A doughnut for (water sector) policy transitions

Methodology to propose sustainability policy transitions with a doughnut economics approach at the (water) sector scale.


The doughnut for policy proposals at the water sector scale is a tool created to support policymakers. It aims to analyze the elements required in policies to transit towards sustainability with a doughnut economics socio-ecological approach. Mexico City’s water sector policies were used as a case study to test this tool. For this tool, there are two main steps: a) understanding what would be the context's sustainable scenario using a doughnut economics perspective, b) understanding the available and missing policy mechanisms required to bring the current water system to a Doughnut Economics sustainable scenario. For these steps, I used this tool by evaluating the current theory of change of Mexico City's water policies. This evaluation can be replicated and adapted to other cases to downscale the doughnut economics at the sector level, and to propose policies with a doughnut economics perspective that uses human rights as its social foundation.


Why use it?

This methodology is useful for four reasons, by: 

-          Supporting policymakers by applying the doughnut as a scenario to achieve sustainable policy transitions, and then analyses the steps required for these transitions.

-          Using human rights as the social foundation of the Doughnut Economics model, which can be contextualized in other contexts and scales.

-          Applying the doughnut at a sector scale level. It was used for water but it can be applied to other sectors as well.

-          Analyzing the Doughnut in a Global South, Latin American, Mega-cities context. It was used for Mexico City’s policies, but some of its characteristics may be applied for similar contexts.

Who is it for?

This tool is useful for:

-          Policy-makers interested in sustainability policy transitions, with a Doughnut Economics socio-ecological approach. It can serve to define sustainability transitions criteria for a policy evaluation, or as a case study to apply the doughnut economics model for policies.

-          Sustainability Advocacy Agents that would be interested in promoting and operationalizing ways for sustainability transitions. This doughnut scenario tool can identify both (i) sustainability gaps in current policies, and (ii) opportunities to plan governance projects to operationalize sustainability transitions.

-          Researchers/Consultants interested in understanding: a) Methodologies to downscale the Doughnut Economics Model at a Sector Level, b) Water challenges in urban settings, c) Sustainable scenario for Mexico City’s water sector. 


How long does it take?

The amount of time required for this tool will depend on the desired level of detail of the policy proposals that is intended to result from this analysis. For this reason, it depends on the amount of time given to the analysis of: a) the sustainability scenario, b) the possible mechanisms to reach this scenario, and c) the feasibility of these mechanisms. 

I used this tool in my thesis research project for six months, which was the allocated time of the MSc program in Environmental Sciences, Policy, and Management. During this time, I was able to develop legal and ecological official criteria that served as the sustainability criteria for the evaluation. Also, I was able to research the 2018-2024 Mexico City's water public policies. I learned what were its institutions, their public policies, and the policies' theory of change logic. Finally, I was able to interview five stakeholders of the water system to understand the degree to which the policies were transitioning towards the sustainability scenario based on the Doughnut Economic perspective. 


This tool has already been used in the thesis research project for a duration of six months. This period was chosen as it was the one given to develop the thesis component from the MSc in Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management from the Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Program MESPOM Consortium (Lund University, Central European University, University of Manchester, and the University of the Aegean). 

How many people is it for?

It is useful for a sector analysis on the urban scale.  For this, it requires only an individual for the research analysis, but it requires the collaboration of relevant policymakers of the sector’s context delimitation, as well as academics and practitioners that understand the legal and ecological challenges of it. This is in order to have an integral and supported perspective of the problems and their solutions.


During my thesis, I collaborated with other five relevant actors, by interviewing them: two local policymakers, two biologists, and one lawyer/politician. 


As said previously, the number of people would depend on the in-depth analysis required. If it’s possible it would also be better to include multiple relevant stakeholders' perspectives, and also increasing their ways of participating in the project. For example, by using the Amster Doughnut Portrait approach, or by using focus groups. This would increase the understanding of the sustainability scenario challenges and opportunities, as well as the strength of the feasibility for the proposals. 


What materials do you need?

There are three types of materials that you require:

-          Information for the sustainable scenario based on a doughnut socio-ecological perspective: 

           o    For the social foundation:

                  §  Legal Framework - Updated Legal Framework regulating the sector’s human rights. (e.g. human right to water regulation)

           o   For the environmental ceiling:

                  §  Science-based and/or official ecological goals of the sector (e.g. minimum water flow of the basins).

