Working paper

Regulatory innovations in New Zealand water management

28 Feb 2011

As water availability and cumulative effects of water use reached sustainability limits, traditional NZ governance models of representative democracy and RMA processes led to a high level of adversarial conflict, long drawn out decision processes and suboptimal outcomes. Canterbury has shifted to introduce a collaborative governance approach for water management.


The collaborative governance approach relies on involving stakeholders and communities who are affected by decisions, in facilitated decision making. Agreed outcomes are implemented or given statutory backing. It is based on Ostrom’s model of “self managed communities”. It is a “nested system” operating at a number of geographical scales. The decision making is matched to the geographical scale of the issue being managed and the people affected by the decision.

Initially this approach was undertaken informally at the subcatchment scale. It was taken to the regional scale with the development of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy through a collaborative governance approach. It has now been formalised as 10 Zone Committees and a Region Committee to facilitate community engagement in the development of implementation programmes to achieve the targets of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy.

The paper describes the principles of the collaborative model and its implementation in Canterbury.

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