Still learning from the IHE Delft Symposium

On 26-29 May 2020 took place the UNESCO-IHE Delft symposium on knowledge and capacity for the water sector. As a participant from the Cap-Net team and still learning from the conference, I would like to present a short overview of my key takeaways on learning about collaboration in water partnerships.

Co-create knowledge and foster peer-to-peer learning

It was stressed throughout the conference that the water sector needs to further learn from communities in order to include everyone’s voices and perspectives to the knowledge that is created and shared. The process of co-creating knowledge should be participatory and community-based. Fostering peer-to-peer learning spaces was also recognised as key to allowing individuals and organisations to share their experiences and co-create knowledge. Co-creating knowledge and peer-to-peer learning can also allow water partnerships to become more collaborative over time. Natalie Degger (GEF IW:LEARN) highlighted that fostering inclusive processes has been important for the network – which has had projects in 98 different water ecosystems (from rivers to oceans) and is currently working with 14 different partners – to nurture its partnerships over a 20-year period. Additionally, she stressed the importance of accelerating the documentation and sharing of knowledge and learning.

Look for a common will while building interpersonal relations and trust

Together with Indika Gunawardana, we presented Cap-Net experiences fostering partnerships for greater impact. One of the main recommendations that we shared was the importance of partners looking first at commonalities to then search for ways of working collaboratively, for example, by finding similar training purposes and capacity development plans with current/potential partners. It was also mentioned by Jean-Marie Onema (WaterNet) that common challenges might also drive partnerships, hence, challenges should also be seen as opportunities for partnering with others or moving partnerships forward.

From Cap-Net networks’ experiences, it is worth adding that looking for a common will has to go hand in hand with building interpersonal relations and trust by, for example, providing timely communication, giving positive recognition to partners’ activities and speaking the language of partners. It is worth mentioning that these – and other similar – topics on Cap-Net networks working collaboratively will be expanded on the paper in the IHE Delft conference refereed proceedings that we are currently finalising.   

Foster diversity and inclusion while enhancing communication

Gordon Copp (IHE alumni network & symposium speaker) highlighted that it is necessary to pay attention to and address language and cultural barriers while enhancing communication with partners. We need to understand our partners’ cultures to work better together in collaboration.

Wouter Lincklaen Arriëns (TransformationFirst.Asia) mentioned that we should look for bridge-builders, facilitators and enable leaders who can make partnerships happen. Fostering diversity and inclusion enhances productivity and creativity as it incentivizes individuals and organisations to find innovative solutions to move forward. In this regard, an enhanced communication that takes into account cultural diversity can foster lasting partnerships and speed up innovation in the water sector. 

Develop alternative evaluation frameworks

Andrea Beck (MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning) acknowledged that partnerships need time and patience, and innovations take even more time until the right indicators to measure them are found. Frameworks that measure intangible relations (or the soft elements of partnerships) offer the opportunity to build alternative evaluation models. We need to look not only at key financial and operational performance indicators but also develop social indicators that account, for example, for human and organisational capacities.

Even if it was stressed that collaborations are not simple to build and sustain, it was highlighted that they are the future of the water sector. The methods that we can use to nurture collaborations can be summarized as follows: foster the co-creation of knowledge and peer-to-peer learning while strengthening their documentation and sharing, look for a common will and mandate while building interpersonal relations and trust to enhance transparency, foster constant communication while enhancing cultural awareness and develop alternative evaluation methods which can measure the intangible impact of working collaboratively.

I would like to conclude with three final takeaways:

  • When fostering and strengthening collaborations, we need to understand how they were designed in the first place and also know that they do take time.
  • Collaborations should not continue to be developed without involving younger leaders. Fostering inter-generational work is needed more than ever.
  • Unlearning and active listening are key to understand how we can better together develop solutions for the water sector.

A blog post from Florencia Rieiro, LA-WETnet (Cap-Net affiliated network), participating at the IHE Delft 6th Symposium on capacity development in the water sector.