The Legal Assessment Tool on Water Governance (LAGO): enhancing national water governance capacity to advance progress towards the Water Sustainable Development Goal

The IUCN BRIDGE team has developed a Legal Assessment Tool on Water Governance (LAGO). This year, the UN Summit for the development of the post-2015 development agenda will discuss and adopt the final draft of the Sustainable Development Goals. The sixth Sustainable Development Goal is about  sustainable management of water and sanitation. This blog considers the role of the LAGO in enabling States to evaluate their water governance capacity and realize the water SDG.

22 July 2015


Water sustainability is a challenge for States, as drivers such as population growth, economic diversification, agricultural development and  climate change continue to increase pressure on water resources globally. The most significant sources of water stress occur at national and local levels and are influenced by the “rules and processes established at those levels” (UN World Water Development Report, 2015). 

The Legal Assessment Tool on Water Governance (LAGO) is a rapid assessment device that was developed as a result of a comparative analysis of water legal and institutional frameworks from ten jurisdictions. The analysis revealed a number of critical features in policies, legislation and practices of institutions can support the effective implementation of water law. 

The LAGO consists of an explanatory tool and a set of three questionnaires (Policy and Legislation, Institutions and Administration, Implementation and Enforcement). 

The LAGO offers a quick method for users to assess a State’s water governance capacity to address gaps in a State’s national legislation, related policy and institutions. The aim of the tool is to generate information that can be ultimately used for the purposes of planning, policy making and triggering reforms. The LAGO can be used in combination with large scale research methodologies to obtain a national outlook on the effectiveness of a State’s policies, laws, institutions and the pre-dominant implementation and enforcement machinery. 

The Sustainable Development Goals (hereinafter referred to as ‘SDGS’) will succeed the Millennium Development Goals as the post-2015 development agenda. The Sustainable Development Goals are currently still in draft format and are anticipated to be adopted at the United Nations Summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda from 25th – 27th September 2015. Although not legally binding, States that commit to the proposed SDGs can use the SDG targets as a yardstick in their national development strategies to measure their progress in the field of water and sanitation.  .

The sixth goal of the SDGs requires States to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” Some of the indicators that have been suggested for the water SDG include: enhancing water access and water-use efficiency; improving water quality; protection of the ecosystems and scaling up the integrated water resources management approach from national to transboundary levels (Sustainable Development Solutions Network, UN-Water, 2015).

Although the SDGs can serve as a benchmark for States, they are narrowly defined sets of core goals, targets and indicators within the global development agenda, designed to be simple and measurable. The SDGs address predominantly cross-cutting and persistent challenges and given the fact that States implement the targets incrementally according to their capacity, States may prioritize these targets differently and may not perform equally on all targets.

Although the SDGs are progressive, a sufficiently representative outlook of a State’s water management capability can be gauged on its performance in relation to implementation of a national water strategy or master plan, or enforcement and implementation of water laws and policies. There are many other attributes that are unique to the national context that may not be covered by indicators such as those that are currently being designed for the SDGs.

An assessment tool such as the LAGO is crucial as it derived from a State’s outlook on its water laws, policies, institutions and implementation mechanisms. Zooming in on these factors enables a State to address governance challenges that may be attributable to legislative gaps, institutional design and implementation. The LAGO, as a water governance tool, can enable States to address their governance gaps, and in doing so, enhance States’ capacities to achieve global targets set out in the SDGs. The LAGO can also enable a State to link development outcomes to how good its laws, policies, institutions and implementation machinery are functioning. This gives a multi-dimensional perspective for a State on what its strengths and weaknesses are and enables it to devise ways of addressing the persistent challenges that hinder it from reaching its policy targets.

Diagnosing the challenges can enable multi-stakeholder national water dialogues that can target reforms in response to the gaps found in the assessment, such as information, human and financial resources, as well possible shortcomings related to water administration institutions. 

In conclusion, the LAGO can serve as a complementary governance tool to global development frameworks that aim at addressing water challenges and thus contribute to implementing the SDGs when adopted.

Further information about the SDGs

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). 2015. Governance challenges and suggested tools for the implementation of the water-related Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable Development Solutions Network. (2015). Indicators and a Monitoring Framework for the Sustainable Development Goals Launching a data revolution for the SDGs: A report to the Secretary-General of the United Nations by the Leadership Council of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network June 12, 2015. Retrieved from: 

The Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform. (2015). Zero draft of the outcome document for the UN Summit to adopt the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

UN Water. (2015). Indicators and Monitoring.  Retrieved from:

UN World Water Development Report, 2015: Water for a sustainable world. Retrieved from: