Exploring researcher-practitioner collaborations for MI's Drinking Water
The Flint Water Crisis. Legionnaires’ disease. PFAS contamination. Boil water advisories. Michigan is on the front lines of a national water crisis. Drinking water utilities and other water professionals are working at the center of these water quality challenges. Their role is to produce clean water, distribute it to consumers so they can use it safely for drinking and bathing, and communicate water quality information to the public at large. Yet, there are few avenues for drinking water utilities and other water professionals to access the knowledge and resources of experts in academia. Similarly, the ways in which academic researchers pursue collaborations with drinking water professionals remains elusive, despite the clear potential for conducting innovative applied research for local and global drinking water provision.
Based on their history of mutually beneficial collaborations, Prof. Lutgarde Raskin (U-M researcher) Brian Steglitz (Ann Arbor's water treatment plant director) envisioned a targeted effort to bring together drinking water researchers and professionals from across the state of Michigan to dive into the challenges and opportunities for building a culture of utility-researcher collaborations. Through this initial effort and future work, they hope both research and industry will be better equipped to tackle Michigan’s most pressing water quality challenges long into the future.
This exploration was kicked-off by the inaugural Drinking Water Innovation Salon hosted at U-M in May 2019. The central question: "How might we foster collaborations between water utility professionals and drinking water researchers?"
During summer of 2019, Ann Verhey-Henke, Strategic Director of U-M's Center for Socially Engaged Design (C-SED), facilitated a kickoff workshop (the Drinking Water Innovation Salon). A group of four student interns followed up with stakeholders around the state in a 12 week process of deep exploration and ideation. The goal was to produce a roadmap that professionals and researchers could follow to catalyze collaborations to ensure their work positively impacts the health and safety of all Michigan citizens in the future.
C-SED student interns used creative design process methods to conduct a deep dive into the challenges of collaborative drinking water research in Michigan.
The Blue Sky project will continue to build on the summer 2019 work by reaching out to academic and professional communities through existing conferences and events, perspective pieces in relevant journals and magazines, and follow-up activities with interested Michigan drinking water stakeholders. Also, Blue Sky is partnering with the Michigan Sustainability Cases initiative at the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability to develop an interactive learning module that, like the summer Drinking Water Innovation Salon, could help catalyze conversations and collaborations across researchers and practitioners for improving the future of Michigan's drinking water!