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Reflections on the water scarcity cases’ process and outcomes

In this article, Flurina Schneider summarises the key learnings of the MontanAqua project on water scarcity.
Throughout the transdisciplinary project, the team regularly spent time to jointly reflect on the ongoing process. In addition, we organised a one-day evaluation workshop at the project end and monitored further impacts through two interview rounds with stakeholders (two and five years after project end).

These monitoring and evaluation activities were very helpful for the ongoing transdisciplinary project, but also for the design and implementation of later projects. In particular, our understanding of the participants’ value of a transdisciplinary project and the most fruitful pathways to impact became much more nuanced. Find the key learnings from our formative evaluation and monitoring below.

Initial motivation for collaboration

The relevance of – and the interest in – the water issue in the region was the central motivation for collaboration. Stakeholders expected generation of key quantitative data on water availability and use, and in particular on the development of the glacier. Moreover, they aimed at discussing issues of water rights distribution and collaboration in water management. They also hoped for some emotional reconciliation as there were many historic tensions between the communes, including struggles for water. Against this background, it was considered as promising to have an external actor moderating the process. Though some were also critical, because of previous experiences in collaborating with universities.

Valuation of the collaboration process

Both, researchers and stakeholders, valued that perspectives of all participants were equally considered and incorporated in the final results. Most interviewed stakeholders stressed the value of the group composition, which involved key actors from many different fields and levels. Stated benefits of the group process involved sharing of data between different communes, regularly meetings with involved stakeholders (who usually do not meet), and the opportunity to jointly discuss desirable future developments. Moreover, the visioning process was particularly valued by several stakeholders: They believe that the process opened many participants’ eyes and changed the attitude for future collaboration (find some stakeholder statements in the video attached below this article).

The transdisciplinary project was closed after the funding came to an end. Despite the two closing events, where project results were given to involved stakeholders, the situation was not considered fully satisfactory. On one hand, for those who wanted to use the original data for their work, it was difficult to extract it from the academic publications. On the other hand, some stakeholders would have liked to continue the collaboration, but did not feel legitimized to organise respective meetings themselves.

Impacts beyond the project

When looking for impacts that are linear outcomes of the transdisciplinary project, one might be disappointed. For example, neither have the developed future visions be implemented one-to-one, nor did the created network outlast the project. However, all interviewed stakeholders believed that the transdisciplinary project contributed to several later developments. For example, few years after the project, four of the involved communes have merged, which eased the water management and the finding of equitable solutions. The merging might also have taken place without the transdisciplinary project, but many stakeholders believed that the project was relevant for this development. By discussing different future scenarios, the participants realised that coming challenges can more easily be tackled when working together, and by experiencing the potentials of the transdisciplinary collaboration process, they were encouraged to enhance intercommunal collaboration.

A further example relates to the tourism infrastructure. When initially discussing possible impacts of climate change during the visioning process, a communal president did not believe that the altitude at which snow is likely to fall in the Alps will raise to 2000 meters of altitude. Only a few years later, the commune decided to not reinstate a ski area that was beyond this level. Moreover, individual participants could benefit from the generated knowledge in various ways. For example, stakeholders used the knowledge on future water availability in negotiations with hydropower companies or for agricultural irrigation projects.

Learnings for future projects

Thorough reflection about the MontanAqua project led to several key findings:

  • Relevance of engaging an experienced project coordinator, who can invest time and energy in the group process and create an atmosphere of mutual trust and engagement.
  • Collaboration processes need to stay focused on joint goals but flexible to adapt to the different participants’ needs.
  • The experiences the participants make in the transdisciplinary processes are as important as the generated knowledge.
  • Collaboration in all three phases is equally important. Careful shaping of the last phase – bringing results to fruition – is particularly challenging as research funding often does not cover this step. Hence, early reflections on the project continuation (eg defining responsibilities among stakeholders) is as crucial as data accessibility.

What are your thoughts about these key findings? Share them in the comments section.

Author: PD Dr. Flurina Schneider

Further reading

‘Outlook video’ by Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF); Clip1: voice of communal stakeholder (4:01-4:32); Clip2: voice of cantonal stakeholder (8:51-11:31)

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