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Integrated Water Systems & Governance

The IWSG department consists of four chair groups that cover a broad range of disciplinary knowledge – sociology,  law, economics, public administration, political science, information technology, mathematics, hydrological and hydraulic modelling sciences, engineering, knowledge management and innovation studies.

The object of the IWSG department is integrated water systems and their behaviour. With our research we seek to contribute to a better understanding of what makes such systems sustainable, resource efficient, resilient and how they contribute to social and environmental justice, in particular in, but not limited to, the Global South.

Definition integrated water system

We tentatively define an “integrated water system” as a dynamic system of natural and man-made water assets, associated social and economic processes, corresponding institutional structures and arrangements aimed at their management and governance, together with the virtual world of mathematical, computer-based and physical models simulating aspects of the behaviour of the real-world physical and socio-economic processes for better understanding, management, optimisation and prediction. Integrated water systems exist at different scales (“from bucket to basin” and beyond)

Research programme

Our research programme is centred on the conviction that in water systems social, biophysical and technological processes are intrinsically linked. Hence, it is the coming together of these processes that gives rise to the (virtuous and vicious) dynamics of water systems. The study of these processes and how they are recursively linked allows us to understand the complexity of water systems and how they can be improved. Our research programme is therefore necessarily interdisciplinary. To implement this programme, staff members of the four chair groups work together, but they also collaborate with staff members of other departments and with colleagues from partner organisations.

Research lines

While each of the four chair groups has its own research programme, these connect along the following common research lines of the department:

  • The dynamics of social-ecological-technological systems
  • Knowledge and information flows in decision making processes
  • Integrated modelling and decision support systems
  • The science-policy-society interface for achieving sustainable water systems

The department is organized into four scientific chair groups that cover a broad range of disciplinary knowledge: The Integrated Water Systems and Governance Department consists of the following Chair Groups each headed by a professor.


Our research programme has three dimensions. The first dimension is the theoretical dimension. As water systems are complex and multifaceted, their study requires us to critically apply theories from different disciplines and analyse what they contribute to our understanding and how they can be linked or combined. The study of integrated water systems therefore allows us to explore the boundaries of disciplinary theories. The second dimension is the development of models, tools and instruments that can assist in improving the functioning of water systems, in terms of resource efficiency, resilience and social and environmental justice. The third dimension consists of the application domains and the object of our research – the water utilities; river basin organisations; community-based water systems; national, regional and global policies; sectoral organisations, etc.

These three dimensions are linked. Theories inform the development of models and instruments and require application in empirical cases for grounding employed theories. Empirical testing of models and tools similarly informs further development and fine-tuning of these instruments and feeds into the adaptation and development of theories. Furthermore, applied research makes possible a critical reflection on concepts and theories prevailing in academic discourse and may instigate the development of alternative theories.

Master programmes

The department is providing input for education in three main Master programmes; Water Management; Water Science and Engineering (specialisation Hydroinformatics) and Environmental Science and Technology (specialisation Environmental Policy).

Chair Groups

Water Management

Contributes to developing and managing sustainable water systems through a better scientific understanding of their functioning.

Water Governance

Identifies the three interdependent domains: Water Policy, Water Law and Water Politics through which research, education and capacity development activities are organized.


Concerns the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and modelling, and their application for resolving water-related problems in civil engineering, and information systems for integrated water management.

Knowledge & Capacity Development

Analyses the dynamics of the learning, competence building and innovation systems for the water sector.