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About two score words and fifteen pounds down!

In January, I shared my aspirations for purposeful and balanced living especially in relation to my PhD programme and my health and wellbeing. I did say that I will make a follow-up blog post at the end of the year to share my lived experiences while trying to achieve my goals. However, I have decided to write a short reflection because I feel that although in mid-year, I have made some progress.

I had three goals for the year: produce a thesis draft before year-end, run a 10k race before mid-year, and deepen my connection with God; all for which I conducted a goal setting exercise to keep me on track.

To produce a draft thesis, I scribbled a 4-hour-a-day-minimum reading-writing plan which I updated weekly. I stuck to the routine of developing and working through the reading-writing plan until April. But as I progress with my thesis writing and now have a thesis structure, I have decided that the structure will be a replacement for my diarised plan.

To run the 10k race, I completed a 3-month racing course with a local running club, and have continued with my independent and group runs. I ran my first 10k on the Wednesday before Easter Sunday and then ran another 10k on Easter Sunday for which I earned a tractor medal. I have since completed my 50th Parkrun and although I am yet to beat my PB of 26 minutes, I have lost 15 pounds since April. I am chuffed.

I stuck to feeding my spirituality to some degree especially with fasting once a fortnight. But other than that, very early into the year, I temporarily put my religious rites on hold for personal reasons and I stopped keeping a journal because it became a place where I was documenting some painful things that happened to me this year. I still think spirituality keeps me grounded but when I grapple with (in)humanity around me, I question the unseen. I have now circled back to spirituality in the past month because a part of me missed it.

Half way into the year, I am finding that life cannot be completely planned like a project in a controlled environment. But as I have been able to achieve some goals earlier than anticipated, I will be spending the next half of the year just writing my thesis!

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My Research newsletter!

​​​​As you most likely know, I’ve been investigating public engagement in water utilities and how this is channelled towards motivating collective action to tackle the problem of increasing water demand. I have published a paper on preliminary findings from investigating public engagements in the water sector using a Message-Actor-Channel (MAC) framework.

Moving on from examining the wider water sector, I have narrowed my focus to Essex & Suffolk Water, UK as a Case Study; examining the utility’s Every Drop Counts (EDC) campaign to promote household water efficiency and reduce water use.

Interesting findings are emerging from my research, which has motivated me to return to Essex & Suffolk Water this Summer to volunteer to translate insights from my fieldwork into practice improvement for the next Phase of the EDC Programme in Barking in the South of England and Washington in the North of England.

At the upcoming Twenty65 conference in Manchester, UK in April 2018, I, along with Dr Vanessa Speight, Dr Liz Sharp, Dr Emma Westling, and the Essex & Suffolk Water’s Demand Planning Project Manager Tim Wagstaff will be presenting a paper on how we are using the MAC model to map water efficiency initiatives in the utility. We look forward to demonstrating how the industry is collaborating with academia to manage risks to future water supply.  We hope to see you there.

You too can participate in my ongoing wider inquiry on Stakeholder Engagement in Water Utilities across countries

To contact me, email: fajia1@sheffield.ac.uk

You can read about my research and more here on my blog.

A key nexus of theory, policy and practice in the UK water sector – the APPWG

All Party Parliamentary Water Group  meeting held on the 20th of March 2018 in the House of Commons. Pictured above is the Panel leading discussion within the perimeters of water efficiency and the 25 year environment plan (from left to right – Catherine Moncrieff from   Members of Parliament  and Dr. Pete Fox from the

We had interesting conversations around household water efficiency;  metering and per capita consumption; valuing water; water pricing and affordability and relative impact on vulnerable customers; the modernisation of water abstraction and regulatory necessities; leakage minimisation and behavioural change as part of demand management measures; the ideal generational longevity of environment plans; and the need for collaboration inclusive of the social sciences to achieve better water usage.

