Water access, demand, usage and management become complex due to the crossing of multiple boundaries: political, social and jurisdictional, as well as physical, ecological and biogeochemical. The complexity of many water issues lie in the interconnections and feedbacks among variables, processes, actors and institutions operating in the knowledge and political communities. Consequently, many water management issues become contingent due to the dynamic changes that occur in the knowledge and political communities as well as the interactions and feedback that operate within and between these two communities.

This six-part series – Water Diplomacy: Issues of Complexity Science and Negotiation Theory – will introduce and exemplify foundational ideas from complexity science and negotiation theory to illustrate how Water Diplomacy Framework can connect theory and practice to resolve complex water problems. We will focus on six thematic ideas from complexity science (interdependence and interconnectedness; uncertainty and feedback; emergence and complex adaptive systems) and negotiation theory (stakeholder identification and participation; joint fact finding; creative options).

Here we provide an evolving set of annotated bibliography for complexity science and negotiation theory categorized broadly under “Theory” and “Practice and Case Studies” with a focus on water and related natural resources. Please help us build this knowledge base by providing articles, books, and stories you have found insightful. We will continue to update this list as we progress with the series.


Complexity Science: Theory

  1. Allen, Peter, Steve Maguire and Bill McKelvey. The SAGE Handbook of Complexity and Management. SAGE Publications Ltd. 2011.

    “The SAGE Handbook of Complexity and Management is the first substantive scholarly work to provide a map of the state of art research in the growing field emerging at the intersection of complexity science and management studies. Edited and written by internationally respected scholars from management and related disciplines, the Handbook will be the definitive reference source for understanding the implications of complexity science for management research and practice.”

  2. Ashby, W.R. (1968). “Variety, constraint, and the law of requisite variety” in W. Buckley (ed.), Modern Systems Research for the Behavioral Scientist, Chicago, IL: Aldine Publishing Co. Reprint with introduction by Jeffrey Goldstein. Ashby, W.R. Variety, Constraint, And The Law Of Requisite Variety. Emergence: Complexity & Organization. Issue Vol. 13 Nos. 1-2 2011 pp. 190-207

    A classic paper addressing variety, the count of the total number of states of a system, and the law of requisite variety.

  3. Barabási, Albert-László. Linked: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What It means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life. Perseus Books Group. 2002.

    An introduction to network thinking that uses examples from everyday life to illustrate basic ideas of network science.

  4. Ostrom, Elinor. Understanding Institutional Diversity. Princeton University Press. 2005.

    This book explains the Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) Framework and provides examples of how it can be used in experimental and field studies. This framework focuses on analsis of how institutions form, how they operate and change over time, and how these instiutions influence society.

  5. Perrow, Charles. Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technology. Princeton University Press. 1999 (2nd edition).

    Complex systems from a social science perspective. “It takes just the right combination of circumstances to produce a catastrophe, just as it takes the right combination of inevitable errors to produce an accident.”

  6. Warner, Michael. Complex problems…negotiated solutions: The practical applications of chaos and complexity theory to community-based natural resource management. Overseas Development Institute. Working Paper 146. May 2001.


Complexity Science: Practice and Case Studies

  1. Choudhury, Enamul, and Shafiqul Islam. 2015. “Nature of Transboundary Water Conflicts: Issues of Complexity and the Enabling Conditions for Negotiated Cooperation.” Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education 155 (1): 43–52.

    “Using the Indus water treaty as an illustrative case, the paper identifies three enabling conditions that underlie the effectiveness of negotiating a treaty and its continuous efficacy in addressing [transboundary water] problems.”

  2. Ramalingam, Ben, Harry Jones, Toussaint Reba, and John Young. 2008. Exploring the Science of Complexity Ideas and Implications for Development and Humanitarian Efforts. London: Overseas Development Institute.

    “Despite the complexity and interconnectedness of problems faced in humanitarian and development work, they are often approached in an overly simplistic manner, informed by linear ways of thinking. This paper draws on the science of complexity to outline an alternative approach to analysing and understanding these problems.”


Negotiation: Theory

  1. Adler, Peter S. Joint Fact Finding: a briefing paper for government, business and community leaders. Report. Accord 3.0 Network. N.D. Online http://www.accord3.com/pg85.cfm

    A non-technical brief on JFF, which is part of a larger body of resources on Joint Fact Finding, including a user manual and bibliography of theoretical foundation documents and practical case studies.

  2. Karl, Herman A., Lawrence E. Susskind and Kathering H. Wallace. A Dialogue, Not a Diatribe: Effective Integration of Science and Policy through Joint Fact Finding. Environment Magazine. January 2007.

    Argues that JFF can be used to integrate Science and Policy. “The concept of “decisions based on sound science” is predicated upon the presumptions that science is a neutral body of knowledge immune from value judgments, science can predict with certainty and clarity what will happen in the physical world, and policymaking is a rational process. None of these is true. …what is needed is a way to ensure, politics aside, that our understanding of the workings of complex ecological systems informs public policy choices about where and how development should proceed, how natural resources are managed to ensure sustainable supplies, and whether and how to regulate economic activities that pose a threat to human health and safety as well as environmental protection.”

