A tale of two cities: evidence from the Global South on established versus emerging cities’ approaches to adaptive and sustainable water governance

Tahmina Yasmin, Megan A. Farrelly, Briony C. Rogers, Stefan Krause, Iseult Lynch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The call for adaptive governance approaches to guide the sustainable transformation of urban water management systems is growing amongst scholars and policy professionals. Responding to this call, the Global North (GN) has focused significant evidence-based research on issues of scale, capacity, and institutional arrangements to support such transformations, whereas evidence from the Global South remains nascent. This paper contributes to the growing body of knowledge from the Global South, discussing how adaptive governance operates under different local contexts and conditions. Following empirical investigations in two cities in Bangladesh, which involved 58 semi-structured interviews, 17 oral histories, and secondary data analysis, and drawing on the adaptive capacity and attributes framework, we examined how scale, capacity, and institutional hybridization might deliver the conditions necessary for guiding a sustainable transformation in water governance. The research revealed that a large-scale urban system such as Dhaka is currently experiencing “lock-in” due to ongoing investments in large-scale infrastructure, inappropriate transfer of technology from GN contexts, bureaucratic complexity, and general resistance to change. In contrast, the relatively smaller urban system represented by the secondary city Mymensingh was found to be more open, flexible, showcasing key enabling factors that might support sustainable growth. Overall, this study sheds light on the role of adaptive governance in the context of system scales and capacity (i.e., institutional / organizational / individual) and reveals how capacity development is linked to key enabling attributes including multi-level and polycentric institutions, participatory approaches, networking, bridging organizations, and leadership. Collectively these findings offer insights into how adaptive attributes can inform sustainable transformation processes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number38
Number of pages19
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • adaptive governance
  • Bangladesh
  • Global South
  • urban water management
  • water governance

Cite this