Policy Brief n°1 - Multilevel governance: International Geneva as a Hub for Water Governance

February 2015 - Bolognesi T., Bréthaut C., Kluser S.


Geneva is one of the world’s major hubs for world governance and multilateral diplomacy. With its high concentration of international organisations, non-governmental organisation and permanent missions, Geneva plays a leading role in the active governance of the world’s most pressing issues and challenges. This is represented across all sectors and water governance is no exception. Many of the principal actors who are engaged on water governance policy and cooperation, those both locally and globally focused, are situated in the Geneva area.

This policy brief considers this outstanding situation. The intention is to reveal and examine the impact of this hub on the way in which these actors interrelate. The brief will also seek to uncover and define the key characteristics of each actors’ goals and objectives within the realm of water governance.

See also Monthly Water Map n°1 for illustrations on the same subject.


Geneva is one of the world’s major hubs for world governance and cooperation. Geneva is also a significant centre for multilateral diplomacy. In addition to numerous United Nations (UN) organizations, Geneva is the traditional backdrop for international negotiations such as those that take place at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) or the International Labour Office (ILO). International Non Governmental Organisations (NGO) are also located in Geneva and the surrounding area: World Economic Forum (WEF), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), etc. As a result of such a strong international presence, Geneva and its surrounding area has been dubbed “International Geneva”: a deeply interconnected network of organisations that lead or coordinate projects that are designed to influence social, environmental or economic issues.

The water sector is especially well represented within International Geneva. This can be seen in the presence of major international actors - the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), UN-Water, OECD or the World Bank – to name a few. It is only inevitable therefore that Geneva is the location from which a multitude of water management initiatives are kick-started. The multitude of forums for deliberation and negotiation have and continue to witness the launch of many proposals and the development of policies. This high-concentration of water focused organisations speaks volumes for the range and diversity of the actors who influence modern governance processes. Though water services and their governance stay locally grounded, in reality it is important to acknowledge that they are framed by decisions and institutions introduced at other levels, especially on an international level.

This unusually high concentration of actors actively engaged in international water governance means that International Geneva is a rich hotbed for undertaking the research necessary for this brief. This privileged situation enables us to uncover the configuration of actors influential in water program management or in elaborating guidelines about water governance. With our focus firmly placed on International Geneva, we will be able to identify and explain connections between individual actors and draw informed conclusions on the similarities, synergies and rivalries that are at present in the water governance process at large.

To this end, we can consider International Geneva to be the laboratory in which we will undertake our research – its specificity is to gather numerous key actors entered in symptomatic water governance processes (Grafmeyer & Joseph 1979). This laboratory will be used to study, in particular, the international and global aspect of water governance.

The case of International Geneva calls for multi-level governance analysis (Ostrom 2010) of water resources. The research is based on the analysis of links between governance components that act from different institutional levels and that support a specific development strategy (Adger et al. 2005). International Geneva embodies a complex system with a web of interconnections and interactions between organisations. Inevitably, this vast number of interactions is further multiplied when institutional levels take action within different geographical areas.

This policy brief is the first phase of a research program focussed on the international water governance mechanisms precisely as they are carried out in this Geneva setting. In order to generate relevant conclusions, the complexity of the case will be approached gradually. At this initial stage, we will describe the system. This will be composed of the identification of certain actors and the capturing of their status, skills, mandates and opinions. Then we will work to identify the main water issues that actors are involved in.

The policy brief is divided into three parts. The first part (1) presents the theoretical and empirical goals that our multi-level water governance analysis in International Geneva is directed at. The second part (2) outlines our methodology, which is based on the construction of an original database detailing the main organisations. The third part (3) submits a number of hypotheses. These will be formulated within our “laboratory” and they are intended to provide an original perspective on the multi-level governance of water resource.

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