Public Design for Water

Water = life: for nature and for people. The availability of water of sufficient quality is essential in itself, but it is also vital for the production of food, the economy, public health, comfort, security and the quality of our living environment. At the same time, water is closely interconnected with other systems, such as land, food, energy as well as ecosystems. With regard to all these systems we are confronted with important challenges related to climate change, digitalisation, biodiversity loss, and housing shortage. Our society  has responded to these challenges with intended sustainability transitions, such as the energy transition, agricultural transition, climate adaptation and the transition towards a circular economy. It is increasingly difficult to safeguard the values of water within all these interconnected developments. What is required is an integrated approach, in which all stakeholders are involved. Public Design for Water offers this approach.

Public design: the ‘how’ of the transitions

Public Design applies design thinking to realise integrated solutions that contribute to desired transitions. The stakeholders are at the centre of a Public Design approach, from end-users, to government workers and other actors. They all set to work together through a co-creative and iterative process. They begin by reflecting on the precise nature of the problem, without switching immediately to the solution mode. After carefully defining the problem, they work together on tangible concepts and prototypes, which are immediately testable in the real world. Read more about Public Design.

Public Design for Water combines design thinking with specialist water knowledge

KWR researchers apply Public Design to integrated transition issues in geographic areas with multi-sectoral challenges; for and with provincial strategic advisors, among others. At the same time, they unlock valuable and specialist water knowledge, which contributes to viable solutions. Depending on the specific problem concerned, KWR researchers reinforce the design process with expert knowledge about ecology, eco- and geohydrological analyses, water system solutions, treatment technologies, water quality and health.

Four knowledge fields combined

KWR has extensive experience in the Public Design approach and methods, not only within international research programmes, but also through activities that we directly undertake for provinces, municipalities, Water Authorities and water utilities. We assist strategic advisors, stakeholder managers, policy-makers and decision-makers in consciously steering towards targeted changes and thereby resolving complex issues.

In doing so, KWR combines knowledge from four fields, which can help stakeholders tackle complex problems. Public Design for Water offers different solution pathways. Which approach is best suited to your problem?

Figure 1. Public Design for Water at KWR combines four knowledge fields and offers a variety of solution pathways.

  • I want to set to work in a participatory and inclusive manner, that is, with the input and support of others.
    Then read more about Social Environment and Area Planning Processes.
    Here the focus is on gaining insight into problem perceptions, needs, risk perceptions and values of stakeholders. For this, we apply methods such as serious gaming and action research. Read more.


  • I want to systematically realise a change that takes complexity and  prospective uncertainty into account.
    Then read more about Futures Studies and Strategy Development.
    In this knowledge field we work on future visions and strategies to realise them. To this end, we apply methods such as participative scenario planning, backcasting and water system analyses. Read more.


  • I want to achieve my goals together with citizens and customers, so I also need to know what they desire and fear.
    Then read more about Customer Perspectives.
    How citizens and customers think about important (water) issues plays a big part in finding fitting solutions. We investigate this with methods like surveys, focus groups and field trials. Read more.


  • I want to find scientifically grounded and tested solutions based on an integrated approach.
    Then read more about System Knowledge about the Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystem Nexus.
    In this knowledge field, we develop concrete and area-specific measures and solutions based on specialisms like ecohydrology, with methods including water system analyses, models, simulations, and Sankey diagrams. Read more.