Towards a water-wise world Annual report 2014

Thesis throws light on the human dimension of planning  

Relationship between time perception and (professional) culture in water sector revealed

2 April 2014Research

In water planning one needs to take into account how people experience time and the length of their time horizon. Time perspectives affect what problems are signalled, what questions are asked and what solutions are sought. The “Foreseeable Future Multi-Measure Method”, developed by KWR researcher Andrew Segrave during his doctoral research, reveals similarities and differences in time perceptions of people in the world’s water sector.

In his thesis, entitled “Time To Change: The Foreseeable Future for Water Planning”, Segrave makes first use of his self-developed method to determine the time perspectives of scientists, managers and operational workers from the water sectors of the Netherlands, Ghana, Brazil and Japan. Based on 300 interviews with representatives of these professional groups and countries about the key challenges facing their professional fields, a picture emerges of their personal time perspectives and objectives, and future events upon which their behaviour is based. Thus, Brazilian and Japanese water professionals are inspired and motivated by matters that lie further in the future than are their Dutch colleagues. The Dutch and Ghanaians sometimes have long-term plans down on paper, but they are primarily focused on maintenance and management.

Promotie Andrew Segrave

Promotie Andrew Segrave

Taking time horizons into account

Differences in time perception also exist among the different professional functions. Scientists have the longest time horizon (8.4 years on average), followed by managers (3.5 years) and operational workers (1.7 years). “This is partly a function of how certain we can be about long-term issues,” says Segrave. “And leads to differences that we need to take into account. It makes no sense, for example, to ask managers to start operating with a view to the next 10 or 20 years. It won’t work.” The research’s findings provide a useful basis for an intercultural approach to issues in the water sector, and for better management of organisations’ strategic activities, such as the translation of multi-annual policy into operational decisions and financial budgets. The degree to which one asks people to extend their time horizon, take risks and bring about change cannot, for instance, conflict with their desire for certainty and preservation of what is good. “When necessary,” says Segrave, “a time horizon should be broken down into smaller steps, in order to develop and implement a strategic plan to tackle water issues. Thanks to this research, we now know exactly how large these steps should be.”

Signalling trends

KWR makes use of Segrave’s scientific model to get a clear picture of the differences in the perceptions of problems, questions and solutions on the part of water professionals and organisations. An on-line version of the method is now available in the form of the Watershare® FutureMap tool.
“When an organisation is wrestling with the translation of long-term policy plans into concrete, short-term objectives, this tool offers a lot of insight,” says Segrave. “By knowing what motivates people, with what time horizon and degree of certainty, planners can get a grasp on how to phase plans and translate policy into operational actions. Conversely, people can be specifically asked to work on issues that fit within their time perspective. For example, when programming a long-term research agenda, the agenda-setters have to focus on less certain and chronologically very distant objects, objectives and problems. People with this kind of time perspective can be selected for this role.” The FutureMap can for instance be used when a water company starts a collaboration with other utility companies or stakeholders in area planning processes. The tool provides for the coordination, legitimisation and utilisation of the available knowledge and perspectives for planning purposes. Segrave has high hopes for the application of his model: “Decision-making, agenda-setting and strategic planning in the water sector can benefit a lot from it.”

© 2017 KWR Watercycle Research Institute

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