Incorporating Human Aspects into Groundwater Research and Policy Making: A Soft and Critical Systems Thinking Approach

Sondoss Elsawah, Joseph H. A. Guillaume

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterScientificpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
109 Downloads (Pure)


Groundwater management issues present a serious challenge partly because of the complexity and uncertainty that human elements (i.e. cognitive, social, cultural and political) bring into the problem, as well as our limited capacity to fully comprehend and deal with such elements and their interactions with the biophysical systems. Whereas there is a wide recognition of the importance of stakeholder participation for the design and implementation of effective policies, the ongoing depletion of groundwater and disputes surrounding management policies suggest the need for better participatory mechanisms. This raises the question of how human elements can be incorporated into groundwater policies. Whereas there is no single discipline that can provide answers for such crucial research and policy questions, this chapter argues that systems thinking (especially soft and critical approaches) has the potential to provide a framework of theories, methods and example applications to help incorporate human elements into groundwater management and research. This chapter aims to give an overview of systems thinking by firstly describing the theory, distinguishing between hard, soft and critical systems thinking approaches. Secondly, we discuss the importance of mixing methods from these approaches and evaluating ‘process' and ‘outcomes' when applying them. Thirdly, we review four example applications, and highlight their relevance to groundwater management systems.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIntegrated Groundwater Management
EditorsAnthony J. Jakeman, Olivier Barreteau, Randall J. Hunt, Jean-Daniel Rinaudo, Andrew Ross
Place of PublicationCham
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-319-23576-9
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-23575-2
Publication statusPublished - 2016
MoE publication typeA3 Book section, Chapters in research books


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