Delft, the Netherlands, 15 Jul 2020

Developing water capacity - the 2020 Delft Agenda for Action

Almost exactly 12 months after the first call to join IHE Delft’s 6th Symposium on Knowledge and Capacity for the Water Sector, this global community representing academics, governments, funders, utilities and civil society from more than 90 countries have today shared their 2020 Delft Agenda for Action. Its focus is on shift in mindsets needed to deliver all United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that relate to water, its take-home message is a list of 15 Immediate Actions that can improve capacity in the water sector in the coming years.

The route to producing the Delft Agenda has had its moments, the COVID-19 pandemic precipitating the decision to go online just a couple of months before the symposium doors were due to open. But the community pulled together with more than 600 registered participants participating in an inspiring programme of webinars, video conferences and text conversations to deliberate on what the future of water capacity development should look like.

Participants joined from 91 countries across all sectors, to present, discuss, watch and comment on content and to provide direct input into the development of the Delft Agenda. Registered participants were joined by external audiences in 31 webinars generating more than 6,000 views over the 2 weeks of online activities. The Agenda for Action emerging from the symposium, builds on almost 200 posters, videos and presentations, and well over 2000 comments on webinars and their content. The Agenda published today outlines 5 key challenges, and proposed key activities that we should stop, start or do more of. As such it may be used to support the UN acceleration framework with concrete action points for, among others, SDG6 in which capacity development was indicated as one of the 5 accelerators.

The Delft Agenda invites the international water community to contribute to the 15 Immediate Actions. These are aimed specifically at Public Authorities, Funders & Investment Banks, Capacity Development Providers, Water Service Organisations & Utilities, Civil Society and Water Professionals, as well as the Water Community as a whole and are as follows:

Instil a systems perspective across all water related research, training, planning and decision-making.

  • Public Authorities: Increase connections between water supply, water resource, and environmental water administrations and establish collaborative mechanisms for infrastructure related decisions
  • Funders/Investment Banks: Review the current capacity development portfolio for its contribution to climate change readiness and adaptiveness
  • Capacity Development Providers: Strengthen interdisciplinarity and systems thinking in curricula across the board, with priority for integrating ecology and green infrastructure in engineering
  • The Water Community: Advocate for greater diversity of expertise and disciplines needed to solve the global water crisis, actively countering perceptions of water as a ‘technical’ issue

Foster a long-term and forward-looking perspective in capacity development

  • Funders/Investment Banks: Increase the duration and connection of water-related capacity development programming, and integrate specific follow up funding “options” in pilot programmes
  • Public authorities/Water Service Organizations: Develop long-term frameworks for CD, including for staff and leadership development, and ensure funded projects align and contribute to the effort
  • Capacity Development Providers: Review if training curricula prepare participants to autonomously adapt and contextualize technical contents. Ensure inclusion of complementary meta-knowledge, such as design skills (e.g. design of monitoring systems when teaching monitoring methods), didactics and teaching skills to improve formal and informal sharing of knowledge, and soft skills critical to working with stakeholders, including communication (listening) skills, negotiation, problem analysis, critical thinking, and behavioural understanding of social and political dynamics

Break the ‘counting heads’ mentality for measuring capacity development impact

  • Funders/Investment Banks: Modernize impact measurement in project proposals and evaluations, combining quantitative targets with qualitative methods assessing actual increased capacity.

Focusing capacity development on inclusiveness and blended approaches.

  • Funders/Investment Banks: Create leadership training programmes for female professionals, including an extended follow-up period of on-the-job mentoring and professional networking
  • Water Service Organizations/Utilities: Review working conditions for female staff, secure equal pay and career opportunities, safe work spaces, and work with all staff to break gendered work cultures
  • CD Providers: Increase study opportunities in French and Arabic, and make more content available in local languages. Diversify offers to address more different learning styles and personal situations.
  • Civil Society/Water Professionals: Support the development of blended approaches to CD, and help to interface local and traditional communication spaces with international resources

Funding for Capacity development

  •  Funders/Development Banks: Create dedicated resources for the ‘last mile’ in rural areas, promoting decentralized social innovations, and informal decision making in communities
  • CD Providers: Diversify delivery modalities and invest in capacity to be facilitators of learning processes, not just content providers, e.g. assisting peer learning and south-south collaboration
  • Funders/CD providers: Reach out to the financial sector to increase knowledge about water investments, and train water professionals to attract investments with bankable projects


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