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JPIWATER-Water challenges for a changing world

Enhancing trust in government for effective water governance

Alternative title: Styrke tilliten til myndighetene for effektiv vannforvaltning

Awarded: NOK 3.6 mill.

The recent approval by the Norwegian government of mining activities in the municipalities of Sør-Varanger and Kvalsund (currently Hammerfest) in the Troms and Finnmark region in Northern Norway, both With controversial rock waste depositories in nearby fjords, has caused a at times heated social debate over the ecological footprint of mining and the economic benefits of the extraction of minerals. Despite its importance, trust in governance is currently understudied in academic work, particularly when it comes to the formal procedures on which formal decisions are based. In the Norwegian part of the EnTruGo-project, we therefore analyse trust in authorities with a particular focus on trust dynamics in relation to Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA's). EIA's are by many actors in society seen as "democratic innovations" giving stakeholders the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process. The aim of such procedures is to increase trust and participation among stakeholders. It is imperative to understand how trust can be enhanced so that decisions about mining projects with significant ecological impact including the dumping of rock waste in nearby fjords are seen as legitimate by stakeholders and the wider public. The aim of our project is to explore how interpersonal trust developed through such "democratic innovations", such as an EIA's, impact trust in government as guardian of water Resources. The challenges in terms of water governance of the countries in focus in our study (South Africa, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands) vary but they all underscore the urgency for governments to ensure sustainability and legitimacy. With regard to the Norwegian case, preliminary results from our survey conducted during the spring of 2020, suggest that trust levels among citizens in Norway's northernmost region with regard Norwegian authorities' management of water resources, are "relatively high." This means that trust dynamics are generally in line with those illustrated by the 2019 national survey on trust dynamics in Norway (den nasjonale innbyggerundersøkelsen) - although this study does not focus on water management specifically - but the respondents' knowledge of how water resources are managed in Norway, however, is rather low. In 2021, the implementation of the project has been in line with the plans. The article from the survey was published in spring 2021 in Tidsskriftet VANN, and thus work package 1 was also completed for us. Our joint article on an academic review of trust in water governance was published in the international refereed journal Water Research X in 2022. The expert interviews that form the basis for work package 2 were conducted in the period September 2020 to April 2021. These continue to be analyzed and prepared for publication even as the project ends. Work on Work package 3 got off to a good start in the spring of 2021, and the first field work began in August 2021. The project was extensively presented during the Research Days 2021 (see results information). We changed a great deal about how the work was carried out as a direct result of Covid-19. This has mainly resulted in all interviews that were planned to be conducted physically, were conducted digitally. Regarding work package 3, these interviews were conducted physically, in line with the reopening of society. We asked for a prolongation of the project until the end of June 2023 to undertake 3 field research interviews, 2 in Hammerfest and 1 in Kirkenes. Interviews and conversations about trust and water management and environmental impact assessments will continue in Sør Varanger after the end of the project in order to solidify ethnographic analysis of trust at the local level. We aim to publish at least one more academic article on the findings at the local level. The joint publication among the whole team comparing trust among our case studies is currently ongoing to be submitted for publication by late 2023.

Drinking water shortages in Cape Town, water quality threats posed by mining industries in Norway, social risks caused by hydropower dams in Sweden and droughts provoked by infrastructure developments in the Netherlands. The requirements on water governance to successfully provide for urgent societal water needs is rapidly increasing. To deal with these challenges, trust in governments, as one of the main actors, is key. However, these governments face a decline in trust, putting pressure on their legitimacy. The EnTruGo project (Enhancing Trust in Governments for effective water governance) therefore focusses on how trust between people influences trust in governments and vice versa, and aims at developing effective strategies for enhancing trust in governments. To rebuild trust, legislatures and state agencies have launched various democratic innovations to strengthen service delivery; including initiatives such as citizens’ assemblies, e-governance, multi-stakeholder platforms, and direct democracy. A wide range of studies have shown that trust can develop in these contexts, but can also lead to increased distrust. Therefore, the aim of the EnTruGo project is: to explore how interpersonal trust develops through democratic innovations characterised by public participation and stakeholder processes impact trust in government as guardian of water resources. We do this by looking at trust in water governance in the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa and Sweden. EnTruGo showed through a systematic literature review that trust is widely studied in water governance however it also shows that it is a dispersed field and lacks theoretical development. Aiming to understand trust government in the context of water governance, EnTruGo builds upon these findings and shows in involved countries that trust in water governance authorities is relatively high compared to general trust in government but is under pressure. This is also felt by water managers working on current water issues. In local contexts trust remains under pressure, and stakeholder participation as very limited impact on trust in government. This is mainly as trust in government is impacted by a generalized feeling of trust, trust tendencies Following our main question: to what extent do democratic innovations contribute to trust in government? We can now say that they do impact trust. More specific, they impact trust in government from those involved. However, the broader public is not impacted and also for those directly involved, trust is impacted by other governance contexts, relations with social groups and societal developments. It are these factors that need to be taken into account when trying to understand the interrelation between interpersonal and institutional trust.

The recent political decisions to approve the re-opening of the copper mine in Kvalsund and the iron mine in Kirkenes, both with a controversial tailings depository in nearby fjords causes a heated social debate. Particular attention in the Norwegian part of this project will be paid to the role of trust with regard to governance of Arctic waters, i.e. fjords but also freshwater systems necessary for the production of for example iron. The core issue of these debates is the role of trust/distrust in formal institutions including the marginalization of local (indigenous) communities in relation to the decision-making processes designed to regulate mining activities, i.e. the disposal of mine tailings (rock waste). In order to make informed decisions, the law requires an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the proposed project. As a member of the EEA, Norway has had to harmonize its legislation with EU law and the use of EIA’s is required according to framework directive 2011/92/EU. The purpose is not only to contribute making legitimate decisions but also to involve the public and authorities in the decision-making process. However, if the information provided in the EIA’s (or other relevant formal decisions) is regarded as partial, not objective or biased – for example when the burden of proof is shifted from the mine developer to those whose activities or rights are influenced negatively (ie. Dannevig et al. 2018) – the legitimacy, effectiveness and sustainability of water governance is at stake. Hence, we argue that studies of trust needs to be broadened by exploring “legitimacy” in addition to and not limited to an emphasis on “local consent” (Dannevig et al. 2018; Prno and Scott Slocombe 2012). It is imperative to understand how trust can be enhanced so governments can make both informed and legitimate decisions about mining projects.

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JPIWATER-Water challenges for a changing world