14 May 2013

A year abroad -- for water managers?

It's common to hear about "capacity building" for managers in countries where services are not as good as expected. Most of this capacity building involves one week training in the home country or abroad. It's not clear that it does any good.

It's common to hear that students who take a "gap year" before university or that professors who take a sabattical come back with new contacts, ideas and perspective on where they were, who they are, and what they're going to do.

I think it may make sense for water managers to take just such a year but with a twist: they swap places with a partner manager. That means that a German manager may swap places with a Spanish manager, or an Egyptian with a Yemeni, or a Texan with a Washingtonian.

Ignoring the logistical issues on language, living and family, such a system would make it easier for both managers to get to know more about their own system as well as their adopted system. It would bring different perspectives to visitors as well as the hosts who welcomed them. It would, of course, improve the exchange of information as well as mutual sympathy. Note that such exchanges are common within companies, including investor-owned water companies.

There are only two barriers that I can see: the cost of running the program and the disruption to work rhythms that would occur. Both of these barriers would fall if the parties to the deal (managers and their utilities) decided that the educational gains would be worth it.

What do you think?