How can you collectively achieve successful implementation of sustainable solutions? This question lies at the heart of Stephanie Janssen’s work. As a researcher at Deltares, she specialises in social inclusion.

In anticipation of the ‘Social Inclusion in Water Climate Adaptation’ event, organised by Partners for Water and Deltares on 12 September, Stephanie discusses the significance of fostering inclusive transformation within the water sector.

In reaching genuine sustainable solutions, Stephanie believes it takes a collective effort. She cites a walk across clayey fields along the Friesland coast as an example. Here, the power of diverse voices became vividly apparent to her. “With local farmers, researchers and individuals from nature organisations and water institutes, we thought about sustainable coastal defenses in Friesland., we went out into the field together to devise solutions. The valuable ideas that surfaced could not have been conceived alone by one individual.”

Expect the unexpected

Conceiving ideas in a Friesian field is just one of the many examples Stephanie passionately highlights while emphasising the significance of social inclusion. “Water challenges are complex and lack of a single solution. The beauty of social inclusion is that you don’t have to face these complex challenges alone. Every time I collaborate with fellow stakeholders and remain open to the unexpected, powerful solutions emerge. And I see that this open mindset is gaining momentum within the water sector.”

Significant critiques

While the water sector is now actively pursuing an inclusive transformation, this hasn’t always been the case. A few years ago, the sector faced significant criticism from scientists, NGOs and journalists. Stephanie explains: “Professionals in the water sector often work with a passion to create positive change. However, solutions didn’t always align with the local context, stakeholders were insufficiently engaged and marginalised groups were often overlooked.” In response to this critique, a turning point emerged. “In the water sector, we made the collective decision to enhance our practices and deepen our understanding of social inclusion.”

Stephanie Janssen – Photo by Guus Schoonewille

Putting into practice

“Our challenge? To listen with an open mindset and curiosity,” Stephanie explains. She clarifies that she doesn’t limit this challenge solely to the design and implementation of water-related solutions, but to apply it at all levels. “I believe this mindset is equally important during discussions and reflections on social inclusivity. I make an effort to identify and set aside my own assumptions and to be genuinely curious about others’ perspectives. It’s not always easy, but it consistently brings valuable insights,” she emphasises.

Learning Together

The desire to embrace social inclusion at all levels is not unique to Stephanie. “The theme resonates greatly within the international water community. For instance, this became clear during the UN Water conference in March this year, where inclusion was one of the core values. I’ve noticed that motivation to collaborate on improving social inclusion is evident on all sides. That’s also one of the reasons why we’ve organised the ‘Social Inclusion in Water Climate Adaptation’ event,” she explains. The event is intended for professionals from private and public organisations, NGOs and knowledge institutions. “We will exchange ideas and experiences and explore how we can collectively progress on this theme as individuals, organisations and collectively in the water sector.”

Taking the next steps

“During the event, we will delve into what participants currently perceive and experience in the water sector, along with the challenges they encounter,” explains Stephanie. “Various individuals will share cases and insights, including Meike van Ginneken, the new Water Envoy of the Netherlands. Through interactive sessions, we aim to listen deeply to each other and collectively set new goals to enhance inclusivity within the water sector. Together, we will take the next steps towards a more inclusive water world.”

Sign up for the newsletter