When we think about water, we often think of a tap. We turn it on, and water pours out.
Yet the tap is merely the tip of the iceberg of a complex water system that comprises infrastructure, competing water uses (food, energy, manufacturing), and multiple organisations that finance, repair, manage, govern, and regulate the system.
Improving such a complex system and challenge the systemic barriers to water security, requires a transformative systems approach. A systems approach comprises a multidimensional, transdisciplinary understanding of water security issues and the development of sustainable solutions to specific, locally identified water challenges. Traditional disciplinary siloes have reinforced barriers to water security, from higher costs to narrow viewpoints, fragmented governance and limited capacity building. Our systems approach recognises that water security can only be achieved by building resilience across the whole water system, rather than focusing on individual parts or peoples.
Crucially, a systems approach should ensure equitable, inclusive dialogue and negotiation about water decisions. It includes a multiplicity of voices: communities, civil societies, government agencies, industries and business; acknowledges various water elements (flood, resource, quality, groundwater, sanitation...); and spans social, environmental, technical, financial, and economic interests. This recognises the need to be explicit about power dynamics inherent to water resource decision-making and the shifts in power that will necessarily come about through the adoption of a systems approach.
Within and across the four Collaboratories, this systems approach aims to:
- Build a shared understanding of water systems;
- Reconcile different water needs and values; and,
- Explore and develop water security pathways.