AbstractFailures of drinking water systems in Flint, Michigan, and Jackson, Mississippi, were similar, other than their contextual situations. Each episode spurred media accounts and policy actions, but these may not address long-term systemic issues. Application of the Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework can provide a repeatable approach to study such problems, and depending on its scope of application, can provide insights to patterns of interaction in critical action arenas where solutions must begin. The IAD framework evolved from work by policy scientists on a range of complex problems, and its use to analyze issues in Flint and Jackson explored its potential for addition to the tools of Integrated Water Resources Management. IAD can incorporate information from other methods and sources to enrich its knowledge base. For example, media attention highlights problems, and the case studies that follow can identify issues, action arenas, and players. Tools like systems analysis can be used to study the patterns of interaction in the action arenas and the feedback loops between them. Flint and Jackson require multiple solution approaches like these to address systemic issues. They should involve better utility management supported by political leadership and effective governance, as well as attention to equity issues involving human rights and responsibilities to pay for services. In shedding light on root causes of failures, IAD can help point the way to improving services despite formidable obstacles.Practical ApplicationsThe use of the IAD framework to analyze complex sociotechnical problems like systemic and repetitive failures in urban water systems can help managers explain and policymakers understand the need for long-term and sustainable solutions to replace hasty fixes. IAD provides a systematic but comprehensive method to study diverse action arenas whose connections would be too complex for systems analysis or single case studies. The method requires teams to implement, and it should be used over a time period that allows practitioners to study the dynamics and interconnections among action arenas. Use of the method by engineers and managers will require additional research to hone the procedures, and that work will help to illuminate unique attributes of the complex problems inherent in urban water services.

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