This Special Edition of Water Policy is one outcome of an innovative educational and research project, the Harvard Water Federalism Project, designed to train a new generation of students from a wide variety of disciplines to address the growing challenge of water security. This paper describes the core ideas behind the project, namely the creation of a new generation of ‘specialized integrators’ and that of exposing students to the wisdom of ‘thinking practitioners’. The paper describes the particular water problem chosen, namely that of the infrastructural and institutional challenges involved with the development and management of water in large rivers (the Colorado, Indus, Mississippi, Murray–Darling and São Francisco) in federal countries (Australia, Brazil, Pakistan and the United States). The paper serves as an overview to the basin papers written by multi-disciplinary student teams, and draws some general lessons from this comparative analysis.

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