Joint Research Programme ‘Eyes & Ears’

Together with the water companies, KWR has defined various objectives for the Joint Research Programme, including the ‘Eyes and Ears’ function. To fulfil the ‘Eyes and Ears’ function, developments are signalled in society, science, technology, policy and regulations and evaluated as regards their significance for the Dutch and Flemish water sectors. This type of futures research improves the resilience of the water sector by supporting anticipatory governance and by maximising the adaptive capacity of the organisations.

In the current Joint Research Programme the ‘Eyes and Ears’ function is divided into thematic and integral projects. In the integral component, researchers scan a broad spectrum of trends and developments within social, economic, political, technological and demographic dimensions. In the thematic component, six specialist coordinators scan trends and developments within the six established Joint Research Programme drinking water themes.

Both projects deliver (1) a long-list of trend signals, and (2) Trend Alerts.

Horizon Scanning

The context of the water sector is changing continuously and systematic horizon scanning is complex and too time-intensive for water organisations to organise individually. The various water organisations also operate in a shared (national) context. This is why collective horizon scanning, performed by dedicated Futures Researchers at KWR, makes sense. Water organisations (partly) outsource this time-intensive horizon scanning work and become involved in the latter sense-making stage, when the developments are translated into (individual) opportunities and threats.

Futures Researchers at KWR conduct the horizon scanning in a systematic way, with continuous analysis focused on so-called SEPTED* dimensions

Futures Researchers at KWR conduct the horizon scanning in a systematic way, with continuous analysis focused on so-called SEPTED* dimensions

Futures Researchers at KWR conduct the horizon scanning in a systematic way, with continuous analysis focused on so-called SEPTED* dimensions. SEPTED* is an abbreviation for the following socio-political and biophysical dimensions:

  • Socio-cultural
  • Economy
  • Political
  • Technology
  • Ecology
  • Demography

A team of researchers identifies which developments are taking place in each of these dimensions and explores the relevance for the water sector. In addition, specialist researchers scan trends and developments within the established Joint Research Programme drining water themes:

  • Water Resources and the environment
  • Purification
  • Distribution
  • Customers
  • Biological Safety
  • Chemical Safety
  • Integrated Asset Management
  • Hydroinformatics


Horizon scanning research results in the signalling of many trends (100+ per year). After discussion amongst the Futures Researchers at KWR, however, the most significant trends are prioritised to be studied and analysed further. Each year +/- 10 trends are chosen for further analysis, including preliminary (theoretical) analysis of the relevance and possible consequence for the water sector. This further analysis results in Trend Alerts.

Trend Alerts are concise reports (+/-5 pages) describing the most pressing trends and their relevance to the  water sector. Trend Alerts are used by individual water organisations to shape their own strategies and plans, including research and innovation programmes. In the integral component, over 100 trends are signalled but only 8 trends are selected to be elaborated for a Trend Alert. In the thematic component, one trend is selected per theme to yield a total 6 trends to be reported on in Trend Alerts.

In addition to the Trend Alerts, horizon scanning research produces a long-list of trend signals. This list includes new opportunities, threats, technologies, and questions as input for prioritising subjects and setting the agenda for KWR research programmes, including the BTO ‘incubator’ programme. The signals are also used as input for the ‘strategic learning alliance’ for strategists, policy advisors, and decision makers in the sector (Water Sector Intelligence). In this way, Futures Research works as a funnel to select from a long list of signals the most relevant opportunities, threats, technologies and questions for further research.