“Everyone is welcome to work with WiCE”

An interview with WiCE programme managers Joep van den Broeke and Henk-Jan van Alphen

Joep van den Broeke and Henk-Jan van Alphen (KWR) jointly manage the Water in the Circular Economy (WiCE) programme. As a team, they complement each other nicely: Van den Broeke is a chemist with fifteen years of experience in national and international SMEs, where he worked primarily on sensors for water quality measurements. Van Alphen is a political scientist with experience in foresight studies and scenario planning for, among other things, the water sector. At KWR, they focus on the social agendas relating to water. And during that work, they want to keep close to what is happening in the field.

Why do you think the WiCE programme is important? What attracts you to water in the circular economy and the water transition?

Van den Broeke: “As a society, we must find a way to reduce our impact on the planet. And make sure that we organise our systems so that they can cope effectively with the changes coming our way as a result of climate change. The WiCE programme – which was established in 2018 – helps the water sector find solutions together and in that way to contribute to a sustainable and resilient society. This is a complex challenge that requires a wide range of parties to listen to each other and work together – something that is often well outside their comfort zone. For me, that is the most fascinating thing about WiCE: helping to establish those alliances.” Van Alphen adds: “I like the complexity of these transition issues and the urgency – a circular economy and a different approach in the water sector are a necessity. That requires a different mindset, a different way of working together and a different approach to research. It’s very inspiring to investigate that with other people and then to put it into practice.”

What do you want to achieve as programme managers?

Van Alphen: “Our main role is to shape the WiCE content and process: what will we investigate and how do we design that research? And so we go looking for what society needs and formulate those needs as the correct research questions. The principals are closely involved and collaboration between and with different disciplines is essential for that process. So we are close to both the scientific world and society as a whole.” Van den Broeke: “As a programme manager, you are the link between the clients – the drinking water utilities and the WiCE Core Group with representatives from water utilities who direct WiCE – and the researchers in the projects. So we are the lynchpin of the programme and we manage the strategy and programming. In that way, we ensure that the right knowledge questions are asked and answered, and that our research matches the needs of the principals.” In their work for WiCE, Van Alphen and Van den Broeke provide the water sector and other parties and stakeholders with the space they need to work together on the basis of equality, because “we see that as the best way to work on solutions to the issues of today and tomorrow.”

How do you share the work of the programme managers in practice?

Van den Broeke: “I focus primarily on organisational management and operational details. And, of course, I keep a somewhat closer eye on the natural science perspective. Henk-Jan concentrates more on the strategic and social perspective and he has more of a helicopter view of WiCE: he can tell the WiCE story well.”


Video – 12:18
TED-talk Henk-Jan van Alphen: WiCE: onderzoeksprogramma, kennismakelaar en verbinder met de praktijk

In your view, to which professionals does WiCE appeal?

Van den Broeke: “WiCE mainly attracts people who are working on the bigger picture of water supplies and the role of water utilities in a changing society. They realise that the large and complex challenges we face require a more integrated way of working and collaboration outside their own sector. They understand that we need to look for solutions together. That requires a different way of thinking and working – and not only are they open to that, they also want to participate actively.”

WiCE places a strong emphasis on the future, a future that will primarily affect young water professionals. Are you also thinking about this target group?

“The GRROW project that KWR has been implementing over the past few years has brought together a large group with the young generation of water professionals,” says Van Alphen. “GRROW stands for Generational and Radical Rethinking of the Water Sector, and that is exactly what the young water professionals have been doing together and in dialogue with experienced water professionals. For example, they have drawn up several scenarios for drinking water supplies in the future. So these people are also thinking about the water sector in non-traditional ways, and that matches WiCE really well.” Van den Broeke adds: “We would like to link WiCE to meetings of their network to hear their input, needs and knowledge questions. It should be pointed out that young professionals from the water sector are already working on several WiCE projects, particularly those in which people are thinking about the future and getting stakeholders involved. In the years ahead, we want more of their input for WiCE. Everyone is welcome to get involved.”

Would you also like to work with WiCE?

Do you have a question about WiCE that you would you to take up with parties in and around the water sector? Everyone is welcome to get involved. Contact Joep van den Broeke or Henk-Jan van Alphen to explore how WiCE can help.


Dit interview werd voor het eerst gepubliceerd in ROND Water, het WiCE-magazine over water in de circulaire economie – voorjaar 2024.