Delft, The Netherlands, 02 May 2017

Celebrating 60 years of water education

On 24 April 2017, the Institute celebrated its 60th anniversary. The conference was attended by staff, students, alumni, partners and livestreamed for the benefit of partners and alumni around the world. Together, we explored how to further adapt to the changing geopolitical, economic and cultural global landscape, to meet challenging water related issues in a development context. This resulted in a lively discussion about the role of IHE Delft in this changing landscape.

The day was opened by Rector a.i. Fritz Holzwarth, who stressed that the Institute is not about to retire soon, but is looking forward, while learning from the past. Fritz Holzwarth: “The challenge has always been to adapt to the changing landscape we have been operating in over the last 60 years. From its inception, IHE Delft has had a practical emphasis on technical and engineering solutions. Today, the Institute has a much more multi-disciplinary focus, also looking further than the traditional water box. Engineering sciences, natural science as well as ethics and social sciences form the basis of the Institute’s work today.” 

New Rector introduced

Before introducing the Institute’s new Rector, the Chair of the IHE Delft Foundation Board, Dirk-Jan van den Berg pointed out a few challenges the Institute will face in the near future regarding its core activities: education, research and capacity development. “In the field of research, a multi-disciplinary approach will become the name of the game. With regard to education, discussions on learning outcomes will increase and the modes of delivery of education will change. E-learning is one such mode where the Institute should really invest. In the area of capacity development, we are also going through a transformation: development cooperation in the traditional sense is no longer the case - we are working with well-educated people who can bring capacity building to a higher level.”

Given all the dynamics just described, the Foundation Board had the task of finding someone who can lead the Institute through these and other important developments. The new Rector of the Institute is Professor Eddy Moors, formerly head of the research team ‘Climate change and adaptive land & water management’ at Alterra (the Wageningen Environmental Research group). He is also a Professor of Water and Climate at the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam. Dirk-Jan van den Berg: “We believe that Eddy Moors is a candidate who brings an academic track record, the experience of managing academic institutions, an important network, and international experience.”

Prof. Eddy Moors: “Water has always been my passion, and still is. I worked in water in different places in the world. I studied land and water use in Wageningen and specialized in meteorology and hydrology. I started my career at the World Meteorological Organization. In Barbados was the first time I encountered IHE Delft. Together with retired staff member Jan Nonner and TU Delft professor Huub Savernije I gave a hydrology course to water professionals in the Caribbean. Subsequently, I was offered a job at Wageningen University. I completed my PhD research on land and water use at the VU in Amsterdam. I will visit the Institute in May and June and hope to talk to a lot of you in preparation for becoming the new Rector. I am very much looking forward to that and to start working at IHE Delft in the summer.” Eddy Moors will start as Rector on 1 July.  

A history with Bangladesh

This Institute has had a special relationship with Bangladesh since its origin in 1957. IHE Delft’s first course was given to Bangladeshi government officials after they experienced two devastating floods in 1954 and 1955. His Excellency Sheikh Mohammed Belal, Ambassador of Bangladesh to the Netherlands addressed the audience: “I am honoured to be able to thank you in person for all that you have done for the people of Bangladesh and beyond. The fact that IHE is based in the Netherlands, is a fit in itself. There is perhaps no other country below sea level that has turned its challenges into opportunities. As a delta country, just like the Netherlands, Bangladesh has benefitted from IHE and the Netherlands. Many government officials and engineers have pursued their studies at IHE Delft and UNESCO-IHE over the years. They are now making a contribution to their country, applying the skills and knowledge gained from their time in Delft. We need these people to help solve Bangladesh’s problems in an innovative, creative and sustainable way.”

Moderator Professor Michael McClain pointed out that the conference is divided in two parts: reflecting on the past (morning session), and look ahead to the future (afternoon session). 

Water and delta: a shared vision of Bangladesh and the Netherlands

The morning session started with reflections from three passionate people from Bangladesh: Dr. Abdul Quassem, Chairman of the National Disaster Management Advisory Committee of Bangladesh and IHE Delft alumnus, Dr Shah Alam Khan, Professor at the Institute of Water and Flood Management at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology and Ms. Shahnoor Hasan, PhD fellow in the Water Governance chair group at IHE Delft. The discussion was facilitated by Chris Zevenbergen, Professor of Flood Resilience.

