Co-creating water management policy

The Dutch province of Noord-Brabant needed to develop a new provincial water plan, in which the goals for the water management of the next five years are laid down. In the past they did this by themselves, but now decided to develop this plan in collaboration with other stakeholders as well, such as water management companies, water boards, nature conservationists, city councils, farmers and industry. They wanted to try a new approach by using a Design Thinking approach. STBY was asked by to facilitate this complex dialogue about the water management policy of Noord-Brabant.

Brabantse waterday

To show what a Design Thinking approach can mean for the dialogue about the water management of Noord-Brabant, we initiated a dialogue about one specific topic with the five main stakeholders. We then showed the results to a wider range of stakeholders on the Brabant Water Day, where we also continued the explorations – for instance on topics like groundwater management. We invited people to share their difficulties with water management and discuss potential work arounds for those difficulties. This resulted in an overview of the main issues, the stakeholders who wanted to be involved, and a sense of the kind of policy topics where design thinking would be welcome. Alongside this, we interviewed the five main stakeholders – getting insights on their goals and difficulties of groundwater management. We used these learning in a workshop and used the Value Pursuit tool. This helped us understand the overlaps and possible contributions to overcome the difficulties of each stakeholder. You can find the presentation for this here (in dutch)


Involvement of citizens

Based on the investigation of these themes and using the criteria we developed for Design Thinking in policy, the province decided to explore the theme ‘Water and Health’ further, in particular because it was a new theme and topic to explore with known but also new stakeholders. Design thinking could help all these partners to get together and collaborate quickly. Because the ‘Water and Health’ topic touches citizens directly, the province decided to start with learning the viewpoints of citizens on this matter. STBY suggested to organise a Service Experience Lab. Here we got to know 18 citizens, their experiences, concerns and needs about water in relation to their health.

We ran an initial analysis on these by comparing the experiences with the concerns and issues that came out of the earlier workshop with main stakeholders. We shared the stories from citizens in a new workshop with stakeholders to analyse them further, and to explore which stakeholder can contribute to the different emerging themes.

Based on these stories and the knowledge of the experts we found three main themes: lack of water, water pollution and water recreation. These themes will be explored further whilst they are incorporated in the Provincial Water Plan 2016-2020.

Our report of the lab with citizens and the following workshop with stakeholders can be found here (on the provincie Noord-Brabant website, in dutch).


Design Thinking for making policy

Using a Design Thinking approach, we helped the province of Noord-Brabant to penetrate complex issues and find patterns together with all the stakeholders involved. This helped to get a better understanding of the difficulties of water management and encouraged the different stakeholders to contribute to the dialogue. Finally with Design Thinking we helped the province to get a position to develop the Water Plan for the next five years together with stakeholders and citizens rather than for them.

It was during this project that policy makers from Noord-Brabant were introduced to a design-led, people-centred approach to addressing complex service matters. This helped the province to see how much inspiration can be drawn from listening and exploring the stories of citizens. Furthermore, the richness of these stories makes it possible to listen and use them again and again, bearing different perspectives on the stories and  deriving new insights from them.

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