CONTEXT AND BACKGROUND OF THIS SPECIAL ISSUE
This Special Issue of Water Policy is dedicated to knowledge and capacity development (KCD). It offers selected contributions – analytical and review papers, and case studies – to the sixth International Symposium on Knowledge and Capacity Development held in May 20201. This symposium was held 30 years after the first event in June 1991 which was convened by the IHE Delft and the UNDP (Alaerts et al., 1991) to draw lessons from the lack of progress during the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade 1981–1990 which aimed to ‘provide water supply and sanitation to all by 1990’. The weak capacity at an individual level, organisational level and in the ‘enabling environment’ was identified as a fundamental impediment, and the symposium offered a strategy to address this. The 1990s and early 2000s also saw the emergence of initiatives to further conceptualise and explore KCD in public administration and governance frames. The sixth Symposium, thus, sits at a critical juncture: on the one hand, it draws from three decades of experience and, on the other hand, it looks forward to the middle of the century which is identified by many policy and research organisations as a significant date of concern regarding the state of, and the threats to the global water system (see also Alaerts & Kaspersma, this Volume). The now existing body of insight and experience makes a clear case for a more programmatic and professionalised approach to KCD and structured learning in sectoral organisations, national sectors and policies, as well as educational systems. Although the subject has gained much traction over the past decades, in practice many of these efforts have remained of a comparatively simple and discontinuous, project-based nature rather than being programmatic. With large challenges to the global water system arising in the next few decades – due to demographic and economic development, land use changes and climate change – knowledge and capacity stand to gain in prominence. With most countries now disposing of reasonably well-articulated policies, their effective implementation is the new challenge. Knowledge and capacity to underpin a new ‘implementation science’ are being called for.
Due to the emerging coronavirus pandemic, the sixth Symposium had to be converted into a virtual, global event straddling all time zones and featuring over 50 sessions with presentations, panel discussions, working groups and plenaries. The virtual format of this knowledge exchange and mutual learning platform did limit the opportunity for informal interaction and networking, but, on the other hand, allowed experts to participate who otherwise could not have spared the travel time or expense; it also lowered the carbon footprint to well below 1% of the physical convention. The conversion at short notice posed formidable logistic and substantive challenges to the organising team, and it forced speakers and participants to operate outside their comfort zones and interact solely through, sometimes, unreliable internet from their homes or offices in places such as provincial towns in Uganda, rural Utah, Kyoto and Khartoum. While, overall, the Symposium was very well attended and can be considered successful, the pandemic had a noticeable negative impact on the personal life of scientists and professionals – especially so in developing nations – who had to navigate prolonged restrictions and lock-downs and prioritise care for families and colleagues. This hampered contributors in their endeavours to prepare and submit papers for this Special Issue. Several prospective authors were unable to complete their submission and those who did, often needed much flexibility in deadlines, which explains the delay in the final publication.
PARADIGM SHIFTS IN WATER MANAGEMENT
KCD has developed over time, adapting to the evolving needs of society and the advancement of knowledge, tools and techniques. Increasing demands from a growing population, combined with the current large adaptation deficit of water infrastructure in the developing countries and the aging infrastructure in the richer countries, pose significant challenges to improve – or even sustain – our quality of life (Bhave et al., 2016; Hall et al., 2019; Wilby et al., 2021). Comparing the present situation with that of the 1990s and early 2000s, fundamental shifts are apparent. First, global water management systems are becoming more complex and dynamic requiring a multi-scalar perspective, i.e., founded on a system approach connecting spatial and temporal scales. Second, society is expecting more social–ecological inclusiveness (inclusion of social and ecological aspects in decisions about water management); decisions in water management increasingly must engage the public and other stakeholders, including a representation of the ecological interests. Third, major advances in information technology and digitalisation are facilitating the generation and use of vast arrays of complex data in infrastructure and resource management processes. They allow better alignment of planning, design, engineering and asset management, in an iterative process that includes feedback loops (learning steps) leading to greater efficiency in infrastructure delivery. Also, finally, despite this forecasting capability, significant uncertainty remains regarding this future which means that any planning effort must avoid prematurely locking in future end-results through early investments and decisions; it must also operate in an iterative adaptive fashion, stepwise learning what works and what does not. Eventually, these shifts are helping the development of robust water infrastructure systems in the sense that they are more resilient and adaptive, and at the same time provide more flexibility. Yet, investments in water infrastructure are still lagging and their quality varies substantially. In most countries, the focus remains on managing current events and crises rather than on preventive actions (Hall et al., 2019).
