Water companies and complex area planning processes
Exploring external positioning with serious game
On 8 December, the professionals of the Vitens water company, for the first time, play the serious game that KWR has developed to help them determine their external positioning in area planning processes. These processes require collaboration between different stakeholders and affected organisations, from the municipality and province, to agricultural organisations and water companies. The game helps the players explore the attitudes they could take in area planning processes, what roles they could play, and what these choices could mean for the course of the process.
The relationship between technological and societal aspects renders watercycle issues complex. KWR researches this relationship under the “Watercycle Governance” rubric. The central question is how the provision of drinking water and integrated water management take shape under the influence of the interplay between governments, knowledge institutions, market players, societal organisations and citizens.
Area planning processes
1 of the points of interest within Watercycle Governance is the interaction of stakeholders in area planning processes: the collaboration among different players in an area’s development. The research looks at how these collaboration processes function in practice and why. The goal is to advise (water) organisations on their strategic positioning and negotiating stance in these planning processes. How do the stakeholders jointly ensure that industry, habitation, nature, recreation and water abstraction don’t interfere with each other? Organisations can play different roles and take different positions within these processes. For instance, they ask themselves about the kind of collaboration that is most suitable for them, and whether this implies a broad or indeed a more narrow approach to the kind of complex issues that arise.
Extreme roles and analysis of the external environment
In 2014, within the water sector’s joint research programme (BTO) Tailored Research, KWR is studying
how Vitens can externally (re)position itself with regard to other stakeholders. The research draws on the insights produced by previous Tailored Research for WML and Brabant Water, in which 4 ideal-type roles are formulated – that is, roles open to the company in area planning processes, namely: ethnocentric actor, interactor, entrepreneur and opportunist. An analysis is also conducted of the external environment in which Vitens operates – today and into the near future – based on interviews with experts like Paul Schnabel, sociologist, Marleen van Rijswick, Professor of European and Dutch Water Law, and professionals from key stakeholder entities, such as municipalities, provinces, the State and a waterboard. This environment is characterised by the over-arching themes of intensification, decentralisation/deregulation, intertwining, marketing/liberalisation and individualisation.
The roles that the company could play and the themes that determine the external environment are brought together for Vitens in the form of a serious game – complete with a board, playing cards and dice. On 8 December, the Vitens professionals play the game for the first time. The experience gives them strategic support in determining the components of their company’s external positioning. The game challenges the players to reason from the perspective of the 4 “extreme” roles, even if they’re not the ones that come to them most naturally. Jan van Essen, Vitens environment manager, has this to say about the game session: “We played the game with 2 groups, both of which handle the same cases, which range from dealing with aquifer thermal energy storage systems in our area to the consequences of dropping the milk quotas. The groups chose different roles, but we weren’t playing in order to ‘solve’ these cases. The point was to study the possibilities and consequences of the different roles. The game stimulated fruitful discussions, during which it became clear that, as a company, you must keep your objectives firmly in mind, and choose the role that best serves these objectives and that you can effectively explain to your environment. Vitens profiles itself as a water authority; that means that we regularly opt for the proactive and inclusive approach.”
© 2017 KWR Watercycle Research Institute
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