Special Issue: Water needs programmatic, professional approach to capacity development

Written by Susanna Lööf, on 29 July 2022

In three decades — the typical period required for putting in place large programmes and infrastructure — the world will be predominantly water-scarce. At the same time, rivers and coasts will be subject to more frequent extreme flooding. To be ready for these challenges, the water world’s discontinuous, project-based approach to knowledge and capacity development needs to be replaced with a more long-term, programmatic and professionalised structure underpinned by implementation science.

That’s one of the main arguments in a recently published Water Policy Special Issue, edited by Guy Alaerts, IHE Delft Professor Emeritus of Knowledge and Capacity Management for the Water Sector, and Chris Zevenbergen, IHE Delft Professor of Flood Resilience of Urban Systems.

The papers in the issue, which includes proceedings from the IHE Delft-organized 6th Symposium on Knowledge and Capacity for the Water Sector, together lead to following conclusions:

  • Local communities and committees in water resource management are important – as is increasingly recognized. New tools, often internet-based, assist them in developing local knowledge and capacity to enhance decision-making and foster resilience.
  • More effort is needed to tailor training and capacity development to local needs and cultures, and the pedagogical approaches must be up to date. Long-term engagement with broadly defined outcomes and impact is needed to provide direction.
  • It is the institutional capacity that matters most - at the level of government, water organisations and community. The capacity and education of individuals remains as important as before, but we must become better at building strong organisations.
  • Knowledge and capacity need to be substantially enhanced so that they can support implementation science that can transform ambitions and policies into effective action and investment on the ground.
  • Investing in capacity is economically sound, also in the short run. It benefits both the individuals whose capacity is developed, and society at large.

Special issue

From knowledge and capacity development to an implementation science: policy concepts and operational approaches

“We call for dedicated processes to learn from past experience, such as establishing, and effectively using, frames that monitor and evaluate policies and implementation programmes that enable us to continually discover what works well and what doesn’t. This includes scientifically sound studies and reviews that are based on robust statistical analyses of impacts, randomised controlled trials or on rigorous comparison of with/without and before/after situations. Such approaches require higher funding and a more coherent and longer operational time frame,” Alaerts said.  

The Special Issue’s editorial notes that global water management systems are becoming more complex and dynamic, and that efforts must take a systems approach. In addition, social and ecological aspects are now considered in water management decisions, and, on the other hand, information technology and digitalization have opened new opportunities. Though forecasting capabilities have increased significantly, there is still uncertainty about the future, so planning should avoid locking in end results and investments, instead seeking an iterative adaptive approach that allows for stepwise learning of what works.

As competition for limited water resources is steadily growing, and as regulatory frameworks – on environmental impacts, land acquisition, financial sustainability, etc. — are expanding and becoming more complex, engineers, managers and policy-makers need to become more able to work across different disciplines, and to integrate water in other strategies and programmes such as land use, agriculture and environmental management.
the Special Issue editorial

The Symposium, held online in July 2020, just a few months into the Covid-19 pandemic, led to the development of the Delft Agenda for Action on Knowledge and Capacity for the Water Sector.


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