Getting collaborative about urban water issues

Collaboration across silos and disciplines is key in urban water management. During the Embrace the Water Conference in Gothenburg, researchers and urban practitioners from all over the world met to exchange and learn from each other. iResponse and Oslo Municipality presented on urban stormwater management.

The Embrace the Water Conference that took place 12-14th June aimed at gathering urban planners and water professionals from around the globe to share experiences and projects on the opportunities and threats of water in modern, sustainable and innovative cities.  

As stated by the conference chair, managing director department of Sustainable Waste and Water, City of Gothenburg:

 “In transitioning cities, the planning for development of water infrastructure is too often overlooked. The impact of the theme of the conference, to deepen the interaction between planners and water professionals, can hardly be overestimated."

From a Responsible Research and Innovation perspective working together across disciplines and sectors is highly relevant. 

Stormwater, engagement and ICT

Related to Information Communication Technology (ICT) and iResponse there were several relevant tracks. Isabel Seifert Dähnn (NIVA) presented on"ICT-enabled Learning Experiences For Improved Urban Stormwater Management"on the work we are doing within the stormwater case in a session on "Engaged Community - Engaging with citizens: why, and how? 

There were a set of short presentations and then all attending the session discussed in groups.

Some of what we have experienced with stormwater being an issue not known to many, including the role blue-green infrastructure could play in combating some of the stormwater challenges, was an issue also experienced by several others attending the conference. In the iResponse stormwater case we are thus working on an ICT prototype both to inform and involve citizens, to have meaningful interaction and crowdsourcing around blue-green infrastructure projects in urban areas.

In the same session, Tracy Schulz (University of Queensland) presented from a study in Australia on the use of images to convey issues and stir action around stormwater management. It was very relevant insight on how different images elicit different emotions and actions, and also on the importance of personal relevance in stories to create engagement with the issue.

In a round-table interactive session, the Agency for Water and Sewage Works of Oslo Municipality, Cecilie Bråthen and Tharan Fergus, shared their experiences with opening up the urban stream Hovinbekken in Oslo and about making room for the water in a growing city. These are complex processes and there will be learning along the way, as there are not yet that many of these kind of projects. There were lot of interest in the topic from the participants around the table.

Science, storytelling and action

One of the keynote speakers at the conference, Danielle Gallet, Manager for the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) in Chicago, exemplified in her talk circular economy wins as an essential component of moving towards water-wise communities. 

One case she showed was transformation of an elementary school into a nature-based solution that reduces flood risks and provides for social amenities. When we discussed with her she said that the success came down to working with stakeholders and the need to partner up with others. The same message as in the 1 min video below:

"Partner, partner, partner".

She highlights 3 take-aways to move towards water-wise communities:

  • you need to have the whole picture, data and information - and you need to work together on that
  • tell the story in a powerful way, don't underestimate the power of a well-told story; it is direct, inspirational and motivational
  • we can not function in silos, we need to bring together different competencies and actors
Innovation will not happen in a vacuum.... sit down and have a coffee chat,... build trust across boundaries

Roles and Responsibilities in Urban Water Management

During the conference all were invited to give input, in different formats, relating to roles and responsibilities of different actors related to urban water management. 

E.g there were online conference Game Cards where the audience could fill in certain questions relating to the presentation they heard, “What are/have been the responsibilities of this Presenter in driving water-wise action, based on what you heard in their presentation?” There were also paper boards for different relevant actors were all were encouraged to give input.

The input has been summaries by the conference organizers: "This document maps the Roles and Responsibilities of urban water actors, enabling them to become water-wise champions!"

Outputs and videos from the conference:

About the Author: Line Barkved is one of the researchers in the iResponse-project and leads WP2 on "Dialogue, Social Participation and Learning". She is a research scientist at NIVA working on water management, technology, and governance. She's interested in collaborative design and innovation. Twitter: @linebarkved