Water research opportunities in COVID year 2020

A look back at the opportunities we were able to take despite the crisis

The global COVID pandemic posed enormous challenges for all sectors of society in 2020. The national and international water sector and KWR, as a socially committed research institute working in that sector, were no exceptions. Our sewage-water researchers shared their method with others throughout the world for monitoring the spread of COVID in cities. And we were able to maintain our close alliances with customers and partners at a high standard using new, digital channels.

How do our researchers and staff look back on this year? What developments did they see in the national and international water sector? What opportunities did we take to continue providing customers with smart, innovative solutions? Read about their personal experiences here.

Frederic Beén

Frederic Been AKWR has been working on using studying sewage water to see what is happening in society for years. COVID-19 has now demonstrated how useful these techniques are. This has led to a breakthrough in terms of how well people know us. Our network – like the virus – has grown exponentially over the past nine months. We are now working with the entire world, from the Middle East to Asia and Africa. I find that to be enormously enriching. As a result, I’m optimistic about the future of sewage-water research as a recognised discipline, allowing us to search further for possible applications that will benefit health. In addition to pathogens, that search could also target indicators of diseases such as cancer. But that involves answering a lot of fundamental questions first.

Lisa Andrews

Lisa Andrews, KWR

At the same time as the outbreak of the corona pandemic in the Netherlands, I started my job at KWR as Scientific Research and Engagement Manager for Watershare. With my previous experience with the online engagement of international communities, I was put straight to work. Right in the first week, we organised a webinar on sewage surveillance in which over 1,000 people from all over the world participated. KWR established itself as a renowned research institute in the field of COVID-19 sewage surveillance through the work of Gertjan Medema and his team. We also seized the opportunity to collaborate with Watershare members on this topic, solidifying it into a new community of practice.

Joep van den Broeke

Joep van den Broeke A

The reach of the Water in the Circular Economy (WiCE) programme has increased significantly in recent times. We have had to transform our physical roadshows, with visits to water companies and other partners, into digital meetings. That resulted in a fantastic alliance with the Water Meets Water Platform (WOW). We worked together on the organisation of a series of webinars about WiCE that were followed by large numbers of people. We will continue working with the WOW Platform next year on the theme of Water in the City. The changes have required a lot of preparation, nevertheless. But there are many more projects that have continued successfully. We can depend on each other, and we are still coming up with creative solutions. Sticky notes and brainstorming are also possible remotely.

Mariëlle van der Zouwen

Zouwen Marielle van der

The term ‘vital sector’ has acquired genuine significance in the past year. At KWR, we are working for just such an indispensable link in society. We are investing in water quality, freshwater availability, the transition to a circular economy, and much more for the water sector. I think it’s great that, despite everything, all this has continued ‘as normal’. We have demonstrated how resilient we are. For years, KWR has invested in alliances at home and abroad. Now we’re harvesting the results, and we’re all ready to work together and deliver. These times have shown that high-quality research needs to be rooted in a sustainable network.

Gijsbert Cirkel

Cirkel Gijsbert

We have moved to an online world during the past year. In our work, there are two sides to that. In the case of ongoing projects, the possibility of brief contact with the client during the course of a project is a major benefit. The threshold for a digital meeting to discuss a difficulty is low. You see earlier which direction has to be taken, and you can adjust the course more easily. But it is more difficult to get new projects off the ground or for projects in the start-up phase. Physical discussions are often necessary for creative processes and to really understand each other. So I have started including a mix of consultation options in our tenders: we start off in person, and then we can switch quickly to online resources. That makes things a lot more efficient.

Petra Holzhaus

As a team leader, I have seen how – despite working remotely – it is still possible to maintain our team spirit. That’s essential to work together properly. Major projects such as the 2050 Drinking Water Distribution Roadmap have moved into the digital domain. We quickly got the hang of organising online workshops. Things were sometimes bumpy at first, but our clients were understanding. And those were opportunities for us to learn. The webinars that KWR organises for the water companies are very low-threshold. It has become much easier to join in for an hour; distance is no longer a problem. As a result, our work is reaching more people than before. That’s a major step forward!

Jan Vreeburg

Vreeburg jan A

Looking back at the last nine months, my contacts with the outside world have gone up several gears. With Taskforce International, we are investigating opportunities for KWR to develop our water knowledge and research capabilities in other countries as well. This is primarily about building up good relationships with potential new partners. With the excellent video connections that have become available lately, it is suddenly much easier to talk from enormous distances. Instead of having to discuss everything in one week during a visit, you can spread things out over a longer period. There is less pressure and greater efficiency. For example, we are starting to get wonderful alliances with Panama, India, and France off the ground.

Hans Ruijgers

Hans Ruijgers

By communicating clearly and accurately about our COVID-19 sewage-water research, we gave people around the world the opportunity to learn about KWR. Because the pandemic has lasted so long, there were unexpected opportunities for me as a media spokesperson to establish relationships with journalists – even from the New York Times. In recent months, I have gained even more admiration for my colleagues’ expertise and their ability to work with other researchers and knowledge partners in the Netherlands, Europe, and far beyond. And for the fact that we can pass on this knowledge to the outside world in good time and understandable ways, even under severe time constraints. There was a lot of activity on Twitter and LinkedIn, so the number of followers increased rapidly. We can continue to benefit from that. In addition, my team shifted its focus to internal communications in no time. How do you make sure that 180 colleagues working from home still feel a part of the team? At KWR, as in so many other organisations, the Teams meeting (sometimes with large numbers) has become an everyday event. For my job, ‘back to normal’ isn’t an option.