The sustainable urban water management system is likely to be characterised by complex and flexible governance arrangements, increased inter-organisational interaction and wide stakeholder participation, which contrasts significantly with the traditional approach. Recently there has been significant financial investment in urban water reform, however the reforms have not been as successful as anticipated and numerous institutional barriers remain. Understanding and assessing institutional capacity is central to addressing institutional impediments. Institutional capacity comprises individual, intra- and inter-organisational and external rules and incentives capacities. This paper reports on the first case study of a social research project that aims to develop an institutional capacity assessment framework. Empirical data from semi-structured interviews with 59 water industry experts in Sydney, Australia, and a broad literature survey were used. The key capacity attributes identified could form the basis of an institutional capacity assessment tool and reveal common and differing attributes across stakeholder groups which provide insight into stakeholder relations. Synthesis of the results revealed that intra- and inter-organisational capacities were facing particular challenges and should be explicitly addressed in reform, policy and capacity development initiatives.

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