To attend future All Party Parliamentary Water Group meetings, sign up for updates via https://connectpa.co.uk/water/

Balancing the wheels of my happiness

In her book titled ‘A Life in Balance’, Dr Kathleen Hall states ‘…true happiness comes from living an authentic life fuelled with a sense of purpose and balance’. It is with this proposition in mind, joy in my heart and slight cold in my feet that I report I have recently come to the realisation that this may be the last year of my PhD and if ever there is any need for some extra time, it will not be an addition of a full academic year.

Studying for a PhD has been an experience I have grown to love and enjoy. Very recently, my research supervisor shared her observation on my intellectual growth and I very much agree, knowledge acquisition is continuous through time. Most likely, it is at the very start of a PhD programme that one’s level of critical thinking and understanding of the subject troughs.

Late last year, I enrolled in the Springboard Women’s Development Programme which involves a series of workshops to enable women make the most of their lives and careers. I found the programme immensely rewarding. One of my key achievements as a result of participating in Springboard is learning from peers how to goal-map better so that I can produce my thesis.

I have set three goals for the year based on things that currently give me a sense of purpose and balance: produce a thesis draft before year-end, run a 10k race before mid-year, and deepen my connection with God. I have identified these goals as key because I want to successfully complete my PhD, push my boundaries physically and mentally, and certainly grow spiritually as my incomprehension of the mystery of God plunges me into religious pluralism.

I must say that I have other equally important goals not shared herein because I am on track to achieve them or they are objectives that feed into achieving my main goals. To map out my goals, I did a goal setting exercise. To produce a draft thesis, I scribbled a reading-writing plan which will be updated monthly. This plan hinges on a minimum of 4-hour daily focus on my PhD work.

   

In preparation for the 10k race, I enrolled in a local running club to race once a week, now run independently once a week, go to boxing or spin class once a week, and do the Parkrun every Saturday. I will be running 10k on Easter Sunday.

I am exploring my spirituality through having quiet times, praying, reading qur’anic and biblical excerpts, and fasting once a fortnight until April.

Most Sundays, I just rest.

It’s a month into the year, I am finding that I work better when my plans are well articulated. Productive however, I have made other interesting findings: that spirituality keeps me grounded; and no thanks to being busy, I am becoming a bit isolated. Also, I have quickly realised that the ‘minimum 4-hour daily focus on my PhD work’ can sometimes include a writer’s block and sucking my teeth at my keyboard.

As I journal my thoughts on most nights, I look forward to writing a follow-up blogpost at year end with regards to my lived experiences in this final lap of the PhD journey.

Lessons I’ve Learnt During the Second Year of my PhD

Two Octobers ago, I began my PhD programme. After my first year, I had said on reflection that I did not think that a doctoral study is a venture for the faint hearted. I still maintain that position, albeit I can’t imagine many other things in the world I would rather be doing at this point in my life. Going into my second year, I had identified that I needed to use my time more wisely, worry less, and be in a good emotional state – and I made a conscious effort to ensure these.

I began my second year with more clarity than I had in my first year. I had gotten into a good headspace and made a list of my developmental goals for the year- writing my first academic paper was number one on my list of priorities. More importantly, I honed my research aim and objectives which implied that my reading became more targeted.

I spent the first few months of my second year putting finishing touches to residual pieces of work from the previous academic year. I spent the Christmas break reflecting on my aspirations and doing some goal-listing. To address item 1 on my goal-list – ‘write an academic paper’, I began drafting an abstract and penning down rough ideas. Once I started to do this and as I progressed, my self-belief and confidence certainly increased and that motivated me to work on my other priorities too. Ten months later, this paper is now published. Thus, I learnt that I can do whatever I set my mind to if I strive for it; and that if I buckle down, life will work a treat.

All in all, I had a great second year. I attended more conferences and seminars and expanded my network within academia and in the industry, and I worked relentlessly to achieve my other goals. I began working on an exciting desk research and went on fieldwork too. I made a few great friends along the way. I got to know my PhD Supervisor a little more and developed profound admiration for her and the values that drive her. I made time for the mundane things that matter to me – like running, volunteering, going dancing, attending seminars, participating in art workshops and self-development programmes, and being a rookie street photographer. Having a work-life balance is something I prioritised in my second year.

