Public Policy at HKU



Water Governance Programme


The Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) has launched a Public Policy Initiative (PPI), aimed at creating a world-leading knowledge hub for generating solutions to urban social problems with a focus on Greater China. The initiative is to focus on collaborative governance, integrate research and practice, and bridge the international knowledge community and policy practitioners in Hong Kong and Greater China.

Research Programmes

The PPI currently has two research programmes, water governance and social policy. The Water Governance Research Programme (WGRP), with a focus on the Pearl River Delta region, and the Dongjiang River Basin specifically, will explore innovative structures for water governance, taking into account the experiences of Greater China and elsewhere. The WGRP has two focal topic areas, the implementation of water rights and transboundary issues, but will also consider how water governance is imbedded in wider integrative policy domains, such as the dynamics of the water-food-energy nexus, and how water rights and transboundary issues are interrelated.

Transboundary issues have both geographical (e.g., rural-urban, provincial/SAR, interurban) and administrative (e.g., water agencies and others) dimensions. Problem areas may include how to address wicked phenomena such as upstream-downstream conflicts, open access sources (such as groundwater), tensions between asymmetrical systems, and silo mentalities.

Water rights implementation includes how water rights are defined, contested and exercised in practice at the user level. This may include exploring the interrelationships between formal systems, including allocations (such as the PRC Three Red Lines policy) and subaltern negotiation, “translation” and possibly appropriation into informal rights. Other possible topics include, but are not limited to, pricing, conservation strategies, nexus issues, and the implications of new technologies (e.g., in metering, system allocation and treatment/recycling). Of specific interest is how rights at all levels affect transboundary possibilities.

Way Forward

The WGRP will line up a series of public talks and water governance forums to engage policy actors at the local and regional levels as well as the broader Chinese and international knowledge communities. An international conference on grand challenges to water governance is planned for 2015. To ensure that the PPI’s research activities and its policy advocacy/advising function are socially relevant, practicable and have broad community support and impact, a panel of civil society players, experienced practitioners, business leaders, academics, and media leaders will be formed to deliberate PPI research foci, review progress, and engage the relevant policy community actively in its development. The WGRP will also engage an international advisory group to identify experiences, institutional linkages and perspectives that can connect the research and policy to the wider world.

Research Team


  • Dr. Frederick Lee, Department of Geography


  • Professor James Nickum, Faculty of Social Sciences

Senior Research Fellow:

  • Dr. Ji Chen, Department of Civil Engineering
  • Dr. Peter Cheung, Department of Politics and Public Administration
  • Professor Jimmy Jiao, Department of Earth Sciences
  • Professor Wai Fung Lam, Department of Politics and Public Administration
  • Dr. Cho-nam Ng, Department of Geography

Research Fellow:

  • Dr. Ray Wang, Faculty of Social Sciences




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