Assessing Urban Governance

The Case of Water Service Co-production in Venezuela

by Luisa Moretto (Author)
©2015 Monographs 286 Pages
Series: Action publique / Public Action, Volume 12


When examining the relationship between urban governance and improved service provision in the Global South, there is frequently a gap between the rhetoric and the reality. Informal, practice-based local governance processes that aim to produce better urban services often diverge from official governance prescriptions and mechanisms for service delivery within the institutional sphere. This book explores the complex area of urban governance assessment, focusing on the issue of sustainable water supplies for the urban poor.
Adapting the UN-Habitat Urban Governance Index, the author explores the dual nature of urban governance, analyzing its formal dimension at the municipal level but also taking account of informal and locally specific governance arrangements aimed at improving access to basic services. Water service co-production strategies involving both public institutions and organized groups of citizens in Venezuela provide an excellent case study of this phenomenon. The book illustrates the limitations of official governance assessment tools in appreciating the extent and vibrancy of local practices and agreements, as well as investigating the discrepancies between normative prescriptions and governance arrangements on the ground.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Governance, good governance and urban governance
  • Local, informal, needs-driven, practice-based governance relationships and arrangements
  • The case of technical water committees in the Caracas Metropolitan Region
  • Investigating urban governance for better water provisions
  • Overview of the book
  • Chapter 1 Urban Governance and Water Supply Systems
  • 1.1. Urban Governance and Neoliberalism
  • Neoliberalism and the city
  • Urban governance within the neoliberal project
  • 1.2. Urban Governance and Service Delivery
  • Neoliberalism, structural adjustment and the city
  • Structural adjustment and the delivery of urban services
  • Urban service delivery and community involvement
  • Informal systems of access to urban water services
  • Institutionalised co-production of water services as a way forward
  • Chapter 2 Assessing Urban Governance: A Principle Perspective
  • 2.1. Urban Governance Assessments
  • 2.2. Urban Governance Index (UGI) Principles and Indicators
  • UGI principles
  • 1. Effectiveness (including: efficiency, subsidiarity and strategic vision)
  • 2. Equity (including: sustainability, gender equality and intergenerational equity)
  • 3. Participation (including: citizenship, consensus orientation and civic engagement)
  • 4. Accountability (including: transparency, rule of law and responsiveness)
  • UGI indicators
  • 2.3. Qualitative Applicability of the UGI to Institutionalised Co-production for Water Services
  • Effectiveness
  • Equity
  • Participation
  • Accountability
  • Chapter 3 Co-producing Water Services in Venezuela
  • 3.1. Operational and normative framework for water supply in Venezuela
  • Institutional framework for water provisions
  • Water service provision organisation and distribution
  • Actors involved in the water sector in Venezuela
  • 3.2. Technical Water Committees as drivers of “institutionalised co-production”
  • Technical Water Committees (Mesas Tecnicas de Agua – MTA)
  • Technical water committees as alternative governance arrangements for the “institutionalised co-production” of water services
  • Water Community Councils, National Water Meetings and Cooperatives
  • Chapter 4 Applying the Urban Governance Index to Institutionalised Water Service Co-production
  • 4.1. Water service co-production within two low-income settlements
  • The Caracas Metropolitan Region and the Tuy Valleys
  • Overview of infrastructure for water delivery in the Tuy Valleys
  • Hacienda el Carmen in the Paz Castillo municipality
  • Paso Real 2000 in the Cristóbal Rojas municipality
  • 4.2. A Multi Level Mixed Model Design
  • Phase 1: Municipal level of analysis
  • Phase 2: Community level of analysis
  • Phase 3: Meta-inferences from the two units of analysis
  • Chapter 5 Assessing Urban Governance for Water Services at the Municipal Level
  • 5.1. Poor effectiveness within an incomplete decentralisation process
  • Subsidiarity of authority and availability of sufficient resources and autonomy (decentralisation process)
  • Political and legal aspects
  • Administrative aspect
  • Fiscal aspect
  • Institutional efficiency in delivering public services and responding to civil society concerns and welfare
  • 5.2. Equity in water provision policies with disparate results in water access
  • Policies, processes, tolls and mechanisms for access to basic services (distributional equity)
  • Right to water
  • Pro-poor access to drinking water
  • Direct access to water (piped connections)
  • Pro-poor pricing
  • Equity in decision making – participatory governance (procedural equity)
  • Incentives for the development of formal/informal systems and arrangements to access water services
  • Procedural equity
  • 5.3. Democracy under tension...
  • Representative democracy
  • Participative democracy
  • 5.4. Accountability defied by weak municipal autonomy
  • Downward accountability: accountability of municipalities to civil society
  • Chapter 6 Low-income Communities’ Involvement in Local Governance for Improved Water Provisions
  • 6.1. Effectiveness of urban governance on the ground: case by case
  • Effectiveness in the delivery of safe drinking water and in enhancing community development
  • Improved water provisions and community awareness
  • Enhanced community development
  • Effectiveness in responding to civil society concerns
  • 6.2. Micro-inequalities leading to spatial fragmentation
  • Distributional equity: access to basic services
  • Distribution of water improvements
  • Meeting community’s values for water
  • Needs for water improvements
  • Willingness to pay
  • Equity in water supply
  • In kind contributions
  • Water cost structure and payment collection
  • Procedural equity (decision-making process)
  • 6.3. Efficient informal participation
  • Participative democracy
  • Dwellers’ knowledge about MTAs and condominiums
  • Participation in MTA meetings
  • Community involvement in the network construction
  • Collaboration between the municipality, the water company and the technical water committees
  • Representative democracy
  • 6.4. Does accountability meet effectiveness in water delivery?
  • MTA accountability to community members
  • Transparency
  • Integrity and responsiveness
  • Institutions accountability to the MTA, and vice versa
  • Chapter 7 Conclusions
  • 7.1. Urban governance at the municipal and settlement levels
  • Effectiveness: Subsidiarity of authority, sufficient resources and autonomy
  • Effectiveness: Institutional efficiency in delivering public services and responding to civil society concerns and welfare
  • Equity: Distributional equity
  • Equity: Procedural equity
  • Participation: Participative democracy
  • Accountability: Downward Accountability
  • 7.2. Placing urban governance for water services in perspective
  • Normative and operational challenges
  • Decentralisation and centralisation tendencies
  • Formal and informal relationships and agreements
  • 7.3. Applying the UN-HABITAT Urban Governance Index
  • Experience with the assessment tool
  • Policy implications and input for future developments
  • Settlement unit of analysis
  • Qualitative methods
  • Normative framework
  • Bibliography
  • Annex 1
  • Annex 2a
  • Annex 2b
  • Annex 3
  • “Public Action”