Now in my third year, one note to myself is to focus solely on my research whilst not losing a sense of the person that I am; it is my hope to do this excellently. I have always thought that with doing a PhD, one must remain focused and never give up. This remains my perspective.

The Paradoxes of Water Utility Marketing

It’s been a year since I created this blog and it’s a pleasure to share these pages with people interested in anything to do with water. I am delighted to introduce Dr Peter Prevos a highly philosophical manager of the Data Science team in Coliban Water- a regional urban water authority in Australia. He is also a sessional lecturer in La Trobe university in Melbourne who has his own blog featuring water marketing and analytics.  Today, Dr Peter will be guest-posting, sharing with us his findings about the paradoxes of water management. When he accepted my invitation to share his knowledge of this subject on my blog, I was thrilled as his writing will highlight the challenges of contemporary water management from a practice worldview of the water utility. I hope you find good food for thought in his piece below; and please share this piece with your circle of friends and colleagues – Fatima A.

Guest post by Dr Peter Prevos

Customers, regulators and community groups are urging water utilities around the world to become more customer-focused. Many exciting initiatives have been developed by water professionals to achieve this goal. These activities show that in many countries, the industry is transitioning from focusing on asset performance to managing the customer’s experience.

Water utilities are generally managed by professionals qualified in engineering, biology or chemistry who decide on complex technical issues based on physics, chemistry and biology. When water utilities decide on customer issues, they base their decisions on marketing theory. Most of the existing marketing theories are, however, not suitable for water services.

My recently-completed PhD thesis discusses how marketing theory can be practically applied to the characteristics of the tap water industry. While researching how to apply marketing theory to water utilities, I found the following four emerged paradoxes that water managers need to be aware of:

1. The Paradox of Value

Water is a life-sustaining liquid yet the willingness to pay for it is very low. This first paradox was already recognised by the ancient Greeks. Although economists have resolved this paradox when they developed the theory of marginal utility, for water managers this issue still plays very strongly. The problem of willingness to pay was discussed in the Australian show The Gruen Transfer in which Marketer Russell Howcroft claims that water utilities are “lazy marketers”

The price we are willing to pay is related to the relative value we attach to a purchase which is evident in people’s high involvement with diamonds for example. Owning a diamond provides social status, while access to tap water on the other hand is normalised and not a status symbol because water flows out of our tap, without the water user’s effort or any real involvement in the process. The marketing remedy for the paradox of the worth and cost of water is therefore to emphasise the difference between its value and its price.

2. The Water Quality Paradox

Potable water hides a complexity that is one of the leading causes of customer dissatisfaction. As service providers, water utilities aim to deliver water that minimises risk to public health. Water utility professionals assess the quality of water using scientific measurements and express it in esoteric units such as death and Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY) attributed to water, sanitation and hygiene. The vast majority of customers are, however, not able to appreciate the public health quality of water. Customers assess the quality of water through its aesthetic properties. When water does not taste refreshing, exudes an odour or is coloured customers may lose trust in the product, even though it may be perfectly safe to drink.

3. The Involvement Paradox

The general wisdom in water utility and business literature is that the level of consumer involvement with potable water is low. The fact that water is essential to life suggests that consumers of tap water have a high degree of involvement with the service. This situation seems paradoxical because both assertions cannot be true at the same time. This paradox can be resolved by examining involvement from two different perspectives. Potable water as an essential product will logically attract a very high level of cognitive involvement because life in the developed world without it is unthinkable. However, as a non-branded, undifferentiated, monopolistic service, the level of emotional involvement that potable water attracts will be significantly lower.

4. The Invisibility Paradox

Potable water is so reliable that global giant Uber wants to provide “Transportation that is as reliable as running water”. The paradox of highly reliable water utilities is that the water security that they help provide has created problems in terms of their visibility to customers. Traditional marketing wisdom suggests that invisibility is not beneficial because it prevents developing a strong brand. The invisibility paradox implies that this idea cannot apply to water utilities. A perfect level of service means that the customer almost never contacts their water utility. If there are no outages and water is refreshing and clear, then customer contact will only be in relation to the payment of water bills.

