Although public participation has received much attention in the context of integrated water resources management, little is known about the readiness and willingness of the wider public to participate. The top-down perception that the public is poorly organised, has limited knowledge and is not interested in participation is a major barrier for the implementation of participation. We illustrate, through four medium-scale surveys in the Levant, that the potential for public participation is present, even in countries with limited exercise of democracy. The study demonstrates that the public is willing to participate and knowledgeable about water management challenges at both the institutional and household level. These conditions for participation are particularly present in countries where water stress is high. The preferred style of participation is active involvement, in order to have a channel to communicate, express opinions and exchange personal understanding of the situation in which one lives.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Licence (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0), which permits copying and redistribution for non-commercial purposes with no derivatives, provided the original work is properly cited (