We investigated cultural influences on the implementation of water safety plans (WSPs) using case studies from WSP pilots in India, Uganda and Jamaica. A comprehensive thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews (n = 150 utility customers, n = 32 WSP ‘implementers’ and n = 9 WSP ‘promoters’), field observations and related documents revealed 12 cultural themes, offered as ‘enabling’, ‘limiting’, or ‘neutral’, that influence WSP implementation in urban water utilities to varying extents. Aspects such as a ‘deliver first, safety later’ mind set; supply system knowledge management and storage practices; and non-compliance are deemed influential. Emergent themes of cultural influence (ET1 to ET12) are discussed by reference to the risk management, development studies and institutional culture literatures; by reference to their positive, negative or neutral influence on WSP implementation.
The results have implications for the utility endorsement of WSPs, for the impact of organisational cultures on WSP implementation; for the scale-up of pilot studies; and they support repeated calls from practitioner communities for cultural attentiveness during WSP design. Findings on organisational cultures mirror those from utilities in higher income nations implementing WSPs – leadership, advocacy among promoters and customers (not just implementers) and purposeful knowledge management are critical to WSP success.