A System Innovation-Oriented Integration of Management Information Systems in Urban Water Management

A System Innovation-Oriented Integration of Management Information Systems in Urban Water Management

Tagelsir Mohamed Gasmelseid (King Faisal University, Saudi Arabia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-907-1.ch019
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The scarcity of water resources exhibited in different parts of the world and the dysfunctional consequences associated with urban water processes and services are encouraging countries to adopt transformative innovative thinking. The movement from the “visions” of urban water management to ‘actions” demands more emphasis on the development of relevant platforms and frameworks that enable effective transitions and sustainability of actions and good practices. Within the context of a changing environment, urban water management processes need to be “shifted” from the “conventional” approach to a wider context capable of addressing the growing urban water management lock-ins. Complexities in urban water management originate from the difficulty of maintaining sector-based balances (mainly supply-demand balances) governing internal functionality as well as from the intensity and uncertainty of the dynamics of both the entire water system and the wide range of change agents interacting in its external environment. Such lock-ins are affecting the capacity of urban water managers and policy makers to develop suitable strategies and implementation pathways and improve the overall resource utilization and service provision capacity and efficiency. While conventional approaches continued to be widely used to address such lock-ins, little improvement tend to be gained with regards to the dynamics of the “problem domain” and the feasibility of “solution spaces”. Over years, emphasis continued to be on advocating “nesting” urban water management processes into the context of integrated water management, but without ensuring the availability of relevant change management strategies, tools and agents. Issues relating to water governance, decentralization of water management processes and authorities, involvement of stakeholders, development and adoption of appropriate information platform, and capacity building are moving to the front line agenda of urban water managers and policy makers. In the absence of relevant tools and integrated frameworks, the capacity of conventional urban water management approaches to address such a new context remains questionable. The complexity exhibited across the entire urban water subsystem (both in scale and magnitude) calls for not only the development on new or modified “program sets” but also transformed and enriched ‘mind sets”. Such migration can be envisioned through the adoption of system thinking, innovation and strategic niche management. This will improve the capacity of the overall urban management “sub-system’ to orchestrate its functionalities with the overall water system using a holistic approach. This contribution focuses on the imperativeness of capacity building in urban water management in a changing environment and the importance of developing sustainability framework and approach in accordance with the principles of system innovation and thinking.
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Effective urban water management is directly and inexorably linked with water resources management, sustainable development and human security. While the maintenance of such linkage is usually viewed at the “abstract” organizational level, a thorough understanding of the functionalities of urban water management process calls for understanding of the interactions that shape its internal and external environment both at the local and global scale.

Urban water resources have been affected by from the intensity of demand-oriented, supply-specific and spatial considerations that influence the ability of policy makers to optimize the utility matrix of its urban stakeholders. Demand for water resources is increasing due to socio-economic activities, demographic transformation, industrial developments, and ecosystem preservation requirements. On the other hand, available water supplies are being affected by spatial variability and rain fall rates, pollution, water losses through evaporation and climate change. The impacts of external factors interacting in the surrounding environment of the entire water system are being reflected in the ability to sustainably, manage water development projects and provide quality urban water services.

Urban water resources have also been affected by imperfections resulting from extreme events such as climate change. Because it produces higher temperatures, climate changes influence water availability, reliability of direct abstractions, seasonality and intensity of rainfall, runoff status and water percolation into aquifers (Claire Smith & Geoff Levermore, 2008). From an urban management point of view, climate changes create peri-urban spaces that can be regarded as ‘‘heterogeneous mosaic of ‘natural ecosystems’, ‘productive’ or ‘agro-ecosystems’ and ‘urban ecosystems’ (Hallie Eakin, Amy M. Lerner, & Felipe Murtinho, 2009) and urban heat-island (Yukihiro Kikegawa, et al, 2006) that significantly affect the functionality and capacity of the entire urban water resources and related urban management services and processes. The resulting fragmented landscapes, small towns and cities, modified residence and housing patterns and styles, and the modified values and assumptions are re-shaping the context of urban management. On the other hand, the modified or new spatial and social impacts of climate changes on urban centers are also influencing the capacity of the urban water management organizations to address the consequences of the growing urbanization growth rates and other shift and developing trends.

Meeting these challenges has been challenges by many lock-ins. institutionally, urban water management continued to be affected by the institutional frameworks and initiatives used to conceptualizing linkages among the sub-systems of the entire “total” water system. Such frameworks tend to follow different paradigms ranging from “conventional”, through “sustainable’ to “integrated”. Conventional urban water management practices aim at meeting water supply-demand budgets, the provision of clean drinking water, floods control and protection of public health through wastewater management and conveying storm water away from urban settings. On the other hand, sustainability and integration frameworks emphasize the use of a holistic cause-effect approach to understand internal functions and cross sector links. The complexity of interactions (and sometimes interdependence) between water sectors (including urban waters) and other systems significantly affects the capacity of organizations and the society at large to adapt. This calls for identifying (1) the interdependence and hierarchy of resource management scales (basin, catchments, tributary, and water use course such as urban water and agriculture) and (2) organizational mainstreaming.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Integrated Urban Water Management: is the practice of managing fresh, waste and storm water using hydrological, administrative or hydro-administrative boundaries and different scales (catchment, tributary, river basin) with emphasis on the determinants of water supply and sanitation in urban settlements.

Adaptation: is the process of adjusting the elements and functionalities of natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic shifts or impacts. It takes different forms including reactive, private, public, autonomous and planned adaptation.

Capacity Building: is the process of enhancing the human, scientific, technological, organizational, resources and institutional capabilities in pursuit of improving policy development and implementation abilities.

Strategic Niche Management: is the approach that focuses on investigating the experimental introduction of sustainable technologies using societal experiments (e.g. pilot plants, demonstration plants) in technology introduction in pursuit of improving interactions among the elements of a sociotechnical system and its efficiency in achieving its objectives.

Integrated Water Resources Management: (IWRM) is a process of conceptualizing the water system as a sociotechnical system, articulating and managing its internal and external dependencies, and sharing information in pursuit of improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the entire system.

Climate Change: is the statistical distribution and variation of weather events (mainly changes in global temperatures and precipitation) over periods of time as a result of recurring cyclical or singular climate patterns and/or human activity in a specific region or across the globe.

Sociotechnical Systems Theory: focuses on understanding the social aspects resulting from interactions among people in their societies and technical aspects machines and technology in pursuit of optimizing a corporate utility matrix.

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