Students discover what innovation means at Waterlution’s Water Innovation Lab

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Maggie Hall and Amy YangTwo Collaborative Water Program students travelled to Australia in May to participate in Waterlution’s Water Innovation Lab (WIL) – a one-week expedition with the goal of developing future water leaders who can think holistically, design innovatively and communicate across sectors and generations. Below, Maggie Hall and Amy Yang share their experience.

Maggie Hall, graduate student, Geography and Environmental Management
Amy Yang, graduate student, Civil and Environmental Engineering 

What comes to your mind when you hear the word innovation? To be honest, until very recently, it seemed more a buzzword than an ideology to live and work by. However, after attending the inaugural Australian WIL, our opinions have changed.

The Australia WIL began on May 19th, 2018 in the Docklands area of Melbourne. An assortment of young water researchers and professionals in a room, awkwardly making small talk and trying to answer the following question: “What is your water story?” Through this simple exercise, we quickly learned that although all our stories were different, they shared one common theme: we were all passionate individuals, yearning for change, here to voluntarily tackle complex water problems while working with complete strangers.

Design thinking workshop

The first two days consisted of tours that allowed participants to thoroughly understand the complexities of water and its histories in Australia. This included indigenous walking tours (where settlers were confronted with their own colonial history), presentations on innovative stormwater management strategies, and citizen science programs. The following days were structured as intense full-day workshops to integrate systemic approaches into solving complex problems. During the latter part of the week, we broke out into small groups to tackle specifics water issues that were of interest to us. Over the following days, and through the help of facilitated workshops on systemic approaches, these groups evolved from discussing barriers to finding solutions. The week concluded with all groups pitching their ideas to industry professionals for a chance to win seed funding and move their project forward.

women speaking to group by waterAs members of the Collaborative Water Program (CWP) at the University of Waterloo, we saw many similarities between the WIL and CWP. Both challenge you in ways you could not imagine, and encourage you to work with other individuals that you may not have encountered otherwise in your life. The tours at the beginning of both programs ensure a thorough understanding of the context of the water that surrounds us. To solve a problem, one must ensure that they are always trying to take a holistic approach, and consider the use of interdisciplinary methods to the discussion surrounding solutions.

Following our experience, we believe the word innovation represents the people working tirelessly to incorporate long-term solutions and tackle complicated problems in new ways. While innovation and teamwork are not always easy, and literal tears can sometimes be shed, it is always a meaningful endeavour. Coming up with new ideas to complex problems is not simple, and when confronted with the realities of how one week or a course alone won’t solve all the water problems, it can be disheartening. This being said, programs such as WIL Australia and the CWP teach individuals to come into difficult decisions and designs with an open mind and heart. For the opportunity to participate in both of these innovative spaces, we are in immense gratitude. These programs have been successful in reminding and reaffirming that there are young leaders in the world today who will help to bring forth the change for tomorrow.

Water Innovation Lab

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