Global approach of the project

As groundwater extraction increases globally, it has brought wide-ranging economic and ecological impacts. These impacts occur in the context of a larger critical zone environment, including interacting soil, surface water, and groundwater systems, and a still larger socio-economic and ecological system

In this larger system, the consequences of deteriorating groundwater conditions (declining water levels, seawater intrusion, declining base flow and wetlands, land subsidence, and soil salinity) cause a variety of problems for human economies and societies as well as damages to ecological conditions.

This larger system is also subject to a variety of management activities in terms of water uses, water supplies, allocations, infrastructure, and operations. This management must support this range of uses over a range of seasons and hydrologic conditions, and will probably need to adapt to changes in climate, technology and water demands over time. It is therefore common for effective management to involve a variety of management activities implemented differently by a variety of groups of people for different hydrologic conditions.

Schematic representation of Groundwater Dependent Socio-ecological Systems (GDSES).

To manage for the undesirable impacts of groundwater depletion, many countries often begin by seeking to use systems of regulation to restrict groundwater use. Their implementation often remains problematic from low compliance with set rules, arising in part from little involvement of stakeholders in establishing groundwater use rules.


Many factors make stakeholder engagement in groundwater management difficult. As groundwater management usually focuses mostly on limiting (current) groundwater abstraction, there is limited scope for broader solutions, including supply augmentation and operations, which benefit current water abstractors, making current water users de facto opponents to rules expected to negatively impact them.

Our main objectives are to show that well-designed stakeholder processes can deliver socially-accepted management rules with higher likelihood of compliance, thereby enhancing groundwater long-term sustainability. We focus on how effective stakeholder involvement improves stakeholder groundwater literacy, develops capacity to think long-term and capture trade-offs, and helps in developing innovative rules.

We also investigate how a shift from narrowly defined groundwater management (limiting water abstraction) to conjunctive soil and groundwater management (managing “net water extraction” by including to (water) retention, recharge, and nature-based solutions) gives more chances for successful stakeholder process outcomes.

This “portfolio approach” to regional and basin water management has increased the robustness and reduced the costs and environmental impact of many water systems globally and has potential to greatly ease the short-term burdens of improving groundwater sustainability.  Analysis by simulation and optimization model and, more importantly, social learning and participatory discussions and decisions are central to developing and successfully implementing such effective portfolios of water supply and demand management actions.


Our research builds on:

  1. a truly transdisciplinary approach combining biophysical and human sciences (sociology, economics, political sciences…);
  2. strong stakeholder mobilisation from research design to the critical understanding of results;
  3. combining context-specific approaches (7 case studies with diverse contexts in France, US, Taiwan and Russia) and comparative research ensuring collective learning and identification of pre-conditions for successful stakeholder processes delivering socially accepted groundwater management rules.
social learning

Social learning

The current groundwater regulatory framework rarely provides conditions for organizing a structured and longterm stakeholder dialogue and engagement that would facilitate social learning (Pahl-Wostl et al, 2007; Pahl-Wostl et al, 2008; Reed et al, 2010). This is needed to construct (i) a shared representation of the complex socio-ecological system in which GW is embedded, (ii) to develop shared, or at least mutually understood, socio-political and ethical values underlying GW management principles, (iii) to negotiate the practical definition of sustainability and (iv) to decide how water should be shared among users (Barreteau et al, 2016). There is a need to explore different operational mechanisms, platforms and tools that support stakeholder mobilization and the social learning process


That is why the engagement of stakeholders in the various participatory and decision-making processes will be strongly based on dialogues and interactive, collective working. To do so, a diversity of facilitation techniques will be used during the workshops organized in the case study areas. Facilitation techniques ensuring participation, co-learning and co-building (e.g. on the added value of INCLUSIVE research and pre-conditions for extrapolation) will also be applied in other workshops and the meetings of the international stakeholder group.