WaterLab, Netherlands: medicine and healthy water

Larger context and background

The Netherlands is famous for its expertise in water-management. There are governmental institutions, waterboards, for every water basin in the country, which is in fact the oldest form of governance. Four innovation-managers from two of those institutions -Dommel & Aa en Maas-, in the Province of Brabant, connected and started a collective innovation-think tank.

These four came across The Presencing Institute and theory U and found this framework very innovative. The vision “From ego-to-eco” resonated with their own mission for the region.

And Theory U also offers a great methodology for innovation in complex projects. It’s a method that invites new ways of relating to water, new ways of collaboration beyond geographical-, sector, basin-boundaries.


Water Change Lab on health and water

The first innovation lab is organised around the theme of “health”. The “sense of urgency” is the problem of medicine and drugs in the water. The project aims at addressing the awareness on “healthy water” by bringing together all players in that system.

The symptom the lab is addressing is the amount of residue of drugs and medicines in our drinking- and groundwater. The medicine enters the water and soil mainly through urine that is discharged via sewage systems.  The sewage water is not entirely decontaminated before it re-enters the drinking water and rivers. This is such a systemic problem that end-of-the-pipe solutions, dealing only with the symptoms, will not solve the problem in a sustainable way.

Major Challenges

The “problem” we are dealing with is connected to many systems in our society: national and international politics, governments, pharmaceutical and insurance companies, science, health and health care, industry, agriculture, civil society, citizens, etc.  No one feels responsible for the problem nor is anyone directly responsible for the solution. However, every human being and system is part of both the problem and the solution. We are all affected by the consequences; the contamination is in our drinking water, in our soil and, by extension, in all organisms (human, flora and fauna).

Process and Vision

The current approach, using the Theory U framework, creates openings for all different ways of looking at the problem and solutions.  It starts by raising awareness about the facts through a co-sensing process and then moves towards a diverse set of interventions, all contributing in the short or long term to less medicine in our water and eco-awareness about health and the commons. The short-term focus is on removing medicine from the water and changing regulations and prescription rules. For the long term process awareness is developed on our relationship with health and sickness, with life and death, with our commons, with economy and growth, and with our rights and responsibilities.

After a conscious and long co-initiation phase with many interviews, we began to organise stakeholder gatherings at the end of 2014. In November 2015 we organised the third meeting. This lead to the involvement of over 70 people.

The geographic connection to a specific area increases coherence. The process approach during the meetings and the prototypes also encourage personal growth and awareness, which increases involvement and enthusiasm. So far, theory U, dialogues, sculpting 3D models of the system, prototyping, way-of-nature, constellation work are process designs that were applied, while working with the different stakeholders.

The lab is now leading to the first concrete initiatives and prototypes and already generated a viable network with new connections and increased awareness.

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