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Creating Water Sensitive Cities in Australia

The second case study vignette relates to research initiated to progress capacity building and shared understanding for Transitioning to Water Sensitive Cities in Australia – a notion that urban areas need to be more adaptive to a climate changing context and thus reconceptualise the relationship between a city and its hinterland. The research was the result of a partnership between the International Water Centre (IWC) and the National Urban Water Governance Program (NUWGP) and Monash University. A series of five national workshops, each of 2 days, were held in each of the state capitals during early 2009. The workshops involved over 500 participants from the water sector, ranging from policy-makers, practitioners and researchers from many different physical and social science disciplines. The workshops were designed and conducted as a 2 day social learning process, broadly based on the process depicted in Fig. 11.3. Again, based on systems concepts and diagramming techniques, the workshop design aimed to identify the following: issues and opportunities that enable or constrain transitioning to water sensitive cities; characteristics of water sensitive cities from participants' perspectives; priority actions required in each city; and personal enthusiasms for action.

To some extent the generic aims are perhaps common to many workshop processes. However, in this case, the design and the methodological techniques used ensured that participants engaged with each other at an epistemological level to reveal and learn about multiple framings, prior to discussions about the system of water governance in Australian cities, issues and actions to be taken. In other words, the design of the workshops aimed to surface second order as well as first order concerns and develop a water governance system based on the social learning emerging during the workshop.

The detailed findings are reported elsewhere (see Ison et al. 2009), but feedback from the workshop evaluations suggest that the learning design of the workshops enabled participants' multiple perspectives to be heard and contribute to an understanding of the issues and thus avoid a limited set of approaches and views from dominating. In summary the shifts reported by a majority of participants included:

(i) a substantial development in the conversations about water sensitive cities at interpersonal, interand intra-departmental and inter-organizational levels;

(ii) changes in conception about water sensitive cities;

(iii) embryonic changes in policies at, mainly, departmental levels;

(iv) ) increased advocacy by a wide range of stakeholders for policy and practices to move to water sensitive cities. (see Ison et al. 2009; Collins et al. 2009)

Some caveats are important to note. The longer terms effects of this research are still be judged as it was not possible to assess these within the research time frame. Also, the research involved many different disciplinary traditions in the engagement with policy. While it is not possible to comment on the social sciences per se, by extension, the potential for integration of the social sciences into policy is evident from the reported findings. With these caveats, it seems reasonable, on the early reporting from the workshops, that the learning design of the process represented a significant opportunity for participants to recognise different framings of the situation from multiple perspectives and thus engage in new conversations to help integrate research, policy and practice.

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