AWS Research Agenda

Alliance for Water Stewardship / Impacts / AWS Research Agenda

AWS is undertaking development of a Research Agenda to guide and focus research about the impacts of the AWS System. AWS Members and other interested parties, including research institutes and other standard systems are invited to review and provide feedback on the draft AWS Research Agenda. Once finalised, the Research Agenda will be released in early 2023. 

Feedback can be submitted using the form at the bottom of this page up until 23 December 2022.

AWS Research Agenda

Draft for Consultation: November 2022

Download a PDF of the draft Research Agenda


The Alliance for Water Stewardship’s (AWS) vision is to ignite and nurture global and local leadership in credible water stewardship that recognises and secures the social, cultural, environmental and economic value of freshwater. Our ‘Theory of Change’ articulates how we see our work bringing about change in the world at scale and driving uptake of good water stewardship practices. It provides the basis for the Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) system we have developed to measure the results of our work and progress toward our vision.

As with any theory, our Theory of Change requires testing and assessment to help us understand to what extent it can be supported, and to guide continual refinement. With the ongoing development of our M&E System, AWS is collecting an increasing amount of data at the Standard System, Site and Catchment levels to track performance against our mission and begin to learn about the impacts we are having in the world. Advancing research on the impacts of the AWS System is our next challenge.

To support our efforts, we are developing a Research Agenda to guide and focus research about the AWS System. Our intention is to foster collaboration among AWS Members, researchers, investors, funders, industry peers and other stakeholders interested in understanding the impacts of the AWS System. As a Code Compliant Member of the ISEAL Alliance, this work will be aligned with ISEAL’s goal of improving the impacts of sustainability systems and will support our compliance with the ISEAL Impacts Code.


The primary scope of the Research Agenda is to understand and demonstrate the performance and impact of AWS’s interventions and strategies, as outlined in our Theory of Change, so that we can improve our system over time. It outlines a series of research questions, centred around key themes, which are intended to address existing knowledge gaps.

This Research Agenda is a public resource that will be utilised by AWS to engage with the research community. It will be used to guide outcome and impact evaluations conducted and commissioned by AWS, as well as to support independent researchers in undertaking studies on the AWS System. We encourage independent research on the AWS system, and will strive to assist researchers in their studies and consider their findings in our work.


This draft Research Agenda was developed based on the AWS Theory of Change, in consultation with members of the AWS Secretariat. This draft will be further developed and refined in collaboration with AWS Members, the research community, and other stakeholders. Our aim is to ensure that the Research Agenda is aligned with the interests and priorities of our stakeholders. The Research Agenda will function as a living document and will be updated as our system evolves, and knowledge gaps are filled.


The Research Agenda is centered around ten key themes: Good Water Governance; Sustainable Water Balance; Good Water Quality Status; Important Water-Related Areas; Safe Water, Sanitation and Hygiene; Influence; Participation and Inclusion; Drivers and Incentives; Unintended Effects; and Cross- cutting. The themes are intended to distinguish the primary focus of the research questions. Through the consultation process these themes may be amended, combined, or expanded.

Good Water Governance

1. Is the AWS Standard effective in improving compliance with existing laws and regulations? If so, under what conditions?

2. To what extent does implementation of the AWS Standard drive increased participation in water governance amongst catchment stakeholders?

3. To what degree does AWS Standard implementation contribute to the advancement of catchment plans, water-related public policies, and publicly-led initiatives?

4. Under what conditions does coordination with public sector agencies, as required by the AWS Standard, contribute to increased resilience to risks associated with public infrastructure?

5. How does the AWS Standard account for informal decision-making processes in relation to water?

Sustainable Water Balance 

6. To what extent does AWS Standard implementation result in improved water use efficiency?

7. To what extent does AWS Standard implementation result in reductions in total volumetric water use?

8. What impacts do site-level water balance improvements have on catchment water balance?

9. Does implementation of the AWS Standard help sites build resilience to water-related emergencies and climate shocks, including droughts and floods?

Good Water Quality Status

10. What kinds of improvements to site level water quality are commonly associated with implementation of the AWS Standard?

11. According to sector, which water quality parameters are of particular concern to AWS certified sites?

12. To what extent does implementation of the AWS Standard contribute to improvements to site-level pollution control practices?

13. What impacts do site-level water quality improvements have on water quality at the catchment level?

Important Water-Related Areas

14. What kinds of areas are commonly designated as IWRAs by AWS certified sites?

15. What kinds of water stewardship practices are associated with the protection and enhancement of on site IWRAs?

16. To what extent does implementation of the AWS Standard contribute to the protection and restoration of IWRAs at both the site and catchment levels?

17. How, and to what extent, does implementation of the AWS Standard benefit biodiversity in catchments?

Safe Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

18. How, and to what extent, does the AWS Standard drive improvements to water, sanitation and hygiene provision for workers at certified sites?

19. To what extent do site-level WASH improvements contribute to improved worker health, productivity, and wellbeing?

20. How, and to what extent, does AWS Standard certification drive improvements to water, sanitation and hygiene provision at the catchment level and within supply chains?


21. What is the spillover effect of water stewardship practices at AWS certified sites on nearby sites in the same catchment?

22. How does the AWS Standard interact with other water stewardship tools and approaches?

23. To what extent does AWS certification drive water stewardship practices and improvements in associated supply chains?

24. How, and to what extent, does AWS certification drive collective action at the catchment level?

25. How, and to what extent, has adoption of the AWS Standard by certain companies influenced the practices and behaviours of other water users in the same sector?

26. Is the AWS Standard being used to develop corporate targets on water? If so, in what ways?

Participation and Inclusion

27. What is the relation of AWS certified sites to areas of high-water risk/stress?

28. What factors enable or limit the ability of the AWS Standard to be adopted in a sector or region?

29. Are there barriers that limit local stakeholders from participating and benefitting from AWS certification? If so, how can these be addressed?

Drivers and Incentives

30. What are the costs incurred by sites in adopting the AWS Standard? How do these compare to the benefits of certification?

31. How, and to what extent, does adoption of the AWS Standard contribute to increased operational and financial efficiency?

32. How has AWS certification affected the reputations of companies/sites?

33. Has AWS certification allowed sites/companies to gain preferential access to finance or insurance?

34. How, and to what extent, have governments mainstreamed AWS certification in policies and plans?

Unintended effects

35. What kinds of co-benefits have sites, catchment stakeholders and supply chain partners derived from AWS Standard certification?

36. What are the unintended effects of AWS Standard implementation on the management practices of sites in relation to other sustainability goals?

37. Has AWS certification contributed to the creation of new communities of practice focused on related social and environmental issues?

38. What kinds of negative unintended effects have resulted from AWS Standard certification?

39. How, and to what extent, has implementation of the AWS Standard resulted in policy capture?


40. What types and sources of data are used by AWS certified sites and how?

41. What changes are made at sites in preparation for AWS certification (which are not typically captured by performance monitoring)?

42. What are the necessary conditions and underlying assumptions to achieve the outcomes of the AWS Standard at the site and catchment levels?

43. What are the barriers to adoption of specific water stewardship practices required by the AWS Standard (i.e., stakeholder engagement, WASH provision)?

44. What processes do sites use to identify relevant best practices for water stewardship outcomes?

45. How, and to what extent, has the AWS Standard driven certified sites to improve indirect water use?

46. How, and to what extent, have AWS certified sites demonstrated continual improvement in water stewardship practices?

47. Does AWS Standard implementation contribute to the climate resilience of certified sites?

48. What effect does AWS Standard implementation have on the availability and accessibility of catchment data?

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