Modelling in the ‘muddled middle’: A case study of water service delivery in post-apartheid South Africa

Jai K. Clifford-Holmes, Jill H. Slinger, Chris de Wet, Carolyn G. Palmer

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedings/Edited volumeChapterScientificpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The governance and management of water in post-apartheid South Africa has been significantly redesigned by national government in the two decades since institutional apartheid formally ended. The redesigning efforts have aspired towards decentralized decision-making, participatory governance and management, and the integration of multiple issues that have social, environmental and technical dimensions. However, the failures in implementation have led to many commentators pointing out the gap between the policy aspirations and the operational realities on the ground. This chapter focuses on the governance and management of municipal water services to motivate the use of a modelling approach that explores the ambiguous ‘muddled middle’ between policy design, implementation and adaptation. The modelling approach involves an ethnographically embedded form of participatory system dynamics modelling, which was applied by the authors in an action research process. The modelling approach is held to be relevant for exploring controversial and complex case studies that offer representative and extreme examples of systemic dysfunction, where policy-level analytical objectives co-exist with action research imperatives of employing tools and methods to understand (and where possible, address) stakeholders’ issues of concern.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSocial Systems Engineering
Subtitle of host publicationThe Design of Complexity
EditorsCésar García‐Díaz, Camilo Olaya
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781118974414
ISBN (Print)9781118974452
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


  • Action research
  • Local government
  • Methodological hybridization
  • Participatory modelling
  • South Africa
  • System dynamics
  • Transdisciplinarity
  • Water management
  • Water scarcity

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    Clifford-Holmes, J. K., Slinger, J. H., de Wet, C., & Palmer, C. G. (2017). Modelling in the ‘muddled middle’: A case study of water service delivery in post-apartheid South Africa. In C. García‐Díaz, & C. Olaya (Eds.), Social Systems Engineering: The Design of Complexity (pp. 215-234). Wiley.