Connecting generations and looking at the future of drinking water together

The GRROW team looks back on the closing symposium

The 40th anniversary of the Joint Research Programme of KWR and the water utilities (BTO) was launched with the GRROW Symposium. Within the GRROW (Generational and Radical Rethinking of the Watersector) research project, the young generation of drinking water professionals designed different future scenarios for the provision of drinking water. These scenarios were shared and discussed during the symposium with a water-practice panel. We then together directed our thoughts to the next steps on the road to the future.

Visualisations were presented of the three different future scenarios.

‘Water to Measure’, ‘Dischargers are Losers’ and ‘Collective Chain’ scenarios

The names of the three future scenarios – ‘Water to Measure’, ‘Dischargers are Losers’ and ‘Collective Chain’ – are revealing in themselves. In Water to Measure, the drinking water utility delivers qualitatively high-value drinking water to domestic customers. Drinking water is used essentially for drinking purposes, and no longer for low-value applications, for which local resource loops have been set up. Source protection is at the centre of the Dischargers and Losers scenario. In this scenario water is available for different applications, both domestic and business, but, most importantly, it must be returned to the system at high levels of quality. In the Collective Chain scenario, the focus is on safeguarding the water provision, regardless of geographic location. Water utilities are interconnected through a raw water system and in this manner share their water sources.


Researcher Nicolien van Aalderen explained the methodology that GRROW developed to arrive at these future scenarios: intergenerational dialogues identified the underlying premises of the current thinking frameworks; these premises were then reconsidered, and possible futures explored and designed. This methodology produced three future scenarios within GRROW.

During the panel discussion, Riksta Zwart, Anne Mathilde Hummelen, Rob van Dongen and Louise Vanysacker (from left to right) discussed the scenarios developed in the GRROW project.

Drinking water-practice panel

The three future scenarios were presented during the symposium in the form of ‘news items from the future’. Panelists Riksta Zwart (Director, Groningen Waterbedrijf), Louise Vanysacker (General Director, Brabant Water) and Anne Hummelen (Programme Manager, BTO) then shared their views on the scenarios. This stimulated a lively discussion, in which it became apparent that the scenarios already partly contained many elements of current ways of thinking.

Images align with reality

Rob van Dongen for instance noted that Water to Measure ‘corresponds 80% with the latest Brabant Water business plan.’ For Flanders, the Collective Chain future scenario already actually aligns with the current reality. Louise Vanysacker also noted that we need to move towards a stronger collaboration between the drinking water utilities and the Water Authorities. Riksta Zwart thought that the focus on the natural system in Dischargers are Losers was very powerful, but feared that we won’t get there with regulations alone, and that an intrinsic motivation is called for – in other words, rather than Dischargers are Losers, ‘keepers are winners’: to retain is to win.

Thinking power and implementation power

But the question remains: How do we make that future a reality? This calls for not only thinking power, but also implementation power, according to Rob van Dongen. That all those present also possessed this second power, became apparent in the work sessions, during which we discussed the implementation of the future scenarios.

Work sessions on the dream

The participants from all of the Joint Research Programme’s drinking water utilities, many of whom were young professionals, joined in the two work sessions: ‘Dream or Nightmare?’ and ‘Getting to Work on Your Dream’. We reflected on the scenarios and the emotional reactions they elicited. We then charted out what the transition to these scenarios might look like. In doing so, we focused less on all the technical and rational aspects, but on the emotional ones. This generated great discussions, since the question is raised as to why something actually feels a particular way. And what does this mean in terms of the degree to which one sees a scenario as a dream or a nightmare?

In the work sessions participants reflected on the scenarios and the emotions they elicit.

Inspiration and promises for the future

In one of the work sessions, the idea arose that it was also sometimes necessary to experience a nightmare (disaster), to then be able to speed up the realisation of the dream. But also the importance of this way of thinking, based on dreams rather than technical solutions, was seen as highly inspiring.

To conclude, the participants themselves made a promise to the future, regarding what they will do to continually involve all generations in the effort. This promise was set down on cards made of growing paper, which will be sent to the participants in the future.

Importance of future studies

For us the meeting was a great closure for the GRROW project, in which Anne Hummelen, during the panel discussion, again stressed the importance of future studies of this kind, which the Joint Research Programme has already been engaged in for 20 years – for example, within the ‘Cardboard Box’ project. And we cannot but agree with the words of KWR’s Deputy Director, Mariëlle van der Zouwen: ‘Listening to each other leads to wisdom’. We hope we have made a good contribution to this with GRROW.

The participants wrote down their promises to the future on postcards made of growing paper.