Monday, April 26, 2010
Regional Director, Asia
Currently – Professor, University of Arizona, and IWMI wastewater irrigation collaborator,
The Challenge of Policy-Relevant Science
IWMI’s greatest challenge is to be a catalyst in innovating with national and local partners while responding to rapidly evolving framing conditions. How do we ensure continuity with change? Agriculture and the water needed to support it, with all the tradeoffs we know so well, will increasingly be buffeted by global economic forces, climate change, other environmental processes, urban growth … the list goes on. And for IWMI’s enterprise, a crucial element of change is donor commitment, which can be fickle.
To make progress towards our mission, we must remain focused on harnessing the talents of the NARS, universities, and NGOs in the many locations where we work. For this, the regional offices and country programs are central to IWMI’s effectiveness; headquarters must play a support role while sparking innovation. I say this based on the nearly a decade I spent working in regional offices (hence, I’m still using the first-person, “we at IWMI”).
The institute has no miracle crop variety or global systems model to distinguish us, which is fortunate, because we’re able to respond to rapidly evolving needs. It’s crucial that we work not just on our partners’ current priorities, but help to shape their future objectives and capabilities to respond to rapid global changes. In the process, we’ll undoubtedly find that our objectives change too in unexpected way.
IWMI’s research hallmarks are interdisciplinarity and stakeholder outreach. The process of assembling integrated teams is increasingly sought after in the research I’m presently involved in. And to make science relevant to policy-making, indeed to frame science questions based on stakeholder engagement, is the next wave. My time at IWMI prepared me well, though it was difficult finding a ‘disciplinary’ home in U.S. academia. But I’m pleased to say I continue to work today on many of the questions I unexpectedly came upon at IWMI. And I’m keenly aware of how changing conditions drive us to innovate, seek new partners, and remain focused on the broader relevance of our work.