35Created by MRKfrom the Noun Project
35Created by MRKfrom the Noun Project
35Created by MRKfrom the Noun Project
What dimensions of water are neglected when using a commons lens?
How does Water as a fugitive resource
challenge governance?
How can a commons approach incorporate the existence of multiple values and power dynamics among users?
In the face of societal change, what is the role of gender in water commons governance?


May 19-21, 2021






January 2, 2021

March 27, 2021

April 4, 2021

May 7, 2021

Add to Calendar 05/19/2021 08:00 AM 05/21/2021 05:00 PM America/Phoenix IASC 2021 Water Commns Virtual Conference Online, Worldwide


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Welcome to the

IASC 2021 Water Commons Virtual Conference

Aim & Scope

We are pleased to announce our call for individual presentations, special sessions, webinar panel discussions, and methods workshops. This conference aims to bring together scholars and practitioners on the water commons broadly understood. We will cover topics including climate change impacts — flooding, storm surge, drought, and other extreme precipitation events — involving all forms of water — ice sheets, glaciers, rivers & lakes, groundwater, clouds, effluent — and all types of water uses — irrigation, industrial, instream flows, habitat protection, energy generation, urban and domestic consumption, and cultural practices, among many others.

Water governance and management at multiple scales is central for addressing impacts and collective action dilemmas that emerge in no small part because water is a fugitive resource. What special governance challenges are raised by the fact that water is a fugitive resource? Is multi-level, or polycentric, governance the most appropriate approach for dealing with water? What other forms of governance or management, such as formal and informal markets, regulation, public-private partnerships, and collaborations, are possible and how do they interact with the commons?

The topic of the water commons is iconic in common pool resource studies. In our three day virtual event, we thus want to address the following questions: What are the blind spots in treating water as a commons? What important dimensions of water are neglected in using a commons lens? How can a commons approach incorporate the existence of multiple values and power dynamics among users? What is the role of gender, and marginalized communities, in water commons governance, in the face of societal change? Conversely, what dimensions of water would be better understood if brought under a commons lens? How can a commons approach guide policy to create, manage, or modify hard (buildings), soft (institutions), and green (nature-based) infrastructure?

As a web-conference within a series of conferences organized by the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC), we will facilitate a discussion among water scholars and practitioners on the many and diverse governance challenges of sustainably managing all forms of water across multiple scales, with a special emphasis on equity.


Water Tracks

This is one of the most challenging topics for commons governance. Information on pollution and its sources is costly to identify. Polluters have few reasons for engaging in collective action to address the public bads they are producing. Yet, what roles can and does self-governance play in addressing such problems? Is self-governance better matched with state regulation or markets to satisfactorily address water pollution? 

  • Heavy polluters – water protection management in industrial regions and in the mining sector: approaches, solutions, future scenarios.
  • Invisible intruders – contaminants of emerging concerns, i.e. micro-pollutants, in our water bodies: how to manage the small and how to raise awareness of it?
  • Supersaturation of phosphorus and nitrate – how to tackle one of the nine planetary boundaries?
  • Agriculture’s footprint on water – governing pesticide use.
  • Acute accidents – Mauritius, the Gulf of Mexico, Siberia, the Rio Doce, and many others – how to learn from the past to avoid future damages to aquatic and marine ecosystems?
  • Disproportionate impacts on disadvantaged communities.

Access to water is a basic human right but water for human uses is increasingly scarce because of increases in population, industrial pollution, and climate change impacts, and the global south is especially vulnerable. This has put stress on water commons in lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and aquifer recharge and governance challenges are pronounced because water flows across jurisdictional boundaries, from local to international. Less flow of water in rivers, unabated extraction of water, excessive agriculture, industrial and municipal consumption has led to a drop in the water table. Considerable mindfulness is needed for sustainable use of water commons.

  • Water scarcity, and single-source control, disputes, and collective action for inter and intrastate conflict resolution
  • Threats to the world’s largest river basin systems: Infrastructure, dams, climate change, navigation, and over-extraction
  • Challenges to freshwater and ecosystem commons
  • Agriculture, industrial and municipal water consumption, sustainable strategies and conservation technologies, and water treatment
  • Challenges to access to potable water to communities, including commercialization of potable water, greywater usage, and water conservation.

We are already facing the impact of the global rise in temperature with severe forest fires in California, Australia or Siberia, coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, and a drastic decline of the Arctic ice, to name just a few. Responses to climate change have traditionally relied on the development of new and more grey infrastructure — such as dams and reservoirs to regulate flooding and seawalls to combat sea level rise; but what about different forms of soft infrastructure and green infrastructure for providing for protection? How do current governance systems manage interdependent infrastructures? How can governance structures and learning processes help to anticipate climate change impacts on water resources and human livelihoods depending on them?

  • Protection against water as a commons – How to govern the absence or excess of water?
  • Collective action in the face of sudden events (i.e. flooding or storm surge).
  • Collective action in the face of slow-occurring crises (i.e. sea-level rise or drought) – how to anticipate their impact and handle the change of landscapes caused by these events?
  • Preparing for climate change – managing the reduction of water use and water collection and organizing water filtration from the small to the big scale
  • Governance of wastewater.

