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Institutional Diversity in Collective Action: Investigating Successful Village Level Maintenance of Hand Pumps in Malawi Open Access


Other title
Hand pump
Water development
Collective action
Malawi Africa
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Joubert, Brian Anthony
Supervisor and department
Summers, Robert (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences)
Examining committee member and department
Swallow, Brent (Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology)
McGee, Tara (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences)
Parkins, John (Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology)
Swidler, Ann (Sociology)
Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Providing clean water to rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa remains a challenge. Unsanitary and distant water sources cause a host of health and humanitarian problems. A common means of remedying this situation has been the donation of improved water sources, fitted with low-cost hand pumps. Due donor capacity and/ or policy most hand pumps are donated under the guise of Village Level Operation and Maintenance (VLOM). This premises the notion that recipient communities will take ownership of the new pump and as such will ensure its maintenance. To assist with this many donors carry out programs of technical repair training and the structuring of in-village leadership and management groups. The reality is that a high proportion of these pumps break down after donation and cease to work thereafter. Measures to redress technical elements of these failures through increased training or adequate distribution of spares has seen some success but failure rates remains high. This has led to a call for more attention to demand side issues, focusing on the communal aspects that may influence a village to act collectively in the maintenance of its hand pump. This thesis researched five Malawian villages where the community had maintained their hand pumps for a period of 10 or more years. These hand pumps were treated as shared resources and the literature on common-pool resources and social institutions was used as a theoretical framework. Applying these theories proved to be appropriate for analyzing the norms, conventions and forms of cooperative conduct. This allowed the research to gain insights into institutional diversity and the relationship between ‘formal institutions’, most often exogenous in nature, and informal’ or customary collective action institutions embedded within the communities. Findings showed the emergence of three predominant themes within these successful case studies: 1) the role of leadership at varying levels and how it is embodied institutionally as a vehicle to drive collective action; 2) the contextual norms around rules, monitoring and punishment and; 3) how it should not be assumed that cases of successful pump maintenance necessarily guarantee gender ‘empowerment’, as is often touted by water development proposals.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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