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?

5 comments:

  1. Good idea. Even three months is better than a week, which may decrease some of the barriers you identified. I am aware of a South Australian water manager who did a 3-month stint somewhere (Scandinavian country I think). This raises a follow-on question, which country pairings are useful? Do you need to select regions with limited (obvious) interdependencies, i.e. would Ethiopia and Egypt?

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  2. @DG -- Agreed. Countries can pair in almost any way, since local issues and local solutions can be instructive. I'd emphasize language compatibility :)

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  3. Excellent idea.

    Also implementable on a regional level: municipality official working for water board. This is possible (and takes place) for officials in NL.

    Cheap way to gain new perspectives.

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  4. I think twinning programs which are in place already go some way towards achieving this. But on the whole they fail to bring back home the change needed. have to say I am really happy to hear this as it supports our current approach for a program we're working on.

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  5. Due to my personell experience I totaly agree! Some years ago I spent 6 months at American Water in the US. The business development and customer orientation insights I received, are still influencing my job at a German regional water company.

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