River commons are networked socio-ecological systems that integrate the social (human) and natural (ecological, biophysical) communities to practice river stewardship based on their mutual interdependence on shared riverine livelihood interests, knowledge and values. Throughout the past decade, in both the Global South and North, a large variety of civil organisations and “new water justice movements” have emerged that engage in co-governance of river commons. These grounded river co-governance initiatives deploy innovative strategies and proposals ranging from “river rewilding” to re-generating and re-animating river systems in its broadest sense; from new rules for catchment co-governance to creative, pluralist water management regimes.
The River Commons research and action program is about learning from and with river co-governance initiatives and riverine communities, which are often sidelined in conventional water management approaches. Top-down and more technocratic approaches around the world have tended to overlook or consciously disregard the critical role of local actors and organisations. As a result, their interventions often affect watersheds, river flows, water quality and river communities negatively. In this context, River Commons aims to redirect the focus: understanding and supporting innovative river co-governance initiatives.
The project’s central question is: How do innovative river co-governance initiatives dynamize river commons and regenerate river ecologies, and which transdisciplinary concepts, methodological tools, and learning configurations can help support those river commoning and co-governance initiatives?
Develop and employ transdisciplinary concepts and methodological tools for research, education and multistakeholder interaction, to understand and support innovative river co-governance initiatives and so contribute to equitable policies and sustainable socio-ecological river systems.
To study the project’s central question and pursue its objectives, PhD researchers together with local stakeholders will investigate nine cases in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe, where local communities and organisations co-govern their riverine environment. You can find more information here.
The overall project as well as the PhD studies are guided by a framework that encompasses four dimensions of river systems: (1) River-as-Ecosociety (2) River-as-Territory, (3) River-as-Subject and (4) River-as-Movement. All four dimensions and mutual dynamics will be studied in an inter-/transdisciplinary way. You can find further information on the framework here.
Furthermore, in the course of the project, River Co-governance Labs (RCLs) will be developed and employed. Based on ideas from citizen science, social and transformative learning, and participatory action research, these interactive spaces will be further developed with diverse local stakeholders in order to co-create knowledge and action for equitable and sustainable river commons.
Project duration: 01 September 2021 to 31 August 2026 (60 months)
Project funding: River Commons is funded by the Wageningen Interdisciplinary Research and Education Fund (INREF).
The River Commons project includes nine PhD projects that study river commoning practices in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe, in a participatory way. Each research project investigates a particular river system, its actors, dynamics and historic and current governance approaches, with an emphasis on grassroots initiatives and interactions. Methodologically, participatory approaches and specifically the initiation of River Co-Governance Labs are key to all projects. The PhD researchers together with local stakeholders will organize interaction, exchange and co-production of knowledge within and across cases and countries. This will promote cross-continental insights and the formation of an international river commons network. The focus is on research and action.
Browse the research projects below:
The central activities of River Commons include:
Find more information on PhD Projects.
River Co-governance Labs
The River Co-governance Labs (RCLs) will be implemented in each case study site together with riverine stakeholders and researchers, and aim to foster collaborative research, action and dissemination. Each RCL will include participatory co-design, implementation, evaluation, refinement, dissemination and replication of innovate co-governance strategies and action proposals to achieve real impact in the case sites and beyond. To enhance this collaborative and co-creative setting, interaction at the international virtual River Commons platform will facilitate continuous cross-case exchange and multi-scale engagement among the PhD projects and among the RCLs.
In 2022, there will be a collective summer school for all PhD students from the River Commons and Riverhood projects. It will comprise training sessions on various topics and skills such as in water governance and ecology, participatory action research and visual research methods.
Joint PhD-Secondments School
After the summer school, PhD students will have the opportunity to put the acquired knowledge and skills into practice right away, during a secondment. For 3 months, they will learn about and do research together on the Meuse River and the Biesbosch and Haringvliet Deltas, in the Netherlands. All Spanish-speaking students will afterwards also travel to Spain to further practice and consolidate their skills. Hosted by the New Water Culture Foundation and the Polytechnic University of Valencia, they will engage in action research with the Serpis River (Spain) platform as another case of local reclaiming of river commons.
International Master students exchange programme
This master programme focus on participatory research, education, and awareness-raising on river commons. You can find more information here.
Integration and dissemination
Integration and comparison of insights from the different case studies, as well as dissemination of findings through scientific articles, movies, policy papers, this website and others, will be done by the project staff and postdoc researchers throughout the project. You can find all outputs under publications.
- Crossing borders to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals: Lessons from ten years of the Wageningen University Interdisciplinary Research & Education Fund (INREF)
- How can we make sure there will still be tuna in our seas in the future? How should we tackle Panama disease, which threatens the banana as we know it? And how can palm oil producers in Indonesia and Thailand make a living in a sustainable way? These are just some examples of subjects investigated in the Interdisciplinary Research and Education Fund (INREF) of Wageningen University. All are linked to the major global issues concerning health, energy, food and water, captured by the UN in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This publication presents a selection of projects funded by INREF, including River Commons, which aim is to support the equitable co-governance of rivers.
This video presents the River Commons project, an integrated research programme aiming to explore the opportunities of river co-governance.