The paper introduces an inversion of the structure of the decision making process in the water sector that has been so far followed in most countries, and in almost all so-called ‘third world’ societies. It is commonly observed that the general population becomes alienated and effectively disempowered through this existing ‘top-down’ knowledge transmission process. The disenfranchisement of large parts of the general population and the grievous harm done to these parts through their resulting disempowerment has led to an outcry against the water professionals, who are seen at the very least as accomplices, and often as initiators in ‘crimes against humanity’. Empowering the population as a whole as genuine stakeholders in water resources then becomes the basic objective of water professionals in introducing an alternative paradigm, as exemplified in the second part of this paper (this issue, pp. 35–48) by the design of a new system capable of supporting ‘knowledge-intensive’ agricultural practices. What is being proposed here thus corresponds to an inversion of the so-far established order of knowledge/power in that it corresponds to an inversion in power relations that is realised by an inversion in knowledge relations. The system proposed here by way of an example is then primarily a means of realising this inversion. The economic sustainability of such a system within a ‘third world’ context necessitates the consideration also of knowledge/value relations, and these are also briefly introduced. The system itself is essentially a knowledge self-management system, comprising three principal components:
a knowledge centre connecting to (other) knowledge providers;
an inner knowledge periphery that receives, processes and transmits knowledge passing between the centre and;
an outer knowledge periphery situated primarily at the end-user level.