The aim of an impact study is to develop strategic insights, together with specialists from water companies and experts from outside the sector, about the future impacts of trends on Dutch water companies. Impact studies are a specific type of exploratory research, directed at developing more specific, deeper insight concerning the potential consequences, opportunities and threats associated with a certain trend or development that has been signalled in the ‘eyes and ears’ project.
To develop this knowledge, Futures Researchers at KWR conduct desk research and interview experts (1) from outside the water sector, to augment the desk research on the emerging trend, and (2) from within the water sector, to better understand potential impacts. The results of this research are exchanged via various communication media, including a mini-symposium.
To communicate the strategic insights from impact studies with decision makers and agenda setters at water companies, special attention is paid to various forms of communication. For this reason, the results of Joint Research Programme Impact Studies have been recorded in three parts and presented via the intranet with the Joint Research Programme members:
Alert: based on the observed trends and developments and a system analysis, a short animation is produced in which the trend is explained, including the potential opportunities and threats for water organisations and supplemented with options for response strategies.
Analysis: The results of the desk research and interviews with experts are recorded in an impact matrix that systematically presents possible consequences of the trend for water companies, given the uncertainty in the external systems and the various strategic questions that the water companies are likely to be faced with over the next 5 years. This analysis forms the scientific basis for the Alert and the Advice.
Advice: The theoretical options for response strategies are summarized for the water companies in a presentation that makes it easy for them to share within the organisation.
In addition to these (online) communication media, knowledge about each impact study is exchanged via a mini-symposium.
Each Joint Research Programme Impact Study involves a system analysis of a specific trend. The system boundaries are defined based on the sphere of influence of the water company:
- The ‘internal system’ is the domain over which the water companies have financial, political, cultural, or physical control.
- The ‘external system’ is the domain over which the water companies have no influence whatsoever.
- The area in between the external and internal systems is referred to the ‘transactional space’, which consists of all aspects that a water company has no direct control over, but that which it can exert influence on. For example, by lobbying other actors.
For the external system, Futures Researchers use desk research an interviews with experts to create an overview of the most important uncertainties. These uncertainties are combined in the analysis step (using a morphological field analysis) to generate possible future scenarios. The internal system is described in the form of strategic dilemmas for the water companies. The internal and external systems are then combined in a matrix, so that a position on each of the strategic dilemmas can be chosen and explained for each context scenario. This makes it possible to identify impending opportunities and threats and to test the robustness possible strategic plans.