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Evaluating participation in water resource management: A review

G. Carr, G. Blöschl, D. P. Loucks

 Key documents such as the European Water Framework Directive and the U.S. Clean Water Act state that public and stakeholder participation in water resource management is required. Participation aims to enhance resource management and involve individuals and groups in a democratic way. Evaluation of participatory programs and projects is necessary to assess whether these objectives are being achieved and to identify how participatory programs and projects can be improved. The different methods of evaluation can be classified into three groups: process evaluation assesses the quality of participation process, for example, whether it is legitimate and promotes equal power between participants, intermediary outcome evaluation assesses the achievement of mainly nontangible outcomes, such as trust and communication, as well as short- to medium-term tangible outcomes, such as agreements and institutional change, and resource management outcome evaluation assesses the achievement of changes in resource management, such as water quality improvements. Process evaluation forms a major component of the literature but can rarely indicate whether a participation program improves water resource management. Resource management outcome evaluation is challenging because resource changes often emerge beyond the typical period covered by the evaluation and because changes cannot always be clearly related to participation activities. Intermediary outcome evaluation has been given less attention than process evaluation but can identify some real achievements and side benefits that emerge through participation. This review suggests that intermediary outcome evaluation should play a more important role in evaluating participation in water resource management.