CONSOLIDATION AND TRANSFER OF
KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE GAINED IN THE DEVELOPMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION
OF WATER AND RELATED POLICY IN SOUTH AFRICA
Report No. 1295/1/06
Background and objectives
South Africa has developed progressive, far-reaching and technically
sophisticated water policy, which reflects an advanced understanding of
the principle of sustainable development. However, without appropriate
capacity to implement the policy in the long term, little is likely to
change for the better on the ground. Effective policy implementation
depends on a mix of technical knowledge, social skills, and experience
of how things work in the real world. The enormous need for developing
the capacity of people in order to effectively respond to the
implementation challenge is frequently expressed. This need essentially
translates to a need for increasing our capacity to learn. We argue
that the water institution will either have to improve its learning
capability or yield to sub-critical capacity and inability to master
the challenge of sustainable development.
The cycle within which policy undergoes major revision and reform,
followed by implementation and review, could be as long as 20-30. Few
people that are working in a particular field (such as water) of the
policy arena are exposed to more than one substantial review during
their working lives. Also in terms of the shorter cycles of monitoring
and review, continuity is often lost through people shifting their
professional focus, moving to other organisations or sectors, or
retiring. The natural tendency for knowledge gained through involvement
in policy processes is to dissipate to the extent that it is
unavailable as a resource for the next generation of policy makers.
The overall aim of this project was to reflect on policy developments
that took place over the past 10 years (1994 to 2003) in the water
field, and to consolidate and package at least some of the learning in
an explicit form for wider sharing or communication as well as
retention of such knowledge in the institutional memory. In essence, it
was endeavoured to extend the “paper trail” by
capturing the insights, anecdotes and stories related to the policy
process that would normally have a small chance of being documented.
The formal objectives of the project were to:
The outputs agreed to before commencement of the project were:
- capture and consolidate knowledge and experience gained in
several recent policy developments and R&D processes related to
sustainable water resources management
- provide guidance for future leaders in how to establish and
manage policy development and implementation processes
- provide guidelines for training and enhancing the capacity
of people who are or will be responsible for policy development and
- a consolidated report (this report)
- a series of issues papers
- a core group of South Africans who have had their own
- guidelines and a framework for training and enhancing the
capacity of people in middle and senior management who are involved in
policy development and implementation.
The project focused on two primary activities to achieve its
objectives. First, a number of issues papers were selected to capture
lessons from various policy development and implementation experiences
to date. The idea was to contribute to an explicit as well as
peer-reviewed record or archive of lessons, to enable wider sharing of
lessons amongst current practitioners as well as to ensure that these
lessons are available to future generations of practitioners. Through a
series of workshops with various specialists and policy practitioners,
three priority areas were identified to guide the selection of issues
papers (see Chapter 2), namely:
Second, a training course, later referred to as a professional seminar,
was developed and presented to facilitate knowledge sharing in an
interactive setting. Four main themes were addressed in these seminars,
- analysis of the water policy development process in the
context of the generic public policy cycle and principles
- development and dissemination of technologies and
programmes that would enable policy implementation and realisation of
- capacity and institutional aspects, including kinds of
capacity required to manage policy processes.
Series of issues papers
- generic frameworks for public sector policy development,
implementation and evaluation
- application of generic frameworks to water policy
- effective implementation of policies and programmes:
planning, monitoring and evaluation, institutional capabilities, and
- options for continuous revision and improvement.
Six issues papers were produced (see Chapter 3) as part of this
A strong message from these papers is that sustained
leadership, sound technical knowledge, the ability to plan (and
re-plan) and facilitate a participatory process, good, clear
communications and an adaptive, learning culture supported by
continuous evaluation and adaptation are the key ingredients which have
helped South Africa successfully adapt its water policy to meet the
demands of our new democracy. Neglecting any one of these
elements will jeopardise success.
- MacKay, HM, Rogers, KH and Roux, DJ (2003) Implementing the
South African water policy: Holding the vision while exploring an
uncharted mountain. Water SA 29 (4): 353-358.
- MacKay, HM and Ashton, PJ (2004) Towards co-operative
governance in the development and implementation of cross-sectoral
policy: Water policy as an example. Water SA 30 (1): 1-8.
