Asia-Australia Learning Week wrap-up

Last month, the International WaterCentre (IWC) welcomed 26 participants from across the Asia-Pacific region for the Asia-Australia Learning Week 2019, to discuss the role of decision support tools in water policy development, investment planning and the on-ground management of water resources.

Participants came from 14 countries from across the region, and comprised of nine Asian Development Bank (ADB) staff and 17 representatives from ADB Developing Member Countries. The group represented a broad cross-section of professional backgrounds seen across the water sector – civil engineers, policy and planning officers, economists, finance specialists, hydrologists, environmental scientists, social scientists and IT experts – and were each at different stages of their careers – from specialists, to mid-level managers to country-level directors.

The Asia-Australia Learning Week 2019 was funded by the Australian Water Partnership (AWP) and facilitated by the IWC, in collaboration with the ADB and delivery partners eWater and Alluvium.

This year marked the third time the IWC had facilitated a Learning Week.

Asia-Australia Learning Week 2019

This year’s theme was: decision support tools to guide water policy development, investment planning and on-ground management of water resources. The program aimed to build participants’ understanding of: 

  • decision support tools and systems (DSTS) and their role in advancing the water sector
  • policy, planning, management and practical considerations of applying decision support tools across different geographical scales, governance structures, institutional levels and water users
  • transition pathways for the enhanced use of decision support tools, including the overall history, current situation and future directions in the Australian water sector

The learning was supported by case studies that showcased the adoption and utility of decision support tools at both regional catchment and local scales and by exploring real agency experiences with decision support tools, and the adaptive management principles that unpinned their use and refinement, with a focus on both the rural/catchment context (e.g. dam operations) and the urban context (e.g. water and wastewater utilities). 

The below framework provides a conceptual explanation of what the program’s aim: 

A practical learning experience

During the intensive 5-day Learning Week program, participants travelled to Canberra and Melbourne, locations that offered diverse opportunities to explore Australian experiences in the context of decision support tools and systems in the water sector.

Participants enjoyed a facilitated learning process, to draw out relevant lessons from the Australian experience, and to translate these into their own country and work contexts, with the aim of supporting opportunities to adopt, use and enhance context-appropriate and fit-for-purpose decision support tools and systems.

Program overview

On the opening day of Learning Week, participants heard presentations from Geoscience Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, the ACT Government and eWater.  Bradley Moggridge, Aboriginal Water Expert, visited to discuss the cultural value of country and water.

Mid-week, participants heard from eWater‘s David Dreverman, Alluvium Consulting‘s Tony Weber, and Australian Rivers Institute’s Ben Stewart-Koster and had the opportunity to visit the CSIRO‘s Discovery Centre, and discuss the role of decision support tools in bridging the barriers between science and management decisions with Susan Cuddy. Participants also visited the Burrinjuck Dam, the first major irrigation dam in New South Wales, to learn about the dam’s operations and heritage, and to explore first-hand it’s structures and systems.

On the final days, the group had site visits to explore Victoria’s rural irrigation water networks and discussed how support tools and innovative management practices improved their effectiveness. Steven Kenway talked to the group about energy considerations for water infrastructure decisions. Participants interested in irrigation water then visited Golburn Murray Water, and those interested in urban water learnt from Melbourne Water about the sector and history of reform in Victoria. They also visited Yarra Valley Water‘s waste-to-energy plant.

To close the program, IWC’s Brian McIntosh and Peter Gee reflected on how a systematic approach to enhancing sector capacity is key in the face of an increasingly VUCA environment, and participants engaged in a series of intensive workshops to consolidate the week’s lessons.

Well-designed and holistic

 The feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive. The majority of participants said that the program met or exceeded their expectations, and they would recommend a Learning Week program to colleagues.

The program was so well designed and holistic that I found nothing to be irrelevant and everything was useful even if I don’t work directly on some of those issues. It is unusual to go to such a learning event. Thank you to the organisers and to the Government of Australia for their generosity in funding such an excellent Learning Week.

The International WaterCentre would like to thank implementing partners, eWater and Alluvium, and the following guest organisation, who shared their knowledge, skills and experience, and made the Asia-Australia Learning Week 2019 such a powerful and transformative experience for participants: