Bridging the gap between water research and policy

Posted 26 September 2017

Applying the research conducted at universities to industry policy and practice is not always easy
Applying the research conducted at universities to industry policy and practice is not always easy, but Water Research Australia (WaterRA) is set on bridging the gap. 

WaterRA Chair Shaun Cox will present the keynote address at this year’s NT Water in the Bush Conference. 

He said that while research into water issues is always useful, there’s room for improvement when it comes to translating it into industry policy and practice. 

“Research is taken to a point which satisfies academic outcomes – publications, perhaps even a generation of PhD and masters students – but there is often a lack of translation across to policy and practice,” Cox said. 

“At WaterRA we are looking at techniques to achieve translation that go beyond generating fact sheets or holding symposiums.”

Cox said by adopting a new approach to research – a model that combines the insight of industry processes and requirements with research aims – the water sector may be able to benefit more readily from work conducted by universities and other research facilities. 

“Historically, research has perhaps been driven from a very technical and academic perspective. The way forward is what we are calling ‘co-creation’ in research,” Cox said. 

“A ‘co-creation’ model is one where the people that have the business or policy need are involved in the design and identification of the problem right from the get go.

“It doesn’t matter what you are doing, if you try to involve people in solutions at the back end of the process, you are designing it to fail from the start. But if you can involve practitioners in the design of the research from the beginning, they can say what would be useful for them and what kinds of techniques they need to better manage their water supplies.”

Cox said one example of research needs in the Northern Territory shows how considering policy and practical application first could help utilities thrive. 

“Looking at some of the research we are trying to conduct at WaterRA, there has been an issue with opportunistic pathogens, which like warm water and are very dangerous to people’s health,” Cox said. 

“It’s all well and good doing a heap of research on these pathogens to understand their behaviour, but that doesn't necessarily help change the way the practitioners who are running Power and Water keep the water safe. 

“Research advances knowledge, which is a good thing. But if we can take it to the next step and apply it to keep water safe it will be even more useful.”

The NT Water in the Bush Conference will take place on 12-13 October. To register, click here.