- Roux, DJ (2004) From Monitoring Design to Operational
Program: Facilitating the Transition under Resource-Limited Conditions.
In: Wiersma, G. B. (Editor). Environmental Monitoring. CRC Press, Boca
Raton, pp 631-648. (ISBN: 1-56670-641-6).
- Roux, DJ, Biggs, HC, Rogers, KH, Sergeant, A and Mercier,
JR (Submitted) Bridging the science-management divide: Moving from
so-called knowledge transfer to collaborative learning. Manuscript
submitted to Ecology and Society, September 2004 (see
- De Coning, CB and Sherwill, T (2004) An Assessment of the
Water Policy Process in South Africa (1994-2003). WRC Report No Report
No TT 232/04. Water Research Commission, Pretoria. A shortened version
will be submitted to Journal of Water Policy.
- De Coning, CB (In Prep) Policy implementation in the South
African public sector: Towards lessons of experience for the water
sector. This paper is being completed for submission by the end of 2004
to a journal such as Adminstratio Publico.
Training course/ seminar
The development and presentation of a training course (later referred
to as a professional seminar) was seen as a primary vehicle for
achieving knowledge transfer and capacity building regarding policy
development and implementation. The seminar was developed jointly
between the WRC, CSIR Environmentek, Wits University (School of Public
Development Management) and the Department of Water Affairs and
Forestry. Two seminars, each running over three days, were presented
during the course of the project.
A total of 57 people participated in the seminars that were presented
for free. The overall feedback from participants (see Appendix B)
indicates that the objectives of the seminar were achieved to a high
degree. Detailed synthesis of the lessons learned and guidelines for
the continuation of such a policy forum are presented in Chapter 4 and
Building a learning
The term “capacity building” is somewhat over-used
in South Africa today, yet the importance of ensuring the capacity for
implementation of new policy is readily recognised. In Chapter 5 we
provide several definitions related to the concepts of capacity,
capacity building, institutional capacity and organisational
capability. In the context of policy development,
implementation and review, we view capacity building as a total
(structural, functional and cultural) transformation of government in
order to mobilise all available resources to achieve policy objectives.
We emphasise the importance of the human element in overall capacity,
as it is ultimately humans that make decisions, build new relationships
and change behaviour. A key outcome of successful capacity improvement
is to enhance people’s “capacity for informed
action. This human capacity [for informed action] comes about through
the integration of information derived from data, plus theory that puts
the information in the proper context, plus experience of how things
work in the real world. The process of integration is also called
learning; hence the need for a strong focus on our ability to learn
– we essentially have to learn how to learn as an institution.
Chapter 5 suggests an approach to instituting a learning capability
specifically related to policy development, implementation and review.
A major intervention is required to cumulatively build a sustainable
capability, as opposed to having sporadic surges and subsequent losses
of capabilities as we go through cycles of higher and lower priority.
In practice, these considerations can be given affect to in a properly
constituted and managed R&D programme, with the aim of
developing and maintaining a core capability for policy development and
implementation in the water sector. By following a learning-by-doing
approach, such a programme should facilitate a partnership between
those involved with the development of a theoretical discourse and a
community of strategic as well as operational practitioners.
It is recommended that two parallel interventions be initiated and
maintained within the professional water sector:
In conclusion, it is hoped that the reflective linking of practical
experiences with tested theories and the documentation of associated
lessons, that were made possible by this project, would be of benefit
to the wider policy and water resource management fraternities of the
current as well as future generations.
- Firstly, an ongoing programme of training and capacity
building in generic public policy management, aimed at developing
capacity in people entering the water sector in early or
mid-career. This should be designed within a framework which
addresses the different knowledge needs of line managers, strategic
policy centres and specialists. This intervention would be
focused more on improving generic policy processes.
- Secondly, a vehicle for stimulating high-level debate and
action related to the content and impact of water policy. The
institutional “home” for such a vehicle needs to be
identified: there are advantages and disadvantages to locating this
either within a government agency or as a less formal network outside
an agency. This intervention would be focused on examining
policy content, initiating critical review as and when necessary, and
generating and analysing appropriate policy options.