  3. IUCN Water and Nature Initiative. Negotiate – Reaching agreements over water.Dore, John; Julia Robinson and Mark Smith, eds. Report. 2010.

    “Water practitioners are increasingly called upon to negotiate workable agreements about how to best use, manage and care for water resources. NEGOTIATE makes the case for constructive engagement and cooperative forms of negotiation in dealing with complex water issues. It unpacks constructive approaches such as Multi-Stakeholder Platforms (MSPs) and consensus building, and finally focuses on the diversity of agreements which can be produced to regulate or encourage fairer and more effective water allocation and use.”


Negotiation: Practice and Case Studies

  1. Browder, Greg. 2000. “An Analysis of the Negotiations for the 1995 Mekong Agreement.” International Negotiation 5: 237–261.

    How do countries reach agreement? This paper combines the theory and language of negotiations (e.g., ZOPA, interests, BATNA, etc.) and applies them to the negotiations leading up to the 1995 Mekong Agreement. It emphasizes the preparation that parties need to undertake in the pre-negotiation stage, as well as procedural tools (such as assistance by the UNDP). Emphasized the role of UNDP in assisting the countries in their negotiations. Browder argues that UNDP was the ideal ‘third party’ because ‘it had a vested interest in maintaining the Mekong regime’ and that ‘the Mekong case highlights the importance of international organizations in helping riparian countries negotiate water agreements.’

  2. Kasimbazi, Emmanuel B. 2011. “Developing a Cooperative Framework Agreement for a Transboundary River: Lessons from a Comparative Analysis of the Mekong and Nile Rivers Basins.” US-China Law Review 8: 724.

    This paper provides a detailed description of the economic, geographic, and historical attributes of the Mekong and Nile River Basins before comparing the negotiation processes that led to transboundary water agreements. The paper emphasizes the importance of building trust, continuous dialogue, the international community in bridging gaps and providing funding, institutional capacity, strong continued political support, and customary international law. The paper argues that even partial agreement with some, if not all, riparians in a river basin is worthwhile because it sets tone of cooperation.

  3. Grzybowski, Alex, Stephen C Mccaffrey, and Richard K Paisley. 2010. “Beyond International Water Law: Successfully Negotiating Mutual Gains Agreements for International Watercourses.” Global Business & Development Law Journal22: 139–54.

    Although international law plays an important role in setting a foundation, final agreements are determined through a process of negotiation. In some cases, negotiations come to a standstill when parties argue for their sovereignty using legal principles. This paper promotes a mutual gains approach, in which parties work together to identify ways of tangibly maximizing potential benefits of cooperation, to move beyond stalemates and more successfully negotiate international watercourse agreements. It concludes with several examples of international agreements that were reached by pursuing mutual gains.

  4. Kirmani, Syed S. 1990. “Water, Peace and Conflict Management: The Experience of the Indus and Mekong River Basins.” Water International 15 (4): 200–2015.
  5. Salman, Salman M.A. 2013. “Mediation of International Water Disputes — the Indus, the Jordan, and the Nile Basins Interventions.” In International Law and Freshwater: The Multiple Challenges, edited by Laurence Boisson De Chazournes, ‎Christina Leb, and Mara Tignino, 217–38.

    This book chapter compares negotiations in Indus, Jordan and Nile to try to capture why they went well in Indus and did not go well in Jordan and Nile. Factors that contributed to successful mediation of transboundary water conflicts included strong commitment to the dispute resolution intervention by the leaders of the disputing countries, the presence of a mediator (only when selected by the countries involved), limited number of parties, and an increase in the potential benefits gained by all parties (e.g., external funding by a multilateral funding organization). Salman 2013 emphasizes, however, that no panacea exists – all water conflicts must be handled based on their specific attributes.

  6. Verdini, Bruno. 2017. Winning Together: The Natural Resource Negotiation Playbook. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    This recently published book eloquently draws from extensive interviews with over seventy high-ranking negotiators to illustrate concepts often introduced in negotiation (e.g., trading across differences, mutual gains approach, etc.) to two major negotiations between the United States and Mexico, one of which is over the shared water of the Colorado River. This is an excellent primer for anyone interested in applying collaborative decision-making, leadership, and negotiation to resolving disputes over transboundary waters.

Shafiqul Islam

Shafiqul Islam is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Water Diplomacy, and the Director of the Water Diplomacy Initiative at Tufts University. Follow on Twitter: @ShafikIslam

Larry Susskind

Larry Susskind is the founder of CBI and Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Vice-Chair for Instruction at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School

Elizabeth Cooper

Elizabeth Cooper is a Fellow with the Consensus Building Institute. She completed her M.A. in Conflict Resolution, focusing on environmental policy negotiation, in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts Boston in 2016.

Amanda Repella

Amanda C. Repella was the Water Diplomacy Global Network Coordinator at Tufts University from 2012 – 2016.

Yasmin Zaerpoor

Yasmin Zaerpoor is a PhD candidate in the Environmental Policy and Planning group in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP).