Few would question that the efficient and ecologically-sustainable use of water should be informed by good science. Yet, the practical experience around the world is that science and scientists have often been slow or ineffective in influencing sustainable water management, or have only done so after one catastrophe or another has forced politicians and policy-makers to pay attention.
Why should this be the case? I believe that much of the fault (though not all) lies at the feet of scientists themselves, and with ‘science’ as a public institution desperately in need of reform and modernisation.
The solution here is not just about funding more research (though this may be necessary in many cases). My experience over the past decade, managing a $200 million collaborative initiative across academia, government and the water industry in Australia, is that there are fundamental organisational, cultural and behavioural changes required before good science, and good scientists, can effectively inform water policy and management. These changes include: the breaking-down of discipline and organisational siloes; wise use of funding to minimise ‘unhelpful’ competition amongst research groups/organisations and the provision of rewards for effective collaboration; ensuring research is properly informed by actual management and policy needs, not just scientists’ perception of them; effective governance and coordination of research within and across organisations; timely public access to new scientific data and knowledge; and the building of open lines of communications and trust between water scientists, policy makers and politicians.
I will provide several examples of how my colleagues and I have tried to improve the way collaborative water research is undertaken, communicated and adopted, and in how scientists have effectively influenced major public water policies, most notably in the area of environmental water allocations.