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Characteristics of Stakeholder Networks Supporting Institutional Development in Rural Water Service Delivery



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McNicholl, Duncan Ryan  ORCID logo


Social network analysis was used in combination with qualitative methods to identify characteristics of stakeholder networks that supported cases of institutional development in rural water sectors in Ghana, Malawi, India, Tajikistan, and Bolivia. Institutions studied included local governments, a national government institution, and community operator committees managing water treatment facilities. Interviews with 162 participants in these countries used a facilitated network drawing exercise to capture data on stakeholder relationships and perceptions of factors supporting institutional development. Quantitative analysis of these networks and qualitative analysis of perceived factors identified three network characteristics as supporting institutional development for rural water supply in multiple countries and types of institutions. The three characteristics are: information and skill ties between an institution and stakeholders at lower levels of sector hierarchy; information and skill ties between an institution and stakeholders at higher levels of sector hierarchy; and coordination between stakeholders at higher levels of sector hierarchy that strongly engage an institution. These three characteristics can be observed from a network perspective, and qualitative descriptions of these interactions can improve understanding of the nuance and benefit of particular network ties. Social network analysis on its own cannot predict whether an institution will develop if these network characteristics exist, but it can be used to identify where network ties are absent or weakly developed. Methods and findings from this research enable a rigorous analysis of complex stakeholder interactions in rural water sectors to identify where particular relationships might be strengthened, and strengthening the environments that support institutional development has the potential to lead to the stronger institutions that are necessary for sustainable rural water service delivery.




McRobie, Allan


social network analysis, institutional development, rural water supply


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Funded by the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust