Waterlution - Water Innovation Lab Australia 2018

May 31, 2018

Systems thinking, respecting the Yarra and home waters, and the future of water stewardship.

Water Research Australia were lucky enough to attend the Waterlution Water Innovation Lab - Australia in Melbourne last week. With over 60 emerging leaders from the water industry around the world gathering for a formative week in the Yarra Valley, home of the Yarra River. For tens of thousands of years the Yarra was called the Birrarung, it was the cultural and spiritual heartland of the Wurundjeri people, and remains a place of spiritual significance for the Wurundjeri people, and millions of inhabitants of the City of Melbourne today. To share this information, take part in the immersive week and stay on Country of the Wurundjeri people, we pay our respects to their Elders; past, present and future.

The key message for all of us leaving the Water Innovation Lab was "What will you do differently on Monday?"


What is the Water Innovaiton Lab (WIL)?

Run by Waterlution, a global network using facilitation practices to grow the importance of water across industries as a catalyst for planning and adapting to the needs of our planet's future. 

Water Innovation Labs have been held around the world in countries such as; Scotland, India, Netherlands, Portugal, Brasil, Australia and of course, Canada (where it all began!). The Lab gathers emerging water leaders from around the globe in one place to reflect holistically on emerging and future global trends, and how established patterns of thinking can be challenged. The ultimate goal of the Lab is to culminate in producing solutions that are integrative across various aspects of the water (and other) sectors.

To set the scene of the Yarra catchment the first two days were jam packed with tours, begining with a Yarra River Walk 'Walkin Country, Walkin Birrarung', followed by a tour of Melbourne Water's Western Treatment Plant and RAMSAR listed Wetlands. A visit to Melbourne's Town Hall where we heard about; Kilmore Energy Offsets Project and Werribee Aquifer Storgae and Recovery Project. Transitioning in to a training session on planning for resilient city projects, hosted by Resilient Melbourne, part of the Rockerfella sponsored 100 Resilient Cities Project. Included in the tours was; a guided walk with the City of Melbourne to look at a the largest stormwater harvesting system in the City of Melbourne (Fitzroy Gardens Stormwater Harvesting System); a visit to South East Water's Aquarevo Discovery Centre with an outstanding development of Water Sensitive Homes; an egaging waterbug monitorig session learning about how Citizen Science can play a hugely beneficial part in monitoring for water utilities; a trip to the Dandedong Creek and the 'daylighting' of a previously underground channel into it's natural floodplain; a Water Sensitive Urban Design Project to reduce peak flows into the Little Stringybark Creek restoring the natural hydrology and water quality of the area; and finally a visit to a commercial nursery (JNK) whose enthusiasm and engagement with Melbourne Water have enabled them to install several water saving and smart water technologies to a) provide themselves an alternative source of water than the mains supply, and b) help protect the Yarra Valley during heavy rainfall events.

Following the tours, the group of emerging leaders were then set to thinking and delving deep into the complex problems surrounding the water industry. The task then was to (in smaller groups) define various problems and pitch an innovative solution to various water industry experts (include guests from Jacobs, WSAA, DEWLP, City of Melbourne, Resilient Melbourne and many more). The industry experts would then choose two of the projects to be awarded 1) a $5,000 in-kind mentorship, and 2) a $5,000 cash fund, to further the projects and develop them beyond the WIL.


What is Systems Thinking?

As a large group of attendees were Engineers it was suprising to see how few had a deep understanding of what 'systems thinking' entailed. The immmersive problem definition process over 3-4 days had all participants learning the ways of a systems thinker, tackling problems from various angles, as well as identifying drivers, processes, unintended consequences and patterns.

The WIL participants collectively identified a range of 'problems' that we were passionate about and placed them in an area of complexity (from simple problems to "wicked" problems) based on how much certainty currently surrounds the issue.

Kelly's Team (Kelly Hill: WaterRA Research Program Coordinator)

The group split into teams based on the problem they were most interested in, I Joined the team chosing to explore issues relating to appropriate collaboration and involvement of traditional owners with waterways that go beyond acknowledgement. By using a systems approach. Using a systems approach, as a small team (of 6), we produced a matrix of issues surrounding the problem and identified feedback loops in the issues which each feed off one-another. My team produced an ultimate goal for the water industry whereby there would be "Indigenous leadership in water governance and community engagement that contributes to reconciliation". We realised this was a lofty goal that required many years of work to achieve, so within this package we developed 3 goals to achieve this including; community engagement, indigenous youth in the water secotr, and policy changes.

Again, noting that each of these goals were in themselves complex issues, we continued to define the problem into some tangible and actionable steps. These include (but are not limited to); networking chapters, cultural understanding, mentors, capacity building/ learning and sharing, and inquiry and advocacy.

The team, now coined "Native Waters Network" comprises 6 international partners from Australia, Canada and the United States. Although we have a long-term plan, the first step for Native Waters Network (NWN) is to hold a global water clean-up day, where indigenous communities can lead interaction with the water, share their water stories, knowledge and connection to water with water industry professionals who can share their knowledge with indigenous communities. Being held concurrently in the 3 countries across the globe the day will culminate in a sharing of experience between all participants through an on-line platform. 

This initial project will provide a two-way exchange and can raise awareness of pathways and careers for indigenous people in the water sector and broaden the knowledge of those already in the sector by learning from indigenous communities to improve decision making based on traditional and non-traditional sources of knowledge and informaiton. 


We are pleased to announce that Native Waters Network were the winners of the WSAA Innovation seed funding!!

The Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA), awarded the Native Waters Network the $5,000 to develop the project and to provide a platform for further developent within the water industry in future. 


The Native Waters Network team includes (from left to right): Kelly Hill (Adelaide, Australia), Liam Sibly (Adelaide, Australia), Karen Campisano (WSAA Industry Award Sponsor), Kristy Franks (Montreal, Canada), Iztac Metzli (Chicago, USA), Marleen Vilanueva (Austin, USA), and Jordan Smith (Melbourne, Australia).

If the Native Waters Network plan to contribute to reconciliation through indigenous leadership in community engagement and water governance aligns with your organisation's strategic goals and Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) and you would like to be involved, please contact Kelly Hill.