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 rising constraints on water resources in river basins, and climate adaptation, necessitate more robust forecasting capabilities as well as cooperation across sectors and deeper engagement with civil society. Better knowledge is needed on how to enhance individual and organisational learning capabilities that will result in more effective capacity of individuals and in the transformational changes that must be made possible by improved organisational procedures.
To understand what the future may hold for KCD, the developments and trends in the water management domain must be identified which have the potential to impose fundamental changes on the current water management paradigm. Climate change is doubtlessly one of the most prominent changes, slowly panning out over the coming decades. The acceleration of the sea level rise and the changes in frequency and severity of extreme weather conditions indicate that climatic conditions are changing at an increasing rate (IPCC, 2022). Reliance on traditional incremental planning approaches based on extrapolation of past experience or on projections of future climate parameters must be questioned as they assume such projections are fully accurate, and that sufficient time remains to adapt. This holds particularly true for major infrastructure investments with long lead and life times and large economic and social impacts, and where today's decisions have long-term consequences locking in our future management (Haasnoot et al., 2020). A fundamental change in the way we plan our infrastructure and management will be necessary, with a shift from incremental to transformative adaptation of water management systems; this will require a governance frame, new in ambition and in institutional setting (Fedele et al., 2019; Hölscher & Frantzeskaki, 2020; Bloemen, 2021). As part of this new governance, decentralised systems will likely become more common. At present, still too much emphasis is placed on short-term solutions and incremental adaptation which constrains options to consider sustainable solutions for the long term (Watkiss et al., 2020; Nicholls et al., 2021). The alternative ‘transformative’ strategies to infrastructure planning are starting to emerge, involving back-casting, story lines and design-based approaches starting from an appealing, desired vision on the future (Shepherd et al., 2018).
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE 2020 SYMPOSIUM
At the Symposium, the salient issues, conclusions and recommendations of the deliberations drawn by the participants are as follows.
Instil a system perspective across all water-related research, training, planning and decision-making. Water issues are shaped by social and political dynamics and are wicked in nature, always involving trade-offs between competing goals and values. Assessing water issues in silos creates business cases for ‘stupid’ infrastructure that may yield short-term financial returns but may make societies more vulnerable in the long run. KCD activities offered by agencies, institutes and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and which is focused on specific aspects of the water challenge, may risk compounding this problem, resulting in a patchwork of disconnected activities frequently lacking consideration for the systemic side-effects.
Reduce capacity development activities which have a short-term or backward perspective. A significant share of current KCD in the water sector is based on scaling up ‘best practices’. By definition, this approach draws on problems and solutions of the past, and may distract from creating new systems capable of adapting to new problems in the future. Also, when KCD providers engage in separate successive short-term pilot activities, they may learn from each attempt, but may also avoid responsibility for systemic consequences.
Break the ‘counting heads’ mentality for measuring impact. KCD is still measured in terms of logistical indicators, such as numbers of people trained, years of schooling or regulations ratified. Research has conclusively shown that this does not capture actual changes in capacity. The sector needs to move beyond simplistic statistics, complement quantitative with qualitative methods and measure systemic impacts in ways that also speak to political decision-makers. Where feasible, more use should be made of randomised controlled trials.
Improveinclusiveness and blended approaches. Achieving water-related sustainable development goal (SDG) involves action by societies as a whole, which requires trust and social acceptance for innovations and change. Focusing KCD on narrow groups of professional risks distracting attention from the stakeholders affected by new practices. Meaningful participation, in particular of women, youth and marginalised groups, is a long-standing good practice, but is still poorly applied in practice. KCD needs more diversity in blended approaches, to accommodate a wider range of audiences and learning styles.
