30 Oct 2017

My Amsterdam International Water Week keynote

Me, preaching...
I was not invited to AIWW, but I'm not upset, as these events tend to focus more on selling goods and services than thinking different or making plans on how to improve water services.

That said, here's what I'd say if I was giving the opening keynote today:

Good morning everyone!

Please put down your phones and take a moment to meet someone you don't know nearby.

[3 minutes of chatter]

Ok, great. Now that you know someone, I want you to listen to this little talk with the intention of discussing what I get right or get wrong. The point is that I want you to think with someone, as if you're on a team.

(Far too many people in the water sector are distant from their customers -- the ones who depend on us and make our jobs possible. Perhaps we can get better at listening to them, and helping them understand what we do?)

So, here's my wishlist of policies and products that we need if the water sector is going to deliver on its promise of bringing the most value for the least cost.
  1. We need a better platform (or set of platforms) that makes it easier for us to, for example, share data or find jobs.
  2. We need better customer (and citizen engagement). I suggest starting with citizen regulators.
  3. Many people are suspicious of their water's quality. This is not a problem of them being too dumb to trust you but of you being too frightened to have an adult conversation of an important topic. You need to invite citizen-scientists in and test quality at the tap to get them onboard.
  4. We need better prices and measurement of water use. Have auctions among major users within watersheds...
  5. Reliance is extremely important in the water sector. Supply failure, whether due to incompetence, corruption, inadequate finances, or unmanaged demand, has massive impacts on health, quality of life, food security and business. Thus, I propose using insurance [pdf] to both promote best practices and reduce harm from failure.
Got any suggestions for improving incentives, efficiency and outcomes? Great! I'm giving the rest of my 45 minutes to you so you can talk to your neighbors, understand the issues and work on solutions.


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