Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Monitoring Change in Ideas on Water Management

How does the vision of problems and solutions from "Water companies of the future" spread in society and ultimately lead to change?

Sabine Luning

MSc Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology: Policy-oriented research internship

Het hoogheemraadschap (Water Board) Rijnland and drinkwaterbedrijf (drinkwater company) Dunea both want their organizations to play more active roles in the major changes that are taking place at present. Climate change, technological development (e.g. digitization), social changes, new players in the market, etc. ensure that water management and water companies are likely to face a major transition. Therefore, the two parties started the strategic innovation process "Water companies of the future" in 2018. The goal is to bring about a movement, a change, towards a sustainable and liveable West Netherlands. Activities include a broad exploration of the future, organizing a symposium, thinking about a communication platform, starting experiments with a "coalition of the willing", et cetera.

Scientific framework

For understanding the place and possibilities of the organizations in these wider processes of change, an MSc student is invited to collaborate with researchers of het hoogheemraadschap (Water Board) Rijnland by using the scientific frame of transition science. This studies major, shock wise changes in socio-technological systems. It distinguishes between three levels of scale: the landscape scale (major developments such as individualization or globalization), the regime scale (dominant ideas, structures, regulations, etc.) and the niche scale (practices, actions). Trends on a landscape scale can bring about regime changes. The regime forms the practice, but the regime can also be influenced by practice. This is how Dunea and Rijnland are framed as players on a practical scale, trying to bring about a regime change. It is important to identify dominant ideas on a regime scale. The prevailing "discourse" determines practical action. Before a transition gains momentum, there are often multiple, competing discourses. If the dominant discourse changes, then the practices, the institutions, etc. can change with it.

The research project

A discourse expresses itself in text: words, stories, the meaning given to concepts. The purpose of this project is to investigate the extent to which it is possible to influence the regime by identifying the dominant discourses. Anthropological methods are used to investigate the images, stories and meanings that key persons at Rijnland and Dunea and representatives of the ruling regime generate around water management and water companies of the future. It could be that different social/professional groups can be distinguished which share meanings and that these change over time. The question is how the vision of problems and solutions from "Water companies of the future" spread in society and ultimately lead to a change.

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