De-link KCD funding more often from confined project budgets. Too much of the KCD is linked to infrastructure projects, concentrating funding in one-off activities, not in areas of highest need. The ‘last mile’ of rural water supply, subsistence agriculture and the stewardship for essential aquatic ecosystems are particularly under-served. Requiring KCD providers to become financially self-sustaining, while sensible, does only benefit ‘clients’ who already have financial means. Societal capacity to achieve the SDGs includes public goods, and more mixed public–private financing models are needed to deliver on this.
OVERVIEW OF THIS SPECIAL ISSUE
The 12 papers in this special issue reflect recent work by scholars and professionals in their endeavour to understand how to effectively strengthen the capacity. They are drawn from the presentations at the Symposium and complement the above ‘Conclusions and Recommendations’. While in the 1990s work on capacity mostly focused on understanding and exploring the very concept, and on ‘training’, in the early 2000s the initiatives appeared increasingly geared to more ambitious broad governance questions and the capacity of government administrations (e.g., by the UNDP, the Asian Development Bank, the Canadian and British development agencies, the EuropeAid, the German GiZ, the OXFAM and other international NGOs). The work in the current special issue, however, is rather reflecting a shared concern to enhance the effectiveness of KCD interventions in general, or of existing programmes. For example, several papers assess the capacity of government and stakeholders to prepare for, and implement the complex water policies and programmes of the next decades. Other papers concern the development or piloting of didactic tools and frames that can be functional in the engagement with local communities and other stakeholders. Drawing from the six ‘application arenas’ proposed by Alaerts and Kaspersma (in this special issue), the papers in effect cover all these arenas albeit with a greater emphasis on arena 2, i.e., the development of complex skills and behaviours in particular in the context of engaging local communities and other stakeholders to prepare and implement more effective water programmes. These authors, however, also advocate urgent financial and political investment in broad-based capacity development to support the implementation of policy and institutional reform to counter these threats (arena 6). A second noticeable shift reflected in this special issue is that most authors hail from developing or middle-income countries suggesting that the subject is increasingly getting mainstreamed and receiving quality attention. The papers originate in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe and Australia. Finally, a sub-sectoral shift is also observed, from the formerly dominant role of water supply and sanitation to a broader coverage of river basin, delta and watershed management.
Taylor et al. propose a Stream Assessment Scoring System, a citizen-based science approach to strengthen local communities' insight into water quality, in order to engage them as stakeholders in monitoring and ultimately in decision-making tasks. Kale et al. developed a computer-based didactic tool that communities in Watershed Committees in water-scarce Rajasthan can use to better understand their groundwater aquifers and how these can be used in conjunction with surface water; this community-driven visual integrator notably offers a three-dimensional map rendering the ‘invisible’ groundwater visible and, thus, better manageable. Shibly et al. expand the applicability of the Motivation and Ability Framework to assess the social adaptability of technical plans for managing coastal regions in Bangladesh. The critical importance of a more appropriate use of adult learning theory and approaches is highlighted by Russell and Ottow who analyse the impact of three learning events and advocate action-oriented learning and better alignment of the delivery system with the learning objectives. Del Pozo et al. review training for climate-related services and also here, conclude that such training suffers from being too much one-size-fits-all, recommending the wider use of more locally relevant educational frames and case studies, as well as of up-to-date educational and pedagogic principles.
