Water constitutes one of the economic top sectors designated by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy. In order to stimulate innovations and create economic value from the knowledge developed, in late 2012 a new incentive programme came into effect: the TKI scheme (Top Sector Alliances for Knowledge and Innovation). One of the objectives of TKI Water Technology is to stimulate partnerships in the water cycle to enhance the efficiency of the invested resources. Private-public partnerships are the driving element. Not only research, but also pilots and testbeds are eligible for TKI funding.
The top sector policy – and therefore TKI Water Technology as well – aims to stimulate innovation in the water cycle by strengthening public-private partnerships (PPSs). The objective is to undertake interdisciplinary and participative research within the ‘golden triangle’ of government, business and knowledge institutions. Shaping this research collaboration requires good coordination between researchers, SMEs and drinking water utilities. Moreover, the research outcomes must find their way to the market. Water utilities all over the world are increasingly faced with similar challenges, such as climate change, aging infrastructure and polluted sources. The case for collaborating in the development and implementation of solutions is self-evident. For each research project, the PPS consortium determines the demand response, based on the market-uptake potential, societal challenges (e.g., achieving sustainability) and scientific insights. The science is thus at the service of the specified tasks. The degree to which the research project is fundamental or applied in character depends on the research organisation involved.
KWR conducts the Joint Research Programme with the Dutch-Flemish drinking water sector; a collective programme for applied scientific research. All of the Dutch drinking water utilities participate, along with the largest Flemish drinking water utility (De Watergroep). Besides this joint research, the drinking water utilities together with KWR or other knowledge institutions take part in projects via TKI, Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NOW), Horizon 2020, and others.
Exploratory research as a rule precedes the set-up of PPS research projects. Its objective is two-fold: (1) to research the developments and trends that are relevant for the sector, and (2) to investigate the needs of SMEs and other businesses, as well as end-users in the sector. And furthermore, and perhaps just as important, there is (3): the retrospective, that is, the study the research projects’ outcomes and possible areas for improvement.
We connect TKI and the Joint Research Programme with other national and international water research programmes, partners and funds, by taking the initiative and becoming involved in the agenda-setting and the conduct of national and international research programmes. We explore, stimulate and learn from research collaborations with knowledge partners in the water cycle and the triple helix. The exploration and study of the research needs at the drinking water utilities, and the coordination with researchers and SMEs and other businesses as well as end-users in the sector, lead to new innovative research projects. We investigate the possibilities for knowledge exchange and collaboration for TKI with the Joint Research Programme and other research programmes. For TKI, the Joint Research Programme and KWR, it is highly important that coordination, connection and collaboration be sought with other water research programmes. These activities are linked to the objectives of the exploratory research mentioned above under objectives (1) and (2).
There was initially no suitable guide available for the evaluation of TKI projects. So, in 2014, in consultation with representatives of the TKI Programme Board, a format was developed for the evaluation of completed TKI projects. This tool is used to evaluate each project and explore what it accomplished and identify possible areas of improvement. This activity is linked to objective (3) of the exploratory research.
One important outcome is the study, alignment and coordination of the TKI and Joint Research Programme input in national and international water research programmes. Connecting and collaborating with other research programmes multiplies the impact of knowledge and research funding. Furthermore, space for innovation is created thanks to a climate in which KWR, the drinking water utilities, water-cycle partners, science and business, get to know and appreciate each other. Partial results are widely disseminated and serve to develop new research programmes and projects.
Dissemination activities have taken place in parallel via websites (KWR, TKI Water Technology, Water Top Sector), trade exhibitions (Aqua Nederland Vakbeurs, Wetsus), and seminars/workshops, which are organised independently or in combination with events created by third parties – these might be both internal water-sector as well as cross-sectoral events.