WiCE: from research programme to network

New WiCE programme manager, Henk-Jan van Alphen, on the development of the new WiCE programme

The new WiCE programme manager, Henk-Jan van Alphen, talks about early plans for a new configuration for the programme when the current one comes to an end in 2023. ‘We want WiCE to evolve from a research programme into a community with a strong networking function.’

Since 1 January, KWR researcher Henk-Jan van Alphen has been programme manager of the collective Water in the Circular Economy (WICE) research programme, in which the Dutch water utilities and the Flemish water utility De Waterschap participate. Van Alphen has long been the leader of the ‘Value in the Water Cycle’ theme within the WiCE programme. He coordinates WiCE jointly with Joep van den Broeke, having taken over the baton from his colleague Marcel Paalman, who was involved at the inception of WiCE in 2018.

New programme

Today’s WiCE programme runs through to 2023, but the preparations for the subsequent programme are already in full swing. Van Alphen: ‘The content of the current programme is superb, as was revealed in last year’s evaluation, but we want to involve the water utilities more in setting up projects, and to direct more attention to how we can embed the (practical) knowledge from the projects in all of the water utilities, and not only in those taking part in a specific project.’ The thinking is tending towards extending the current roadshows, for instance with the organisation of two inspiration days a year on a theme, during which not only the participating actors in the different WiCE projects are invited, but also any other stakeholders interested in getting involved. Van Alphen: ‘We want WiCE to evolve from a research programme into a community with a strong networking function. That could mark a beginning.’

Three kinds of knowledge

During a session held on 17 March, the water utilities discussed their vision of circularity and the impact they would like to see the WiCE programme have. Among other things, the discussion revealed that the participants need three kinds of knowledge from WiCE:

  1. system knowledge, for example, about technology, the water system and the climate system;
  2. normative knowledge about what the water utilities and other organisations see as societally valuable in the circular economy; and
  3. transition knowledge about how to engage their own organisations in a change.

The WiCE participants from the water utilities felt a particularly strong need for this last item. Van Alphen: ‘We of course already know of a couple of things that promote the transition. Since water utilities are organised around core tasks, circular developments frequently remain at a pilot level. To take this further, there is a need not only for technical but also managerial innovation.’

Innovation power and daring

On 14 April a new session will be organised for the purpose of identifying the research questions for the rest of the current programme and for the subsequent one. This is a first step towards the successors of successful WiCE projects like Lumbricus, Multiple Value Creation, Power-to-X, SENSE and Aqua Ludens (a serious game for the water transition). Van Alphen: ‘We have innovation power. As the water utilities, and as the water sector more broadly, we also need to have the daring to lead the way and get others to join us, instead of waiting upon the initiatives from citizens and companies.’