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Socio-institutional network mapping in the Guadiana basin

Analysis of Spanish water institutions
Multiple Authors
khalid maqsood khokhar

This socio-institutional network mapping exercise was conducted in the context of the EC FP7 Mediation project.

The following text is part of Deliverable 1.4: Visualization of institutional networks and the flows of information used for making adaptation decisions in a range of policy contexts and published in a paper here.

This article summarises the results of a stakeholder workshop conducted by the Technical University of Madrid (UPM) in the Guadiana basin (Spain) aimed at visualising networks using the NetMap approach (Schiffer, 2010). A description of how the exercise was carried out is available here.

Comparing the networks

Network topologies

The number of actors identified ranges from 11 (farmers) to 19 (environmental actors). The three groups have identified two main groups of actors: water users and policy makers (not always arranged in organized clusters). Within the water users network, there is a big emphasis on agricultural uses, including different types of farmers and related organizations. They also mention other water uses (industrial, domestic, tourism), in more detail in the water administration and environmental actors group, and in much less detail in the group of farmers. All groups also include, universities/research and environmental organizations.

Regarding policy makers, all groups identify several scales (local, regional, national, European, even international agreements in groups 2 and 3) and, more or less specified different sectors (water, health, agriculture, education; more detailed in group 3). While groups 1 and 3 have designed more homogeneous and interconnected networks, group 2 (farmers) seem to have a more partial view of the system, with a lower number and less detailed actors, some of which are disconnected to the others.

One interesting actor, which has only been considered in the environmental network, is the media, which was acknowledged as an important player by all stakeholders at the end, during the plenary discussion. This is significant because the media is completely absent from the other networks, though perceived as important to addressing climate adaptation, when included. Ways to improve its links to other actors could be explored.

Strength of connections – types of flows

Information flows

Stakeholders from the water administration (national and regional) perceived themselves as the main information providers in their network, followed by universities and environmental organizations. The different levels in the administrations are interlinked, and users mainly get all their information through the regional and national administration, which also serves as a channel for information coming from NGOs and scientists. According to them, the main information providers are also the ones who receive the most information (highest number of incoming arrows for environmental organizations, national and regional administration).

Group 2 (farmers) also perceive reciprocal flows (two-way arrows) between the different levels in the administrations, but they are not considered a channel by which to distribute all information to users; in fact, environmental organizations and scientists are in this case the main information providers, and users get information equally from all groups. The role of the irrigation communities is significant between information providers and receivers, since they receive much of the information but only appear to share with as Agricultural Unions though more links could be made with other farmers, the Regional Department of Agriculture etc. The actor with a highest number of incoming arrows (and hardly outgoing arrows) is the Environmental Authority and this is also an area where capacity could be improved to provide more support to other actors in the network.

In Group 3 – the environmental actors – the main information provider is the EU followed by environmental organizations and universities. In this case, those 3 information providers reach the different sectors directly, except for irrigators, who get the information through the national and regional administration. In this group, there are no clear channels of information as incoming and outgoing flows are quite homogeneously distributed, and only users, again, receive information without often providing information at the same time. All three groups share this feature. Finally, the media is surrounded by one circle that represents information flows with all the other actors in both directions in the environmental actors network.

Financial flows

According to the group of water administrators, who have quite a hierarchical view of the network, funds flow mainly from the EU, national and regional administrations towards the different users, the environmental organizations and the scientific community (the two main fund receivers and two main source of information production).

The group of farmers, who have a comparatively introspective view of the institutional landscape, also sees the EU as the main fund provider, followed by the environmental authority, while the main beneficiaries are scientists and irrigators.

In the group of environmental actors, which while heavily populated, is quite flat and does not contain any real clusters, the EU is also perceived as the main source of funds, followed by the national administration. As relayed by the water administration, all types of actors are funds receivers, most importantly agricultural users, together with environmental organizations and researchers.

Implementation capacity

In terms of implementation capacity, as might be expected, the water administration portray a fairly homogeneous network where most administrations are linked with all users, mostly with two-way arrows, and where there is no any actor with a clear predominance or preference.

Amongst famers, implementation capacity flows from the EU to the irrigation community, passing through the different administrative levels.

In the network of environmental actors, irrigators and the organizations of agricultural producers are the main focus of implementation capacity, while the origins of the arrows are distributed along the different administrations, industry and environmental organizations.

