Musings of a young utilities researcher after attending the 2018 Twenty65 Conference...

23rd May 2018 10:19

Written by Beth Wiles, Research Executive.
 
The prominence of its work in the Water Sector was the attraction for me to join DJS Research in June 2017, following my graduation from the University of Sheffield. Since joining, I’ve worked for clients such as Yorkshire Water, Severn Trent, Affinity Water and United Utilities and was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to soak up the latest cutting-edge research developments in the Water Industry at this year’s Twenty65 Conference - just a short train ride away in Manchester, with our Associate Director, Alex McCluckie
 
Certainly, the mantra of being able to supply clean, safe water for all was a key issue mentioned at the conference. Interestingly, despite the examples given from Spain, Morocco, India and Iraq, whom are all at risk of major shortages as reservoirs shrink, closer to home, reports of a giant ‘Fatberg’ in the sewers of the South of England have emerged. A lack of clean, safe water are issues which seem to rarely cross customers’ minds when they switch on the tap - and a theme which presents itself time and time again in our research. You only realise the importance of water if, and when, you have a supply issue!
 
'The Value of Water'
 
Rather fittingly, the theme of the day was “the Value of Water”, which kicked off with some prominent keynote speakers in the Industry. First up was Angela Smith, MP, the Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Water Group, who raised some interesting points regarding the spatial planning system and the place for sustainable government policy, closely followed by Tony Smith, the Chief Executive of CCWater. They were joined by Adrian Rees, the Director of AECOM, and Ali Browne, a lecturer at Manchester University for a lively panel discussion around their proceeding topics, particularly the role of both the government and regulatory bodies in both saving water and reducing flood risk.  
 
Panel sessions: water efficiency 
 
The afternoon then broke off into a choice of five panel sessions. I chose water efficiency, an area central to my work at DJS and heavily reliant on effective customer engagement. The first session was from Claire Hoolahan of the University of Manchester. The session raised a number of interesting points around the challenges of engaging in customers’ complex, but ordinary, domestic routines. Another Water Efficiency session was delivered by Fatima Ajia, a PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield, who has been researching public engagement in partnership with Essex and Suffolk Water. One of her key arguments was that information about saving water should be delivered by a plumber in the relevant place in the home. For example, providing information about shower timers in the bathroom and washing-up in the kitchen, to increase recall of the activity in day-to-day life. There was also some lively discussion from the audience about the use of qualified plumbers or ‘technicians’ to install water saving equipment, raising the ever present question of cost vs benefit to the customer.
 
The afternoon rounded off with three discussions about Infrastructure at the Household Scale. The first, delivered by Rizwan Nawaz, discussed whether water smart metering was worth the effort, suggesting many studies have had different outcomes as to their effectiveness. Perhaps, once again, customer engagement is the key here as we have received qualitative feedback in our own deliberative sessions showing how smart meters can bring with them a certain novelty value that can, with time,  wear-off -  leading to that same snazzy meter finding its way to the ‘sock drawer’. 
 
All in all, the conference provided a valuable view into the latest goings on in the water industry. Alex McCluckie, one of our Associate Directors along with Garry Sanderson, a behavioural scientist from Visualyze Solutions even continued this theme of the new and the exciting by co-presenting a session on how behavioural science can be best harnessed in the industry both with customers and operationally – something that we see as a big developing niche within the industry.
 
I’m already looking forward next year’s conference and hearing more about the ever changing developments in the industry.  

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