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Collaborative processes as a recipe for sustainable river basin development?

This project is about how cooperation between concerned actors, such as municipalities, hydro power companies, fisheries conservation associations, farmers and interested public, can work to achieve sustainable water resource management.

Stream in forest. Photograph.
Stream in forest. Photograph.

About the project

During the last decade, the ideas of collaborative planning have been widely implemented in European water administrations through progressive and innovative EU legislation on river basin management. Sweden has undergone a major change in its use of collaborative river basin planning, with the establishment of approximately 100 stakeholder groups, referred to as water councils.

An innovative framework for sustainable development as a process will be used as the theoretical basis for studying collaboration for water planning in three regulated rivers with high ecological values and flood risks. The following issues, of key importance to sustainable processes, will be studied:

  • How collaborative planning can support integration
    • of knowledge from different disciplines,
    • of values, and
    • in terms of coordination
  • How collaborative planning can support participation
    • in terms of inclusion of local knowledge and perspectives, and
    • for generating legitimacy and engagement


To explore the consequences of this and to generate support with respect to sustainable collaborative processes the objectives are to:

  • Generate a deep understanding how the Swedish water councils function in relation to sustainable water planning.
  • Identify key issues for making the ongoing participatory and collaborative shift in river basin planning sustainable.
  • Provide guidelines for how the Swedish water councils and responsible authorities can develop their work in relation to collaboration.


The aim of this research is to support sustainable river basin planning, with a focus on collaborative processes. 


A qualitative, in-depth, case study design is used to capture the complexity of water planning in relation to the Swedish water councils. Three cases will be studied to enable a more thorough analysis compared to a single case design and still allow for in-depth examination. This makes the comparison of cases possible, especially in relation to conditions that are similar between the cases (e.g. EU legislation). 

Our three cases, Klarälven, Ätran and Emån, are all regulated for hydropower production – a key component in a sustainable Swedish energy system – and have high ecological values, which are negatively affected by energy production.

Sustainable water planning

Sustainable water planning involves balancing of often competing values, e.g., renewable energy, biodiversity, drinking water and handling of flood risks. That requires knowledge input from a range of disciplines, and because water connects geographical scales and administrative sectors, the different actors and organizations that affect water need to be coordinated.

Contact information and participants

Project coordinator:

Beatrice Hedelin

Project participants:



Project information

Project start: 2017-01-01

Project end: 2022-12-31