NIÖ Network Meeting “Governing the Water-Energy-Food Nexus”

  • DATE / TIME:
    2018/01/18    15:15 - 16:00


    • Sabrina Kirschke (UNU-FLORES)
    • Nina Hagemann
    • Kristin Meyer
    • Lulu Zhang (UNU-FLORES)
    • Tamara Avellán (UNU-FLORES)

    Presentation: Indicators for ‘Good’ Solutions to Wicked Resource Nexus Problems

    Nexus problems such as an integrated management of several resources (e.g., water, soil, and waste) or sectors (e.g., water, energy, and food) are often described as being particularly wicked. In order to address such wicked nexus problems in practice, governance researchers have already proposed a potpourri of different governance strategies. Examples often refer to various participatory approaches, hinting at the involvement of various actors such as scientists and practitioners. However, the role of institutions, especially their design and enforcement, in addressing such wicked nexus problems has become increasingly important as well.

    We argue here that this governance research on wicked nexus problems lacks a clear understanding of ‘good’ solutions to wicked problems. Governance research generally argues that such solutions are difficult or even impossible to grasp, given, for example, lacking agreements on the current and the targeted state, and high transaction costs for information acquisition and negotiation due to uncertainty and information asymmetry. However, failure to operationalise solutions is even less acceptable. The lacking definition of the dependent variable of solutions hinders the analysis of more or less useful governance strategies to address wicked resource nexus problems.

    Picking up this research lack, this presentation identifies indicators for ‘good’ policy responses to wicked nexus problems. We understand such ‘good’ policy responses to be present when one resource (e.g., water, soil, waste) or sector (e.g., water, energy, food) is made better off without affecting negatively other resources or sectors. However, since this end goal is difficult to measure, we define indicators for ‘good’ solutions in a more process-oriented way, along the concept of ‘small wins’. Our research shows that such process-oriented small wins can be identified along the three core dimensions of wickedness: goal diversity, system complexity, and informational uncertainty. In terms of goal diversity, one example indicator for a ‘small win’ is mentioning soil issues in water policies and vice versa. An example indicator for a ‘small win’ with regard to system complexity is the development of interlinkages between sector-specific or resource-specific models.

    At the workshop, we would like to put the whole set of indicators for ‘good’ solutions to wicked nexus problems for discussion. This lays the ground for future empirical work, in which we apply the full set of indicators to three cases of wicked resource nexus problems in China, Germany, and Latin America. All three cases regard the interlinkages between the resources of water and soil, affecting different sectors such as water and food. Preliminary analyses based on a small set of indicators suggest that only some indicators for good solutions to wicked problems are fulfilled in the different cases. In particular, respective policies that intend to address the wicked nexus problems consider to varying degrees goal conflicts and system complexity.


    The New Institutional Economics (NIÖ) Network Meeting is a regular meeting of scientists on the new institutional economy. Each workshop focuses on a different topic. In this instalment, the topic of the workshop is “Governing the Water-Energy-Food Nexus”. However, participants may also consider looking at bilateral nexus linkages.


    German Development Institute
    Tulpenfeld 6
    53113 Bonn