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First of all, I am genuinely indebted to Marcello Balbo, professor at the University IUAV of Venice, Italy, who has always been available to meet up and discuss my research, as well as read and comment on the chapters that made up the previous version of this book. I am also very grateful to Julio Davila, professor at the Developing Planning Unit, University College London, for his valuable help in conducting my research and for sharing his experience with me. I am also grateful to two professors I met at the CENDES, Centro de Estudios del Desarrollo, Universidad Central de Venezuela: Miguel Lacabana, who illustrated the findings of his research, orientated my work on the ground and provided the indispensable community leader contacts through which to undertake the fieldwork; and Marianela Carillo for physically introducing me in the communities studied. I would also like to express my gratitude to Shipra Narang, Vice President at ISOCARP, the International Society of City and Regional Planners, and to Sylvy Jaglin, professor at the Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée, for their precious comments on the first version of this research, which helped me immensely in finalising my work.

It would have not been possible to conduct this research without the welcome, availability and support of the community members in the two Venezuelan settlements where the fieldwork was conducted. In particular, Elena, Yunilde and Gladys, who let me stay in their homes and always took care of me; they spent their time facilitating this research and providing the best conditions under which to conduct the interviews. The memory of their enthusiasm and courage in working to improve their settlement’s living conditions was a wonderful incentive to complete this book. A special thanks to Norieli too, for keeping me company with her drawings during the transcription of the interviews.

Thanks also to Pascal, for producing all the graphics in this book with incredible patience, despite my never-ending remarks. Finally, thanks to Jean-Louis Genard for the opportunity to publish my work in this PIE Peter Lang collection.

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This book presents an exploration of the complex and uncertain domain of urban governance and sustainable water supplies for the benefit of the urban poor, with a precise focus on developing countries. Ensuring and governing sustainable access to basic services, as well as the wider urban development in the cities of the South, is still an open and debated issue. Different policies and strategies have been proposed over time in order to guarantee basic services for the urban poor. Generally, they have rested on the public service model, on private interventions and management techniques, and on multiple kinds of public-private partnerships – up to the current focus on, and confidence in, various forms of governance systems, seen as a way to bridge the gaps between the wide variety of service provision models. Since the 1990s, the international community has increasingly seen governance as the most promising development mechanism to also ensure sustainable access to basic services at the city level, although, as has been recurrently noticed, “its versatility means that it continues to mean different things to different authors” (Hydén, 2011: 5). Most probably due to the vagueness of the concept, governance presents a gap between rhetoric and reality not only in its definition and operation: what (urban) governance is, how it really works in practice and how it could be measured, distinguishing formal procedures and prescriptions from local actions and practices, remain open questions.

