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Living labs – a gateway to water management innovations

Living labs – a gateway to water management innovations

Placed on 01 november 2017

On Tuesday October 31 the Amsterdam International Water Week (AIWW) featured the session ‘Living labs – a gateway to water management innovations’. Under the auspices of René Vrugt (Rijkswaterstaat), Anne-Wil Lucas (Startup Delta), Luca Sittoni (Ecoshape), Pham Quy Nnan (HUNRE, Vietnam), Bas Jonkman (TU Delft) and Hla Oo New (Irrigation and Water Utilization Management Department, Myanmar) took the audience on a tour of the Netherlands’ living labs.


Dare to innovate

Keynote speaker Anne-Wil Lucas (Startup Delta) emphasised the benefits of living labs: 'We have some great examples in the Netherlands, such as Room for the River, Delta Works and the Marker Wadden. What all these labs have in common is that they are proof of a fresh approach. They show people are willing to innovate! What they also show is that the innovations work, which creates an opportunity to market them internationally.' 'It is my dream to build bridges between ideas that start small and the big decision makers so startups can grow into major businesses,' Lucas went on to say.


Living Labs in the Netherlands, Vietnam and Myanmar

The session continued with the presentation of four examples of living labs. Programme manager Luca Sittoni heads the ‘Living lab for Mud – Sustainable development via Building With Nature’, and works in cooperation with various partners to gather information about the complex problems of muddy coasts. To Sittoni and his collaborators the added value of working in a Living Lab is considerable: ‘It enables us to mount pilot projects and apply the knowledge we have gained to other areas of research. It is the best way of perfecting the research process,’ Sittoni said.

Living Labs are proving their worth in Vietnam and Myanmar as well. Professor Pham Quy Nhan (HUNRE, Vietnam) is using citizen science to monitor the water system of the Red River Delta in Vietnam. ‘This is a densely populated area where flooding is commonplace. Locals with smart phones are measuring water quality and water levels. This provides us with valuable data and, as an added advantage, it raises public awareness of the importance of good water management,’ he told the audience.  

Director of Water Resources and Irrigation Hla Oo New had made the journey from Myanmar to visit the Amsterdam event. She explained the water management challenges facing her country: ‘In cooperation with TU Delft and nine startups we have been testing innovative monitoring techniques to gain an insight into our water system.’ ‘We see our living lab as a unique project, which will hopefully produce concrete and sustainable solutions!’, she added proudly. 


Flood Proof Holland

Experimentation in the field of water management innovation is a matter of global necessity. ‘Time and again we see the devastation caused by flooding,’ TU Delft’s professor Bas Jonkman said. ‘We need to develop good strategies to stop it from happening. At our testing site Flood Proof Holland entrepreneurs and researchers have the opportunity to test and develop innovations in a controlled but realistic environment.’ The site frequently welcomes delegations from abroad: ‘It opens doors for new forms of innovation, in the Netherlands and in the rest of the world.’ This living lab also generated research projects such as the H2020 programmes BRIGAID and DOMINO.


Government and startups

In order to tackle future water management challenges stimulating research and promoting new ideas and solutions are a must. During the closing discussion the panel agreed once again that living labs are the way forward. But according to VPdelta chairman Michiel van Haersma Buma they are not the whole answer. ‘You need spaces in which to test and create showcases but government policy is just as important. Entrepreneurs can come up with brilliant ideas but without the support of the government startups will not be able to succeed,’ he said. 

Anne-Wil Lucas added: ‘The cooperation between startups and potential buyers is a step up from only testing in a living lab. Startups in particular are forward thinking and ask the question behind the question and then come up with solutions that the authorities have not considered.’This means area managers must be proactive when it comes to their role of launching customers.

René Vrugt, director of Environment, Communication and Strategy at Rijkswaterstaat, closed the session with an ambition statement: ‘The Netherlands must become the world’s living lab for water innovations’.