Martel et al. employ a ‘governmentality’ framework to analyse the capacity development processes of three river rehabilitation projects in South Africa. The analysis reveals that the three projects have different governmentalities; although this produces different capacity development modalities, they identify common elements that support capacity development such as actionable information, a conducive context for learning, and the role of intermediaries. A wide (though preliminary) assessment is offered by Kabir et al. of the capacities that will be required in government, communities and education to implement Bangladesh's ambitious Delta Plan 2100. Importantly, the study identifies weaknesses and tasks for the specialisation of individual professionals, for managerial change in the institutions, and for the higher education system. In a similar vein, Sabbatini and Indij study current practices and the modalities on different continents for scaling up and accelerate capacity development which would be necessary to attain by 2030 the SDGs for integrated water resources management and transboundary water management. They notably call attention to the gap between the broad recognition of the general Agenda 2030 goals and the (lack of) concrete specific understanding of, and action for the more technical water objectives. All papers concur that the availability of locally pertinent data and information is crucial to support the development of local decision-making capacity and arrive at solutions that are truly compatible with the local conditions. Conallin et al. present an approach for Capacity Building through Research drawing on five pilot case studies. They assess the appropriateness of the approach using the Dutch Strategy Evaluation Protocol, and show it leads to better aligned long-term strategies and the advice to, i.e., develop cross-disciplinary networks to enhance the capacity of local water management institutions.
Pillai and Narayanan assess CANALPY, a transdisciplinary initiative for knowledge co-production to address the capacity gaps in tackling the sanitation problem in a small town in Kerala, India, particularly to rejuvenate its canals. Researchers involved in the initiative worked with local volunteers, citizens, government officials and the urban local body for the production and sharing of knowledge to generate context-specific interventions. They explore the knowledge co-production process and the various enabling drivers and barriers to the process, stressing the two-way communication and engagement between government and stakeholders – local communities but also the other water-related sectors. They notably highlight the major challenge that the public-sector institutions (water and city agencies) face to operate effectively outside the narrow confines of their traditional organisational protocols. Dektar et al. assess the capacity weaknesses of the private water operators which provide piped water supply in rural Uganda, and they find that the operators lack capacity both on technical matters (such as on solar-powered pumps) and on customer relations, which combine to depress the customers' willingness-to-pay. Finally, Alaerts and Kaspersma report the case of the national-scale implementation of Indonesia's policy reform of its irrigation sector over a prolonged time; they describe how a progressive iterative capacity development process simultaneously strengthened national and local governments, and Water User Associations, while at the same time ensuring that lessons learned from field application were used to enhance the national and local regulatory and administrative structures.
The papers share key concepts and approaches leading to the following overall conclusions: (1) the role of local communities and committees in water resource management is receiving ever more recognition, and studies and pilots are exploring new tools, often internet-based, to assist in developing local knowledge and capacity to enhance the decision-making on water management at community level, and, thus, make these more resilient; (2) training and capacity development remain too often conventional, and more effort needs to be invested in rendering them locally-specific using culturally adjusted frames, locally relevant case studies, and up-to-date pedagogical approaches; it is critical that KCD become systemic and a long-term engagement with outcomes and impact specified in broad terms; (3) institutional capacity is what matters most, at the level of government, water organisation and community; (4) knowledge and capacity will increasingly guide our responses to counter the threats to our water system; they need to be substantially enhanced to support the emerging implementation science to turn our ambitions and policies into effective action and investments; and (5) investing in capacity is economically sound, also in the short run, and brings significant returns both to those benefiting from KCD (thus creating a powerful incentive) and to the state.
For the future we would call for more scientifically sound treatises, based on robust statistical analyses of impacts, randomised controlled trials or on rigorous comparison of with/without and before/after situations. Such approaches generally would necessitate much higher funding and a more coherent and longer time frame. Currently, KCD activities are still too often set up and financed for short-term and pragmatic purposes with the expectation that well-described capacity solutions get developed, not studied. This is, therefore, an oxymoron in a sense: KCD is about setting up learning processes in institutions and in society, but in today's practical application, KCD activities are mostly financed to only deliver a product specified in advance, not to arrange a longer time frame and process to structurally learn from these activities and discover sustainable development paths forward.
DATA AVAILABILITY STATEMENT
All relevant data are included in the paper or its Supplementary Information.
The Symposium was organised by the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, Delft, The Netherlands, with active support from the Asian Development Bank, the African Development Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the National Water and Sewerage Corporation of Uganda.