April 13, 2017 Uncategorized

Three key steps of collaboration for the water-wise cities of the future

Planners and water specialists represent two world-views that don’t always sit easily together. Yet water-wise cities thrive only when these two cultures and ways of seeing the world find common ground. When they do, the opportunities are endless.

What does it take to bring two different technical ‘cultures’ together to create the city of the future? The simple answer is collaboration. But then, as I have learned over the past several years, collaboration on water-related issues isn’t simple after all.

What, Why and How of Collaboration

When I ask “what is collaboration?” I often get the response “it is people working together for a common goal”. In reality, collaboration is so much more than that. If collaboration is going to bring planners and the water sector together to create the cities of the future then it must be a rigorous, credible, repeatable process that guides collaborators on the tricky journey of working together.

The first step, I believe, in any collaborative process is to recognise that collaboration is indeed necessary. Without that acceptance that ‘we can’t do this on our own’ any process of working together is doomed. Just as with a marriage, we have to choose every day to stay in that partnership, to make it work, to see the value even when it gets hard. That takes commitment; an essential element of any collaboration. Building it takes work, patience and time. Maintaining it takes more.

Another essential element of collaboration is the art of co-defining the dilemma together. This is a critical piece for water-smart cities as everyone will have their own idea of what the problem is. For some in the water sector the problem is about how to ensure public health. For others the problem could be how to maintain supply to a growing population, how to use water more efficiently, how to reduce the environmental footprint of water use, how to minimise flooding, or how to provide clean water for those downstream, or how to…

For the planning profession the problem might be how to grow cities sustainably, how to manage changing demographics to create a great city, how to increase liveability, how to move people around effectively, how to drive economic growth, how to…

So what is the ‘dilemma’ that planners and water professionals must work together to tackle in order to create a city of the future? Until collaborators know the answer to that question with a reasonable degree of certainty, everyone will be trying to solve different problems, pulling in different directions and ultimately, making no progress towards a water-wise city.

The way we frame a challenge or dilemma can make all the difference to the outcomes. For example, a very large cross-jurisdictional river management project framed the water management dilemma as “how to best maintain the environmental values of the river”. This framing did not at all speak to the irrigators and local townships along the length of the river, who felt ignored by the process. To ensure success the planners could have framed the dilemma as “how do we ensure the environmental health of the river, while celebrating our cultural values, supporting a thriving agricultural sector and building vibrant local communities and economies along the river?” That’s a dilemma which makes collaboration essential. It also more openly acknowledges the horns of the dilemma that make water management so tricky.

The same dynamic certainly applies to creating water-wise cities. Working with collaborators to carefully think through the ‘smart cities’ dilemma is the key to success.

Other important steps in collaboration include designing the collaborative process together. Water professionals and planning professionals will each have their own ways of working with people to tackle tricky issues. But collaboration requires each party to have their ‘fingerprints’ equally on the process. Co-designing the governance and collaborative elements helps commitment to grow and ensures a process that works.

Together these steps – committing to collaboration, co-defining the dilemma and co-designing the process – form the core of a rigorous collaborative process on water futures. The devil is in the detail of course, and success depends on the most important element of all – mindset and behaviour. But that is a subject for another blog.


Join Training “Creating the Future Together: Collaboration for Water-Wise Cities”

Trainer: Stuart Waters, Twyfords, Australia
Thursday June 15, Gothenburg, Sweden
Duration: 9:00am – 4:30pm

This one-day training will provide you with the frameworks and the practical steps to work collaboratively on complex water-wise projects. Come to this session if you seek to develop and lead innovative collaborative approaches across sectors, industries and jurisdictions. Creating the cities of the future is possible only when all key players commit to working together. This training will give you what it takes to turn that commitment into productive and creative work – TOGETHER

This training takes place after the IWA Cities of the Future conference, Embrace the Water, and comes at an additional cost on top of the Conference registration fees.

Read more about the course and how to register here.

Stuart Waters

Managing Director, Twyfords
Stuart provides strategic advice to organisations to help them improve their decision making capability in the face of complex dilemmas. Stuart works particularly in complex situations involving many stakeholders with different and passionately held ... Read full biography