Resilience management and governance in the United States

The Water Research Foundation is working together with Cranfield University to define a focus research on the subject of resilient water infrastructure. Alison Witheridge, Research Manager at the Water Research Foundation, explained how they were looking to get divergent perspectives from the attendants before working towards a clear focus. I was inspired by the approach and wonder how we might learn from it for programming research agenda’s at KWR.

Three international experts were invited to give keynote presentations, including John Russell, Senior Director Strategy and Planning at Ofwat in the UK, Jim Bentley, Managing Director of Hunter Water in Australia, and myself, representing the Resilience Management and Governance team at KWR and as coordinator of the Knowledge-Action programme Water. The proposal for focus research on resilience will be submitted this coming October and at the funding will be determined by march 2018.

John Russell explained how Ofwat has made a transition from prescriptive regulation, where they defined how the utilities should approach their work, to output focussed regulation, where the utilities have more freedom to develop their own fitting approaches to meeting the targets. Long-term resilience is one of the key outputs that the UK utilities are required to demonstrate. Ofwat uses fourteen output metrics to define resilience, which include both technical and social components. It was interesting to see how Ofwat has placed the customers at the heart of the concept, which is an idea that our team also supports.

The work of our colleagues Stijn Brouwer and Emmy Bergsma on the subjects of Citizen Science and area-based planning make the water sector more resilient by strengthening these social relations and knowledge aspects. Ofwat uses the ideals of ‘participation’ and ‘integration’ to operationalise the concept of resilience. One interesting conclusion of John’s keynote was that CAPEX-heavy approaches to measuring expenditure stimulate utilities to invest in infrastructure, while a more balanced approach can work as an incentive for companies to find social, flexible solutions to the challenges they are facing.

Jim Bentley’s keynote also had a remarkably strong focus on the social aspects of resilience and I was inspired by his courage in delaying a large capital investment in dam infrastructure to maximize the utilities flexibility and buy time for innovation and finding possible alternative solutions. At Hunter Water they are building a resilience strategy based on the value of keeping options open. This response to uncertainty involves adaptive decision making using an incremental approach. Jim Bentley referred to Marjolijn Haasnoot’s Dynamic Adaptive Policy Pathways (DAPP) approach as an example. What is more interesting than such planning tools, however, is the emphasis Hunter Water is placing on stakeholder engagement and learning power as means of increasing resilience.

Jim Bentley is using the concept of ‘customer journeys’ as ‘learning journeys’ in an endeavour to change behaviour at a relevant scale. By rousing and fostering learning-promoting qualities in the community (such as curiosity, creativity, sense-making, mindful agency, hope and optimism, collaboration, and belonging) Hunter Water aim to increase the readiness of the community to be open to change – to learn and adapt. The resilience of the system is thus increased though socio-cultural interventions rather than bio-physical (technical) interventions alone. This concept also lies at the heart of the Knowledge-Action programme Water which KWR launched this year together with Waternet in Amsterdam, the UvA, VU, TU Delft, Stowa, and Wageningen University.

The ability to avoid lock-in and path dependency is an important aspect of resilience, which we aim to improve via the Knowledge-Action programme Water. This is also a foundational concept in anticipatory water governance, as defined by our team at KWR. Lock-in can be financial, due to investments in massive pieces of infrastructure like the desalination plants in Australia for example that will take decades to pay off. But there are also other types of lock-in, such as institutional lock-in, which refers to the fact that “particular courses of action, once introduced, can be almost impossible to reverse.” Institutions and individuals generally use their influence to maintain or increase the level of influence that they have – thus preserving the institution rather than adapting to changing circumstances. This is why it is so important to invest in (instructional) learning and (social) innovation.

The resilience management and governance team (RM&G) has developed a model of anticipatory and adaptive governance towards resilience, which I presented to the American Utilities present in Denver. This model identifies the essential knowledge producing activities that an organisation can invest in to improve its ability to anticipate the future and learn from the past, facilitating adaptation. We advise that organisations who are strong in both these areas are most resilient to challenges that emerge in their context. This model has been used to provide support to the strategic divisions of both Waternet and WML. It also lies at the heart of the Knowledge-Action programme Water, which focuses on four key areas: (1) the future perspectives of stakeholders in the circular city; (2) the governance implications of promising circular technologies; (3) legal opportunities and barriers for experimentation and innovation and possible redistribution of responsibilities and risks in new business models; (4) improving the knowledge-action system of the system to facilitate better decision making.

The American water utilities and the Water Research Foundation were very interested in these perspectives on resilience and used them for programming the research agenda in the work sessions that followed. Dr Leon Williams, head of C4D (Cranfield Centre for Competitive Creative Design) facilitated a carefully crafted workshop directed at defining research topics for this project. The approach reminded me a lot of the think-tank sessions we facilitate for DWSI (Dutch Water Sector Intelligence), with various theories applied including the six thinking hats of de Bono. I was thankful to Cranfield University for this opportunity to share ideas on resilience and look forward to working together with these partners in the future. Just as I left Denver on the plane the most recent hurricane season was arriving – the events which followed really emphasised for me the importance of providing resilient essential services to cities.

WRF and Cranfield are now asking people to rank resilience related research areas through this online survey.