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OECD: ‘Water Knowledge Action Programme is a model of innovative collaboration’

The Water Knowledge Action Programme (KAP Water) receives international praise. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently published a report titled ‘Transformation of Public Value: Cities as the playground for the future’. The report points to KAP Water as an innovative example: a model of an innovative systemic approach. Andrew Segrave, a researcher at KWR, who is co-initiator and coordinator of KAP Water, is pleased with the report. ‘It is a recognition of the way in which we are attempting to bridge the gap between knowledge and practice.’

Facilitating knowledge sharing

Realising transitions through knowledge: that is the objective of the Water Knowledge Action Programme, an independent platform where managers, decision-makers, scientists and practice innovators from Water Authorities, water utilities, municipalities and energy utilities gather together. KAP Water facilitates knowledge sharing and unlocks knowledge for these organisations. Through knowledge development and valorisation, KAP Water has since 2017 been actively taking advantage of connection opportunities between the policy areas of Water, Energy and Circularity.

Collaborating on a sustainable city

The central question for KAP Water is how city managers, residents and researchers can work together on sustainable and resilient cities that are prepared for the future. By means of what municipalities often call ‘co-creation’, KAP Water permits the input of knowledge at an early stage of the process. Co-creation is about the integration of policy areas and KAP Water adds knowledge co-creation to the process. ‘Researchers are involved in a city’s design process from the very outset,’ says Andrew Segrave. ‘Knowledge is developed over the course of the process, with researchers providing support to developers. Conversely, during the conceptual phase, designers can more easily access the knowledge that is available via the platform.’

Renewing the system

Knowledge is therefore not only used by designers, but also by city managers, companies and even citizens. KAP Water brings the new way of working to different practice locations, be they in a new neighbourhood under construction, or in the heart of the city, or in the polder. ‘The main objective of these initiatives is to create circular, smart, sustainable and resilient neighbourhoods, where the residents can enjoy a high quality of life,’ says Segrave. ‘This involves the personal sharing of knowledge, for instance through Knowledge Workplaces or through blogs. We don’t publish long scientific papers, but are primarily focused on the application of the knowledge. We therefore also work on the renewal of the scientific system: knowledge development that breaks through the traditional role barriers between researchers and practice innovators.’ This involves trial and error. ‘We are also still learning how a platform of this type works the best’

Knowledge Workplace

Learning was also central on the occasion of the Learn, Connect and Inspire Knowledge Workplace, which was held on 11 March and organised by KAP Water. A Knowledge Workplace facilitates the exchange of knowledge between scientists and decision-makers. It is therefore not a meeting with a keynote speaker, but an opportunity to learn from each other through all kinds of cross-connections, both at the level of subject areas and of functions.

The gathering on 11 March took place in the context of the Dutch Water Authority elections. The Knowledge Workplace offers no definitive answers to the questions of managers and decision-makers, but it does provide them with information that they can use to make their choices. KAP Water also develops knowledge to determine which questions are decisive and which are not: distinguishing central issues from marginal ones. Segrave gives an example of a decisive question. ‘Is the purpose of a water utility simply to supply drinking water, or is a broadening of its core task desirable and, if so, under what conditions? As decision-makers answer these fundamental questions, then other questions also become clearer – for instance about the management of heat networks for heating homes. It is not up to scientists to determine whether this should be done, because they offer no normative answers. Otherwise the legitimacy of the input of researchers into design processes would be problematic. They simply share their knowledge and define the policy options – and the associated pros and cons. Managers can then use the blocks they’re offered to build their programmes.’

Recognition by the OECD

KAP Water’s innovative manner of collaborating is recognised by the OECD. The organisation is a partnership of 36 countries, which studies and coordinates social and economic policy worldwide. In 2018, the OECD conducted research into innovative examples of collaborations between government, science and practice, and how they succeed in creating public value for city residents. The organisation studied seven innovative examples of transitions in the public sector worldwide, including the Water Knowledge Action Programme. In the study’s recently published report, the OECD points to KAP Water as a model of innovative collaboration.

KAP Water makes knowledge concrete

To quote the report: ‘In a context in evolution, where roles and responsibilities of public authorities, utility and stakeholders at large are changing, the whole water governance system needs to keep up with these changes. The programme aims to stimulate a dialogue between policy and science so to modernise water governance, within a systemic approach vis a vis the highly localised and temporary experience of experiments and pilots. The KAP supports the transition to a more sustainable and resilient city by building and improving knowledge and integrating it into concrete actions and projects. The KAP has shown that knowledge can feed the co-creation processes that lead to innovation in the city, improving the quality of the solutions generated.’ The report further notes that this presents researchers, policy-makers and stakeholders with challenges – for example: How can the bottom-up participation (citizens) be safeguarded? How can we create the conditions that foster innovation? And how should we develop a research agenda? What helps, according to the report, is that the collaboration within KAP Water prevents the development of a segregated approach.

Who is involved?

A variety of water-related organisations are associated with the Water Knowledge Action Programme: the Amstel, Gooi and Vecht, Aa and Maas, and De Dommel Water Authorities, Waternet, WML, Brabant Water, the Province of North-Holland, the municipality of Helmond, and KWR. For the water utilities, KAP Water is associated with the Water in the Circular Economy (WiCE) programme. The network also includes several universities, including University of Amsterdam, TU Delft, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Wageningen and VU Amsterdam.

Column by Socrates Schouten (Waag) during the plenair session in the evening programme.

Laurens Hessels (KWR) presenting his poster.