Governance, good governance and urban governance

Despite some researchers raising concerns about the prospect of governance becoming the “development fad” of the 1990s (Halfani et al., 1995: 108), it is clear at the present time that this term has entered into the development agenda of all donors as a common element of aid-speak. Since the beginning of the 1990s, the term “governance” has been frequently recognised as a new buzzword used by the international aid community to improve development assistance (Boeninger, 1991; Paproski, 1993). Of all the many definitions considered, the one cited below highlights two fundamental governance connotations that enjoy a large consensus: first, governance is broader than government and, second, it involves all civil society stakeholders1: “Governance, as distinct from government, ← 13 | 14 → refers to the relationship between civil society and the state, between rulers and the ruled, the government and the governed” (Halfani et al., 1995: 108). Within this definition, governance relationships have been described as “joint action” (Rakodi, 2003: 524), “governing interactions” (Kooiman, 2003: 5), “negotiation mechanisms” (Garcia, 2006: 745), and “interact[ions] with a view to policy making (Hydén, 2011: 251), just to cite some examples.

In the context of development assistance, the concept of governance has often been replaced with that of good governance2. Good governance has represented a strategic key issue in achieving development goals and has even been seen as a reform objective in itself (Degnbol-Martinussen and Engberg-Pedersen, 2003; Stren, 2012). Above all, however, it has assumed a deep and specific normative connotation for donor agencies that has, in turn, resulted in a clear conditionality for recipient countries (Harpham and Boateng, 1997; Devas, 1999; Castro, 2005; Hydén, 2011). According to Leftwich (1994: 371), good governance includes three main normative levels: systemic (“the concept of governance is wider than that of government” and “refers to a system of political and socio-economic relations”), political (refers to a multi-party representative democracy) and administrative (“an efficient, independent, accountable and open public service”). Nevertheless, the political and administrative means by which these norms could be put into practice have been frequently controversial, relying often on external donor pressure towards liberal democratisation and privatisation (Nunan and Satterthwaite, 2001). As a result, the normative identification of good governance characteristics is very often followed, in literature, by concrete descriptions of how good governance relationships and responsibilities should be operationalized (Rakodi, 2003). This is easily recognisable at the urban level.

Urban governance increasingly represents the local level of application of good governance prescriptions (normative as well as practical) in developing countries (Lombard, 2013). The interest in cities lies undoubtedly in the recognition of rapid urban growth and in the resulting fundamental role of the urban areas for development. It is within cities that productivity and social welfare flourish, making them one of ← 14 | 15 → the privileged places where aid assistance is concentrated in order to achieve the broader goal of poverty reduction but also to strengthen their role in the global market (Osmont, 1995, 2002; Balbo, 2002b). Likewise, the city is the place where civil society mobilises and organises itself to cope with service shortcomings (see for instance Halfani et al., 1995; Mayer and Künkel, 2012) and where in turn, profiting from an active civil society, governance relationships can better develop. In particular, giving emphasis to the principle of an improved equity, the involvement of communities – and especially low-income communities – turns out to be a promising alternative to the dominant hierarchical and capitalistic organisations. Basic services become a shared responsibility between the numerous urban stakeholders, which have to agree on and contribute both to the design and delivery of city services. Urban governance is supposed to provide the arena for urban actors – including those belonging to the community sector, notably through the notion of civil society – to be democratically represented in the institutional decision-making process and to directly play a part in service delivery through their concrete and innovative contributions. Nevertheless, the potential of the very rationale behind such kind of community participation to challenge the top-down governance approach – whether state – or market-driven – is often placed under discussion.

Local, informal, needs-driven, practice-based governance relationships and arrangements

Different types of governance arrangements and relationships can also unfold at the local level, according to a process based on the genuine involvement of communities as the central actors in the development process. In developing countries, when the public or private sectors fail to guarantee formal provisions, the urban poor rely on a broad variety of different practices to gain access to basic services and drinking water provisions. These systems are generally developed at the very local level, based on a wide spectrum of informal – and sometimes illegal – arrangements (belonging to market mechanisms or solidarity networks) and rooted in traditional or consolidated practices. They are usually “needs-driven”, in contrast with the more formal and “policy-driven” mechanisms (Allen et al., 2006a) supported by institutional bodies or development agencies.