-          Information about the sector’s characteristics in that context: 

           o   For the social foundation:

                  §  Indicators that show the measure in which the rights have been guaranteed.

           o   For the environmental ceiling: 

                  §  Indicators that show the measure in which the ecological goals have been reached.

-          Information to understand the policies - Updated Sector Policies of the Sector in that context.

           o   Policy documents.

           o   Budget.

           o   Interviews with relevant Stakeholders.



What does the facilitator need to know or be able to do?

There are three steps that the facilitator must do (by individual or collective research):

1)      Model the sustainability scenario for that sector’s context with the doughnut economics perspective. For this, it is required that the facilitator finds qualitative and/or quantitative indicators of what the social foundation and ecological boundary would mean for that sector’s context.  This would be based on the planetary boundaries applied to the scale, and the human rights applicable to the sector.

2)      Define the status quo of the sector’s system, by analyzing the current sector’s situation and comparing it to the previously mentioned indicators. 

3)      Understand what is the policy logic to transition from the current system's situation to the sustainability scenario. In the thesis research, the analysis of the policy logic was done by understanding Mexico City's water policy’s theory of change.

4)      Find alternative feasible/policy mechanisms that were missing or some alternatives that can be used by policymakers to fill the policy logic gaps to transit towards sustainability in this sector’s context. 



This research project was made as part of the thesis requirements of the MSc in Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management from the Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Program MESPOM Consortium (Lund University, Central European University, University of Manchester, and University of the Aegean). It was supervised by Prof. Thomas Lindhqvist from Lund University. It was funded by the Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Program Scholarship.


This thesis was made in collaboration with Mexico City’s local authorities of the “Secretaría del Medio Ambiente” (Ministry of the Environment - SEDEMA) and the “Sistema de Aguas de la Ciudad de México” (Mexico City’s Water System - SACMEX), as well with collaborators from “Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas” (Institute of Legal Research) and “MEGADAPT” Program of the “Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México” (National Autonomous University of Mexico – UNAM) and Young Water Professionals Mexico. I am thankful for all their insights, that gave a practical relevance to the study. 


Moreover, this project was developed after an understanding of the sustainable water challenges learned from my internship experience in Water Convention Secretariat of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.


Finally, I would like to thank UNAM’s Faculty of Law, for having given me the tools for the legal understanding that allowed me to understand the legal challenges to downscale the Doughnut Economics Model.


Link and Attachments


This tool is developed in this Lund University's MSc thesis publication, by testing it with Mexico City’s water sector case:

All references are included there.

Attachments in the platform (see below): 
- Tool's summary in .pdf.
- Thesis Publication in .pdf.

Complementary Material

Main complementary materials for the tool include:

-          Gertler, P. J., Martinez, S., Premand, P., Rawlings, L. B., & Vermeersch, C. M. J. (2010). Impact Evaluation in Practice. The World Bank. https://doi.org/10.1596/978-0-8213-8541-8 

-          Jann, W., & Wegrich, K. (2017). Theories of the policy cycle. In Handbook of public policy analysis (pp. 69–88). Routledge 

-          Raworth, K. (2017). Doughnut Economics—Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist. Random House Business Books. 

-          Vedung, E. (2012). Six models of evaluation. In Routledge Handbook of Public Policy. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203097571.ch29 

-          Wright, D., & Meadows, D. H. (2008). Thinking in systems. Earthscan.





    Petra Baiba Olehno

    Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

    Project Manager | Thriving Cities Portrait for Glasgow 2022

    Tom Owen-Smith

    Lambeth, London Borough of Lambeth, England, United Ki...

    I’m keen to learn and share ideas on applying Doughnut Economics in my own life and for universities and higher education

    Karla González

    Ciudad de México, Estado de México, México

    Compromised to help to boost a better society for all of us and be part of the implementation of sustainable development.

    Jorge Garcia del Arco

    Bilbao, Euskadi, España

    Passion and commitment to transforming water challenges (and nexuses) into opportunities

    Brian Dowling over 2 years ago

    This is a fantastic piece of research and the most pragmatic application of Doughnut Economics in governance I have seen. I believe this level of inquiry is essential in implementing Doughnut Economics on a municipal or state level but your research sets both a template and a bar.

    0 1
    Eva Marina Valencia Leñero over 2 years ago

    Thank you very much for your comment!! I hope that it will be a tool that can be useful :).

    0 0

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