Skip to main content

Liquid Assets

Innovation will permeate the dialogue at Stockholm World Water Week

The water sector seeks new approaches to addressing a ‘wicked problem’.

In the water sector, business as usual is finally giving way to innovation — not just technology innovation but innovation in partnerships, financing and business models. This is evident in the planned program for the 2018 Stockholm World Water Week (SWWW), which runs Aug. 26-31.

And it is a very good sign. One of the most important convenings of diverse water practitioners acknowledges that we need dramatically new approaches to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6 and ensure access to water for economic development, business growth and social and ecosystem health.

While not all sessions actually call out innovation, it is clear that many sessions are aligned with the belief that last-century solutions are no longer enough.

I highlight the increasing focus on innovation at SWWW because for me, this is a significant shift among mainstream water sector practitioners. I have attended SWWW for the past eight years and this is the first year that innovation in many forms (technology, partnerships, financing and business models) is not only present but embraced as a path forward.

For example, discussions examining the role of green infrastructure ("Addressing Challenges to Unlock Financing of Nature-based Solutions for Water") and moving beyond "drought thinking" ("Changing Minds on Drought Management”) will make the case that there is a better way (and maybe only way) to finally addressing complex water challenges.

A few sessions, in particular, are worth noting as they are explicitly focused on innovation. They include: "Innovative Financing Mechanisms for Water Scarcity in Agriculture"; "Dataflow meets Water Flow: How Hackathons Provide Innovation"; and "How the Internet of Things Solves Real Problems."

The heightened focus on innovation is a significant shift among mainstream water practioners.
A first for SWWW this year is the highlight on Imagine H2O’s 2018 Urban Drinking Water Challenge. This inaugural prize competition focused on innovative technologies, commercialization strategies and a broader vision for deployment at scale to help solve urban drinking water scarcity and secure measurable progress towards SDG 6. The founding challenge partners, Bluewater Group and 11th Hour Racing, have committed up to $1 million in deployment awards and investment opportunities. The winners, who will be introduced at SWWW, are Drinkwell Systems, working on pioneering water filtration services; Microlyze, a water testing system; and Smartterra, a geospatial intelligence service that helps municipalities manage maintenance of water distribution and sewage infrastructure.

The role of industry in developing innovative (and practical) strategies in addressing ecosystem and watershed management will be the focus of "Industry’s Role in Ecosystem and Watershed Management," a series co-convened by Stockholm International Water Institute, World Wide Fund for Nature and the International Council on Mining and Metals. (Many seminars mentioned in this essay are being livestreamed. Check out the schedule here.)

Water challenges are complex and interrelated, which is why water is considered a "wicked problem" (PDF). (For the underlying research on wicked problems, refer to "Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning.") And the first step in addressing wicked problems is acknowledging that only wicked smart solutions can counter them.

My next GreenBiz column will focus on key takeaways and the outcomes of these SWWW innovation sessions. Is this really a pivot to embracing innovation and if so, what is the path forward? Stay tuned.

More on this topic