Such informal survival practices for obtaining drinking water are often overlooked or even opposed. Nevertheless, evidence from research carried out in the last two decades3 has shown that, when local institutions ← 15 | 16 → recognise and support these needs-driven practices, new forms of collective arrangements originate between low-income communities and the other actors involved in the water delivery process. This is the way in which urban governance works in practice, at a very local- and practical-based level. Several positive outcomes and synergies can arise from these types of governance arrangements. They range from the improved quality of water provisions to a more efficient use of financial and natural resources; from a broader recognition of the urban poor as citizens entitled to numerous rights – urban services, land, housing, etc. – and their involvement in the decision-making process.

Many critics agree that these cooperative actions and arrangements need to be supported and included in the broader discourse regarding urban governance, as alternative governance systems to achieve structural improvements in water supplies. To this end, recent research has been focused, on the one hand, on a better understanding of the rationale and rules that characterise the informal and locally-based practices and on the potentialities that they carry. On the other hand, it has investigated how the more political and institutional processes can – formally or informally – support and collaborate with the wide variety of urban service providers, exploring ways in which to articulate informal and local practices to the more formal system of distribution, producing synergies rather than negative effects (see for instance Allen et al., 2006a; Phumpiu and Gustafsson, 2008; Olivier de Sardan, 2009; Batley and Mcloughlin, 2010; Allen, 2010, 2012; Booth, 2011; Gaventa and Barrett, 2010; Wild et al., 2012).

The case of technical water committees in the Caracas Metropolitan Region

Local collective actions for ensuring access to water provisions to low-income communities in Venezuela seem to fall into the above framework. They are considered alternative modes of governance coordination since community organisations play a fundamental role in shaping innovative “governance practices” where new relationships unfold amongst the different actors involved in the service delivery process (Lacabana, 2003; Cariola and Lacabana, 2003, 2005b; Lacabana et al., 2004; Allen et al., 2006a, 2006b; UN-HABITAT 2006a, Moretto, 2010; Allen, 2010, 2012; Aubriot and Moretto, 2013; McMillan et al., 2014). ← 16 | 17 →

Current Venezuelan systems of accessing water service provisions – especially for low-income residents – are based on both formal and informal practices and arrangements. In most Venezuelan municipalities, formal practices are represented by piped networks, public or private household distribution through licensed tankers, wells or bore-wells. Informal practices include illegal connections to the main public pipes or private distribution through non-licensed tankers4. For a little over a decade, these illegal water provision networks have gone unopposed. On the contrary, we have witnessed an explicit institutional effort to better organise and further develop these kinds of connections. The 1999 Constitution and the 2001 Drinking Water and Sanitation Service Act have been milestones in a new normative framework, aimed at regularising and institutionalising these needs-driven and informal practices.

At the core of this new tentative governance practice in Venezuela are the “technical water committees” – Mesas Tecnicas de Agua (MTAs) – which represent a new and fundamental community actor. An MTA is a community-based organisation, built for the purpose of channelling community participation in the decision-making process and carrying out the physical improvements to service delivery. Governance arrangements develop around MTAs as a result of agreements, collaboration and cooperation with the other main stakeholders in the drinking water provision process – notably, the water companies, the municipalities and all of the community members.

This type of governance practice is here presented as a form of “institutionalised co-production” (Joshi and Moore, 2004) where citizens directly and regularly interact with the more institutional actors in order to bring about structural improvements. Venezuelan current political orientations are indubitably a major factor in supporting the development of such co-production. The government’s efforts towards looking for alternatives to capitalistic regimes are unquestionably a priority. If “Mr Chavez’s fame stems, too [besides the opposition to George Bush], from his oil-backed claims to be leading a new revolutionary project of “21st-century socialism” that tears up the nostrums of economic liberalism”5, current president Nicolas Maduro seems clearly to be pursuing Chavez politics. Nevertheless, whether this kind of institutionalised co-production could be considered as a genuine alternative governance mode or as still belonging to a state-centric approach needs to be further investigated. ← 17 | 18 →


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2015 (January)
Urban Governance Index to Institutionalised Water Service Co-production Co-producing Water Services in Venezuela Urban Governance and Water Supply Systems Local Governance for Improved Water Provisions
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 286 pp., 10 maps, 38 tables, 11 graphs

Biographical notes

Luisa Moretto (Author)

Luisa Moretto is Lecturer and Researcher at the Faculty of Architecture of the Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium), and Director of the research centre HABITER. She has a background in architecture and holds a PhD in Analysis and Governance of Sustainable Development from the Universities IUAV and Ca’ Foscari in Venice (Italy). She is currently a coordinator of N-Aerus (Network-Association of European Researchers on Urbanization in the South).


Title: Assessing Urban Governance