Governing transboundary water resources poses significant collective action challenges for governments.  As an example, the River Nile basin is shared by more than 10 countries that are dependent on the Nile system for water, this dependence can be a source of conflict between upper riparian and lower riparian users. Many approaches have emerged in response, from polycentricity to Integrated Water Resources Management, yet limitations exist in their definition, implementation, and assessment. These limitations have recently heightened, as national-level governments (like the U.S. federal government) have attempted to modify legislation aimed to protect water resources, leaving local governments with the responsibility of developing alternative mechanisms to protect water quality and quantity.

  • Water governance across scales (i.e. across jurisdictions, communities, uses).
  • Bringing the (local) government back – Local and regional governance in the face of national-scale deregulation.
  • Governance across the water cycle (i.e. surface, groundwater, clouds)
  • Governance across sectors (food, energy, water)

From its inception, the commons literature has paid close attention to indigenous knowledge for identifying instances of commons self-governance. As our climate rapidly changes due to human action, governments renege on environmental protections, and markets crowd out resources, how are indigenous communities defending traditional ways of life and responding to calls for environmental justice? How are indigenous communities adapting and mobilizing to defend traditional knowledge?

  • How can different perceptions of water (as a relatively ubiquitous resource of economic value vs. as a way of life) be incorporated into an effective water governance framework?
  • Indigenous activism and environmental justice – current frictions between native communities and government & market pressures that jeopardize traditional ways of life. How are these struggles manifested in different regions of the world?
  • Traditional knowledge and climate change – how are native communities responding to changing water landscapes?
  • Sustainable water use practices – learning from indigenous knowledge and experience.

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development goals include access to clean water and sanitation. Although, by its nature, water flows across uses and users, its management has often been segmented, particularly between so-called “economically productive” uses (such as irrigation or industrial use) and “domestic” uses.  The former often involve mostly men, while Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) programs target women, who are often most responsible for and affected by insufficient domestic supplies and sanitation.  How can taking a gendered approach to water as a commons help overcome these divides?  Possible topics on this theme include:

  • Gendered roles, responsibilities, and rights to water: How are men’s and women’s rights and responsibilities with regard to water compatible with their differential roles and preferences? How does gender intersect with other aspects of marginality, such as caste or ethnicity in rights to clean water?
  • Gendered analysis of participation in water governance–across water use sectors and types of governance arrangements: What roles do women and men play in managing and governing diverse water sources and uses, how can women’s participation be enhanced, and how do women as decision makers make a difference for achieving sustainability of water uses
  • WASH as a gendered commons: The public health aspects of WASH are a public good.  Although numerous studies note the inequities and challenges facing women and girls in manually providing water for household uses, in unsafe sanitation, and in caring for sick family members, achieving desired WASH outcomes requires participation by both men and women. How can insights from commons research contribute to these outcomes.

Types of


We welcome different kinds of contributions:

Presentations are prerecorded talks of 10 minutes, and presenters can indicate whether they want to participate in a webinar with presenters of similar topics. We allow for presentations in Spanish, French or Mandarin, besides English.  The audience will be able to access the videos with subtitles. The discussion forum on the talks will be in English only.

A special session consists of at least four individual presentations (pre-recorded 10 minute videos). Participants asynchronously interact with the presenter on the presentation in the comment section.

The focus of a webinar is debate. Panelists may make short statements after which there is a moderated discussion during which questions from the audience are addressed. The duration of the webinar is 1 hour.

A methods workshop provides training on a specific approach for collecting or analyzing data relevant to the study of water commons. Workshops typically last between 2 and 3 hours.


Online Conference

No hassle, costs, or carbon emissions from traveling. Attend the entire conference safely from home.


Three Days

Three days packed with prerecorded sessions and live events.


Meetup and Network

Interact with your peers during networking events.


Important Dates

March 27, 2021

Deadline for abstract submission

March 27, 2021
April 4, 2021

Notification on acceptance/rejection

April 4, 2021
May 7, 2021

Deadline for pre-recorded video submission

May 7, 2021
May 19-21, 2021

Event dates

May 19-21, 2021



This virtual conference is accessible for small fees to cover the costs of the implementation of the meetings. All presenters will have to be or become IASC members. IASC members pay 10 dollars to attend the virtual conference live. All conference material will be available to IASC members after the conference. If you are not an IASC member, you can easily register here. Non-IASC members can attend the conference for a fee of 50 dollars. Dependent on sponsoring, waivers are available for early-career scholars and practitioners from the global south.

IASC Members
$ 10
$ 50

Meet The Team


Edella Schlager

Professor, School of Government & Public Policy, University of Arizona, Tucson, USA

Steering Committee

Laura Herzog

Postdoctoral Researcher at the Institute of Environmental Systems Research, University of Osnabrück, Germany

Wai-Fung (Danny) Lam

Director of the Center for Civil Society and Governance, University Hong Kong

Ruth Meinzen-Dick

Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute

Tomás Olivier

Assistant Professor at the School of Public Administration, Florida Atlantic University, USA

Seemi Waheed

Assistant Professor at the School of Governance and Society, University of Management and Technology, Pakistan


Event Sponsors

Become our


We are seeking sponsors to cover the costs of organizing the conference and fund IASC memberships for students and colleagues in the global south. We consider the following level of Sponsorships:

Platinum Sponsor: $5,000

Gold Sponsor: $2,000

Silver Sponsor: $1,000

Bronze sponsor: $120, which covers a membership for one participant for four years.

Platinum, Gold, and Silver sponsors will have their logo on the conference website, the size depending on the level of Sponsorship. If you have inquiries about sponsorships, please contact Marco.Janssen@asu.edu.

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