Dr.Quassem reflected on the first generation of IHE Delft alumni, who formulated the first delta master plan of Bangladesh in the early sixties. He came to Delft in 1978, where he gained practical knowledge for practising engineers like himself. “What I missed at the time was the social dimension to engineering, and learning certain skills like management, communication and networking.”

Professor Khan: “The concept of water management was brought to Bangladesh by the Netherlands, including the implementation of organizations like the Water Development Board. A paradigm shift took place from development to management due to our collaboration with the Dutch. Over the years, many students from Dutch universities came to Bangladesh to do research or participate in projects. They brought this knowledge back to the Netherlands, this shows the value of mutual learning. Shahnoor Hasan: “In my research on delta planning I look at how knowledge transfers from the Netherlands to countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh, and I quite miss the aspect of mutual learning in the Dutch delta planning approach.”

An evolving partnership to better meet water and sanitation needs

The programme continued with a conversation between Marco Schouten, CEO of Vitens Evides International (VEI) and Klaas Schwartz, Associate Professor of Urban Water Governance at IHE Delft.

Marco Schouten: “Water provision is about building organisations to sustain services and capacitating staff working in utilities. This should be tailored to the realities of the staff working in water utilities - they rely on proof in practice. Working together should be based on trust, building a relation with the utility and its staff in a long term partnership. You cannot do this in a short period of time.” On how to reach a larger scale in developing capacity, Marco is convinced that you need to focus and not spread too thin. You need to understand the local situation and its key players. 

With regard to the future of the partnership between VEI-IHE Marco hopes that IHE Delft will engage in the DGIS co-funded ‘Waterworks 

Putting evidence to work: research reality in an international NGO

Irene Guijt is the head of Research at Oxfam Great Britain. Her key message was that absorbing knowledge and developing capacity is not done by minds only, you need to reach hearts as well. Building trust is essential. Another aspect she pointed out is how research is being used by organisations and individuals. You have to make people curious for knowledge.

Oxfam GB has a strategy based on influencing with data and science, for example with their ‘killer stats’. However, with the current rise of populism and a growing distrust of scientific data this is an enormous challenge. Irene Guijt: “We are in the process of re-thinking our strategy, how to make people receptive to knowledge. We started working already with ‘market insight teams’ and polls that are critical for defining the message.”

For Irene it’s clear that research is done with the aim of having an impact, not just for the sake of research. The next step is therefore advocacy, thinking forward on changes needed. This requires collective sense making, (so what, now what?) to move to action. She illustrated this effectively with a picture of a cow and its four stomachs that represent the different steps in knowledge creation and digesting. “Your audience literally has to digest your message, going through different phases of absorbing what you want them to learn or do with it.”

Conditions for societal impact

A lively panel discussion followed on ‘what are the conditions for societal impact?’ In addition to the speakers, Nicole de Bree of Ministry of Infrastructure & Environment joined the panel.

Nicole gave a brief history of the MoU between the Ministry and the Institute and explained how IHE Delft can assist with their innovation. “We need input from around the world to help us to get data. IHE’s MSc students and PhD fellows bring in essential knowledge to our country,” she said.

The question was raised as to whether the Institute has become too academic. Collective learning does not only happen in classroom, an important part takes place in the field.  Students need to be trained in a certain mind-set and attitude and in leadership skills. Gaining applied skills have been and still are distinctive benefits of studying at IHE, although more could be done in teaching leadership and soft skills. A positive element for IHE students is building a network amongst practitioners.

A discussion also evolved around the question how IHE can assure appropriate and sustainable scaling of its activities to increase impact. The key is individuals who inspire others. However, individuals operate in institutions that often pose restrictions for change. Therefore IHE can’t ignore developing the capacity of institutions. It’s not only about replication (train more students), but scale the message, scale the practice.

Looking towards the future

After a recap of the morning session by moderator Michael McClain, the afternoon started with a video message from Flavia Schlegel, the Assistant Director General for the Natural Sciences of UNESCO. She congratulated the Institute on its 60th anniversary and pointed out that IHE Delft is a highly appreciated member of the UNESCO water family. Flavia Schlegel: “We are all working together on solutions to respond to the present and upcoming global and regional water related challenges.”

The Netherlands’ response to future water challenges

Kees Rade, Director Climate, Water, Food Security, Energy and Natural Resources and Ambassador Sustainable Development Ministry of Foreign Affairs (and, as he added, Arctic Ambassador), pointed out a few challenges ahead of us, and how IHE Delft could address these in the 2030 framework.

