Shared cultural norms for justice in water institutions: Results from Fiji, Ecuador, Paraguay, New Zealand, and the U.S.

Amber Wutich, Abigail York, Alexandra Slade, Rhian Stotts, Christopher M. Roberts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


It is widely agreed that current institutions are insufficient to meet global water challenges, and extensive institutional reforms are needed. To achieve effective local water management, institutional rules should be congruent with local cultural norms. Conversely, a major potential challenge is posed by tensions between institutional rules and local cultural norms for justice. We propose and demonstrate a new approach to cross-cultural analysis designed to investigate this tension, which can assess when local cultural norms are likely to facilitate or impede the acceptance of specific institutional rules. Using data from 238 respondents in five global sites (in Fiji, Ecuador, Paraguay, New Zealand, and the U.S.) analyzed using cultural consensus analysis, we find evidence of culturally-shared norms of justice in water institutions in at least six domains: a human right to water, water governance, water access, environmental stewardship, aspects of water markets, and aspects of water quality and health. Additionally, local cultural models across sites differed on only two topics: (1) ownership and allocation and (2) restrictions and enforcement. Indigenous heritage is the best single predictor of views on controversial institutional rules dealing with water restrictions/enforcement and ownership/allocation. This approach can help build effective water management solutions by identifying cases in which specific institutional reforms are congruent with local cultural norms (or not), and when those will matter most.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)370-376
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
StatePublished - Dec 30 2012


  • Cross-cultural
  • Cultural consensus
  • Fairness
  • Institutions
  • Justice
  • Water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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