Brainstorming the wicked problem of water and sanitation

Bringing clean water and sanitation to developing countries has not always been attractive to funders from business, but a recent meeting brought the best brains together to consider public-private partnerships for water, sanitation and wastewater treatment that would be appealing to financiers and others. Attendees used a brainstorming and negotiation method that originated at the Partnerships Resource Centre (PrC) at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). Six of the expert-led sessions, called Wicked Problems Plazas (WPPs), have been arranged to address some of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), one of which is the provision of clean water.



Each of these six WPP meetings involves 15 invited stakeholders from various sectors of business, constituting a diverse group of people. They meet in the Wicked Problems Plaza at the New World Campus in The Hague, The Netherlands. Each session has an accompanying public event (in Dutch) on the same topic; a movie, a presentation or a public group discussion. The programme has been devised by the PrC, the New World Campus and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) programme Duurzaam Door.

First, clean water

The first meeting, on 14 April, was co-organised by Aqua for All, a Dutch non-profit organisation with expertise in water, sanitation and hygiene. Other participants in the Plaza event were from business, NGOs and government, they were practitioners and academics. Some are very experienced in water management, others offered their ‘outsider’s’ perspective.

They discussed successes and obstacles to sustainable water management. Ideas generated during the morning’s discussions were harvested in the afternoon, but despite good intentions, it proved difficult to translate the broad discussions into concrete next steps. Doubts about feasibility and responding to opportunities meant there was no definite answer to the central question. However, participants reported that the journey to seek the answer was definitely worthwhile.

A more detailed report of the first WPP discussion about water and sanitation on 14 April is on the OneWorld website (in Dutch).

Importance of diversity

Diversity is important to the Wicked Problems Plaza concept (WPP), a methodology developed by RSM’s Professor Rob van Tulder. The central idea of the WPP is that in order to solve wicked problems – those problems that are difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements – what’s needed is innovative solutions generated by the collaboration between a large diversity of stakeholders.

Next, safe and sustainable cities

The next Wicked Problems Plaza on Thursday 19 May will discuss ‘how to make cities green’. Other Wicked Problems sessions can be found on the New World Campus website (in Dutch).

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s leading business schools, and ranked among the top three for research. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who carry their innovative mindset into a sustainable future thanks to a first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes. RSM also has offices in Chengdu, China, and Taipei, Taiwan. www.rsm.nl

For more information on RSM or on this release, please contact Marianne Schouten, Media & Public Relations Manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at mschouten@rsm.nl.

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Business-Society Management, Companies, Homepage, Newsroom, Partnerships Resource Centre, WPP example