Just recently I had the pleasure of participating in the 2015 Canadian Water Network meeting in Ottawa. Despite being a hopelessly under prepared Australian for the cold, freezing rain and snow, the conference was an extremely high quality event bringing together water utilities, government and regulatory people and researchers. The Canadians have very similar water management and reform issues as we have here in Australia. They are also grappling with the impacts of climate change (flooding in particular, areas of Alberta in drought), institutional and structural reform, water management in indigenous communities and managing and measuring the environmental impacts of the resources sectors. What particularly impressed me about the conference was the number of up and coming researchers who jetted in for the few days and asked to summarise the whole conference in small teams. That meant there was no free pass for presenters like me: enthusiastic faces in the front row scrutinised every word and made for searching follow up questions! But I digress.
Certainly one of the highlights for me was the dinner speaker at the conference. Terry O’Reilly, host of ‘Under the Influence’, a radio series about marketing in Canada, provided an entertaining and thought provoking address about engagement of customers and communities in water. Terry provided these few words below, which very simply and elegantly summarised the challenge we have in the water sector in achieving a new level in our ‘engagement’ journey.
Stories create meaning
Meaning creates value
Value creates change
I love the use of the word ‘create’. It’s forward thinking, it’s exciting, it’s the unknown. I’m sure for you too, when you sit back and think about how this applies to water, can dream up a vast number of exciting avenues to help us create and innovate. I think many of us in the sector struggle with the fact that so many of our customers (usually around 40%) just don’t want any engagement, at least that’s the consistent feedback. But if we look at the value chain Terry describes, have we created the right stories to resonate and give meaning? Are we nervous of telling our stories about water’s role in creating liveable cities, or creating urban communities that are largely free of water borne illness, of exciting opportunities in providing a new base of renewable resources? It’s a new value proposition, but we have in front of us an incredible opportunity.
The last in that value chain: value creates change may say different things to different people, that’s the beauty of words. But what it says to me is that opportunities to create (that word again!) through research, innovation, growth are based on the intrinsic value we all, albeit individually, associate with water. The challenge for us as a sector is to work harder and harder through the right sort of engagement to understand that value, and be bold in creating a new future for our urban communities.
Can we create the meaning, the value and the change through a new narrative that resonates with our customers and the broader community?