The impacts of climate change will manifest themselves more and more, for example in changes in water availability, be they floods or droughts. Substantial population growth in many parts of the world will have serious consequences for food and energy production and economic development. All productive sectors demand water, which increases the need for integrated water resources management. Not all countries have a proper infrastructure to guarantee equal distribution of water.

Kees Rade: “We firmly believe that proper management of global public goods, like water, is important to realize a stable and prosperous world. We are also convinced that future policies should be determined by the ambition of realizing the SDGs, dealing with the consequences of climate change, working on integration between water, food and energy and on the prevention of possible conflicts which may arise over public goods like water.

“We believe that IHE Delft is very well positioned to work on these challenges, as, addressing these is above all a question of knowledge. I was in Dhaka, Bangladesh last week, and there, as has happened to me in many other countries, the first remarks made to me by local counterparts from governments and water institutions were: “I studied at IHE Delft from that to that year”. This is always a very pleasant start to the discussion.”

However, there is always room for improvement. Kees Rade mentioned a few areas that could make IHE Delft more future-proof: 

  1. Put your work and future policies more in the context of future challenges like population growth, climate change, increased competing claims between sectors, countries and population groups
  2. Maintain your strong reputation in the field of drinking water and sanitation, with a focus on urban issues, paying special attention to financing and sustainability.
  3. Continue with your interesting work  in the field of water accounting and water productivity
  4. Develop a strong record in water diplomacy and transboundary issues
  5. Strengthen your linkages with policy dialogues. Policy makers need the results from science that you produce.
  6. Further develop the approach to learning. You have a fantastic network of alumni – continue to involve them in lifelong learning/distance learning.
  7. Be flexible and enter into new partnerships. Solving complex water issues requires a multi-stakeholder approach.
  8. Anticipate that financial resources for development cooperation won’t substantially increase, not in the Netherlands and not among other donors.

Africa’s future – impact through capacity development

Chidibere Nnebuo, former chair of IHE Delft Student Association Board interviewed Dr. Lapologang Magole, Chairperson of the WaterNet board and senior research scholar of Botswana University.

The partnership between IHE Delft and WaterNet in Eastern and Southern Africa started 20 years ago. Having developed together with IHE Delft, now WaterNet is a local institution with strong regional ownership. IHE Delft is still involved in providing scientific backstopping. Lapologang explained that you have to be aware of a constantly changing relevance for your organisation - problems/situations are changing and therefore innovation is needed.

With regard to collective learning, Lapologang sees a need for the involvement of youth. “It’s important to also take into account the environment of learning, including power and political aspects, involving communities and other partners. Acquiring knowledge, know-how and skills is not the same as applying knowledge for change”, she says.

The future role of IHE Delft

Presentation by Charlotte de Fraiture, Professor of Hydraulic Engineering for Land and Water Development.

Charlotte: “Water problems are wicked and a new breed of water professionals is needed to address these ‘specialized integrators’”.

Our current strategy is to better equip people and organizations to solve water challenges. IHE Delft can use quantitative indicators but “knowledge” doesn’t automatically lead to change (impact). Education alone is no longer enough. In the future we need to work on how we measure our impact. How does IHE carve its niche? By offering quality.

There is increasing competition from Dutch universities, the partner landscape is changing. We need to become more flexible and increasingly diverse in staff and modus operandi, reduce education costs and review the fixed 18 month MSc. Now the research is too much donor & IHE driven instead of partner driven. Charlotte mentioned the Theory of Scale, how do we increase our reach? How do we strengthen our link to the Dutch water sector? The financing landscape needs to be explored and mapped, and we need to move beyond mere quantitative indicators.

Panel discussion: reflections for the future

Joining the speakers were Maria Salingay, Chair of PhD Association Board • Arnoud Molenaar, Chief Resilience Officer / Manager Rotterdam Climate Proof at City of Rotterdam • Naser Almanaseer, Middle East regional DUPC committee member • Kellie Liket, Postdoctoral researcher at the Impact Centre, Erasmus University.

The panellists’ advice was to focus on certain areas, which is not always easy as it involves making choices but it must be done. They also pointed out a few other things to work on:

Showing the impact of IHE to donors: it was said that our strategy/vision should convince funders, therefore it is particularly important to find and define our own space. Don’t just collect data but think about how can I get data that is useful for me?

IHE should make very good use of its strong network. Also, graduates at partner institutes count, it’s a community.

To view the full conference and discussions, watch the video.


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