International WaterCentre Masters: an exciting new module

When it comes to making water sensitive cities a reality, getting the innovative work of the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities (CRCWSC) into the hands and minds of next-generation leaders and decision makers is crucial. In partnership with the International WaterCentre (IWC) based in Brisbane, CRCWSC researchers Dr Annette Bos and Dr Briony Rogers have redeveloped a module on urban water for the IWC’s professionally targeted Master of Integrated Water Management (MIWM) program. The initiative falls under the CRCWSC project on strengthening educational programs to foster future water sensitive cities leaders (Project D4.1), which aims to provide capacity building and learning opportunities for all in the water sector: higher degree students, research participants, and decision-makers.

More than technology

Called Urban futures: delivering water sensitive cities, the module first recognises that there is not yet a water-sensitive city anywhere in the world. It surveys realistically the drivers and challenges for urban water services, before exploring the water sensitive city as an alternative paradigm. It helps Masters students understand why a change is needed, Annette says. The world’s cities face population growth, climate change, environmental degradation, and evolving societal expectations; it is clearer than ever that traditional systems no longer meet society’s water needs.

Integration into practice is highly dependent on the capacity of individual organisations; but approaches like water sensitive urban design are gradually more accepted. Still, the overall concept of the water sensitive city is comparatively new. A key aim of the Urban futures module is to challenge students’ thinking about water in the urban space. They are assisted to an intimate understanding of the whole water cycle within a landscape – including evapotranspiration, and what intercepts water before it becomes runoff – as a foundation for exploring water in relation to other sectors. The module promotes an interdisciplinary approach, examining the interplay between society, technology, and urban design. Along with technical elements such as climate-responsive design, flood mitigation, and waterway health, the module has a strong emphasis on socio-technical change. It investigates the “actors” – water utilities, government organisations, the community – as well as possible mechanisms of transition to a water sensitive city. Annette says: “If we need change, there is a lot more to it than just technology.”

Annette’s strong interest in socio-technical change was kindled early. As a civil engineer working on water and sanitation in developing countries, she discovered that problems are as often social and institutional as technical. Since then, her focus has turned more to governance and organisational issues. She recently completed a PhD with Professor Rebekah Brown (leader of the CRCWSC’s Society Program) on alternative forms of governance to enable sustainable urban water management, winning the 2013 Peter Kershaw prize for best PhD thesis in Monash University’s School of Geography and Environmental Science.

Teaching for real world outcomes

Annette and Briony strive to make the Masters module as real as possible. Along with specialist lectures, interactive workshops, and in-depth discussions, it integrates exercises, case studies, field visits, and problem-based learning. “We build a lot of our exercises around real life,” says Annette. “You see that situations in a classroom may be quite different from how they are in reality.”

MIWM clientele are professionals from a range of backgrounds, including law, economics, natural science, and engineering – particularly those participating full-time, most of whom are international. Recent graduate Maria Brusher was attracted by the opportunity to interact with a range of people interested in water management, and is positive about the developing alumni network. From a public utility in the United States, Maria came seeking a different perspective on how to push forward sustainable water management practices. “The process of learning about what it means for a city to take on a socio-technical transition has given me some insights about how to move these types of agendas forward,” she says.

In Australia and New Zealand the MIWM is also available by distance-learning, part-time. It’s a very different audience: local, often working in urban water, looking to upskill. Online delivery makes Urban futures quite different from its full-time equivalent; but, says Annette, technology has kept it very engaging, with live lectures, webinars from experts in the field, small-group discussions in personal chat rooms, and direct communication with presenters. She and Briony have also developed a learning guide: essentially a direct translation of CRC outputs. “It’s really an excellent opportunity to pass on what’s there,” she says.

A winning partnership

Indeed, the IWC’s innovative Masters program has helped the CRCWSC translate research into effective and relevant learning. The partnership brings cutting-edge CRCWSC research into the program. “It’s a unique situation,” says Annette. “We are passing on something to participants that is really up to date – that is really out there, right now.” Evolved into the Masters module, Annette explains, CRCWSC research outcomes become a consolidated package that brings out the complexity of building a water sensitive city.

For Maria, incorporating current CRCWSC research was a real strength of the module. “Annette and Briony were very proactive in bringing to us materials that were hot off the press,” says Maria. “These are things that the CRCWSC was grappling with, like tools to help us see how effective vegetation and water features are for heat-island effects.”

In February the International WaterCentre recognised both Annette and Briony for outstanding achievement in updating the Urban futures: delivering water sensitive cities module, and as water management educators. And the future? “We’re building leadership,” says Annette. “I hope that if we look back in nine years, we will have built a cohort of people – some of whom will be in influential positions down the track – with an awareness and understanding of this area.” Given its reception by the current crop of future water leaders, Urban futures seems off to a promising start along the road to a water sensitive city.

For more about the International WaterCentre’s Masters in Integrated Water Management and other programs, go to

Nicola Dunnicliff-Wells for the Mind Your Way team

Last updated: 3rd Aug 2014