Strength of connections – number of links

In the group of water administrators, the different actors are perceived as well interconnected. The strongest links are between the different levels of the administration (above all the EU, national and regional, less the local), together with the different users, scientists and environmental organizations. The weakest links are of water administrators are to trade unions, employers’ and producers’ organizations.

Amongst the famer network there is more focus on the agricultural sector, and specifically on irrigation. The strongest links are between the irrigators with the different levels in the administration (EU, national and regional), followed by researchers and environmental organizations.

Finally, the environmental actors perceive a network with many interconnections between actors. The EU is very strongly linked with most actors, followed by the ministry of agriculture, and then the environmental organizations, the irrigators and the universities.


As a result of using the influence towers from the exercise, the different groups draw similar conclusions: the most influential actors are the EU, the national government and the regional government, together with irrigators. Although researchers and environmental organizations seemed to be important sources of information and, in some cases, implementation capacity, their real influence is considered quite limited because of a lack of enforcement capacity.


All groups see themselves as trying to combine conflicting objectives: conservation/environmental protection and development/economic benefit are seen as opposed to each other and thus objectives are difficult to achieve. Water administrators feel that all users should prioritize economic benefits, while the environmental organizations and the EU focus on environmental protection, and are the link between most of the actors. Farmers (Group 2) also feel that they are trying to satisfy all objectives, while administrations sometimes have the multiple objectives, sometimes focused on conservation, like the environmental organizations, which puts strong pressure on them and on the other users who just focus on development. Finally, the environmental actor network feels that many actors are too focused on development, though the different administrations are divided, with some focusing on conservation and others on development (depending on the sectors they represent). Some actors do try to combine all interests, such as the EU, Ministry of the Environment and the regional offices for climate change.

Some observations

The main difference between the three social networks seems to be their topology, which provides an idea of the differences on how the different stakeholder groups perceive the decision making process in the field of climate change adaptation. While the water administration is still focused on the old top-down approach of decision making, where the different levels of the administrations are organized in a hierarchical structure which serves as the main bridge between the other actors, facilitating the funds and the information exchange, users (in this case irrigators) have an individualistic view of the process, where they see themselves as the final recipients of funds, information and implementation capacity coming from diverse sources, and they are highly depending on the administration. The third group (‘environment’, formed by environmental groups and representatives of the climate change offices) has the most holistic approach; they are the ones with the deepest understanding of the adaptation process, translated into a highest number of stakeholder groups (which are basically the same as in the other two groups but defined in more detail) and into a higher complexity of links between actors; these are, in this case, organized in an egalitarian structure. Although all groups are aware of the big influence of the EU, groups 1 and 2 identify the need of mediators between the EU and users when analyzing flows, while group 3 perceives a more direct relationship between the different types of actors.

Although the three networks built by the three stakeholder groups differ in some aspects, they all agree on the influential actors; according to results, those who have the highest influence on adaptation to climate change in the basin are the EU, the national administration (river basin authority, Ministry of Agriculture, water directorate), the regional administration (regional offices of climate change, regional departments of agriculture) and irrigators. In general, these actors are well connected to each other.

However, there are two other actors who are also well connected but do not play a crucial role in the system: researchers and environmental organizations. These two actors seem to receive an important flow of knowledge but this is not converted in the system as a flow of implementation capacity. In addition, these two users do not seem directly connected to water users, but only through the administration. However, another weak point of the networks overall is the minor role of local administrations, which are missing (in two of the three networks) or hardly connected to other actors. Apart from the local level, all the other administrations constitute an important bridge, which connects all the actors in the system and tries to reconcile their conflicting objectives. Thus the administration could have a bigger role to play in this respect at the local level.

Given the influence of irrigators in the system, their reduced vision of the network is noteworthy, where other users are reduced to a simple label, and are mostly perceived as disconnected from all the other actors. The reason for the perception of these weak links would be important to explore in further work.

Schiffer, E., Hauck, J. 2010. Net-Map: Collecting Social Network Data and Facilitating Network Learning through Participatory Influence Network Mapping, Field Methods 22(3): 231-249.

Varela-Ortega, C., Blanco-Gutiérrez, I., Esteve, P., Bharwani, S., Fronzek, S. and Downing, T. E. (2014). How can irrigated agriculture adapt to climate change? Insights from the Guadiana Basin in Spain. Regional Environmental Change. DOI:10.1007/s10113-014-0720-y.

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