic tool to approach policy concepts from multiple dimensions. Recognizing multiple epistemic forms requires new skills from policy workers and analysts, as well as institutional arrangements for articulating and translating across these forms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-120
Number of pages20
JournalPolicy Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2014


  • Epistemology
  • IWRM
  • Knowledge
  • Policy discourse
  • Ways of knowing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Public Administration
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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