Embracing the Paradoxes

We are trained to believe that paradoxes need to be resolved. In a recent article, Professor Sydney Finkelstein writes that: “The best managers are comfortable holding two opposing views because they know the world is complex.” I therefore believe that managing a customer-centric water utility requires you to embrace these paradoxes and finding ways to remediate the challenges that they pose:

  • Water is valuable but we sell it for a low price
  • Water is safe to drink but is sometimes not accepted by customers
  • Water is essential but some customers may not care much about it
  • Water is invisible to customers but perfect service may imply invisibility

If you like to know more about how to do so, then you should think about purchasing my forthcoming book Customer Experience Management for Water Utilities: Marketing urban water supply by IWA Publishing.

Feel free to connect with me on linkedin and also visit my blog blog.

Attending the 18th UK-IWA YWP Conference: Why you should not miss it in 2018

The most important event of the year for young professionals – the IWA Young Water Professionals Conference was held in the stunning city of Bath, UK between 10th -12th April 2017. The theme of the conference “A Water World Without Boundaries” was very evident in the diversity of guests from around the world with speciality in different areas relative to water. Attending this event was an energizing experience with a variety of presentations, workshops and discussion sessions to choose from.

The first day kicked off with a welcoming panel discussion on careers in water, after which I attended a water inspiration workshop on public engagement designed around showcasing a public hearing on managing severe water stress in a county – chaired by Patricia Bakir of the International Water Association’s (IWA) Public and Customer Communication Specialist Group (IWA PCCSG). This proved rather interesting, and highlighted cross-sectoral interaction (between the water utility, farmers, low-income and high income earners, the Government, environmental groups etc.) and deliberation to tackle a water issue in a manner that does not impede but facilitates the nexus between water, agriculture and jobs. The workshop, like others being facilitated was very hands-on and engaging and we all were immersing ourselves in our stakeholder roles.

Day 2 was equally rewarding, with platform and flash presenters sharing their works very concisely; around social, cultural, and behavioural as well as technical and policy water solutions. I also delivered a platform presentation on the Message-Actor-Channel (MAC) model of communicative water practices for succinctly examining engagement in water utilities. Flowing from most presentations was the thinking that even though it is sometimes difficult to go outside the box, we must do so to solve the current and potential water problems we may face. I wound down the day wandering around Bath, taking in culture and nature at its best and yes I was at the Roman Baths and drank the spring water! The evening culminated in a fancy gala dinner at the Guildhall with great food, conversation and dancing.

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After a remarkable night of barn dancing, we reconvened on the 3rd day to wrap up the conference, discussing the challenges for a water world without boundaries – regulation and infrastructure, people and skills, climate change and population increase, household dwelling distribution, and the agriculture-water-energy nexus. As a young water professional, I strongly believe that to achieve our desired water-future, we all need to play our part; as the future does not come into fruition accidentally but is created by our decisions made and actions taken over time. I get a sense that ours is a tranche of water professionals that are keen to go into communities and take collective action around water whether social and/or technical. Attending the UK-IWA YWP conference has been a rewarding experience for me and reminds me of what is important in our field and in the grand scheme of things – to strive for an impact that makes the world a better place.

Next year, the UK-IWA YWP conference will be hosted in another city; when and where is yet to be announced but I strongly recommend you keep your ear to the ground!

 

Survey on Public Engagement in Water Utilities

As I’ve explained in my June blogpost, my PhD Research is on ‘Public Engagement in Water Utilities’.

I am therefore looking for feedback from professionals who are involved in public/stakeholder engagement about water?

Do you fit this criteria?

The Sheffield Water Centre would like to hear from you!

In order to participate, click the link below or copy and paste the link into your browser:

http://survey.sogosurvey.com/k/SsWTXWPsUsPsPsP

Life-lessons I’ve Learnt During the First Year of my PhD

Last October, I started my PhD. Whilst it has not been a venture for the faint hearted, I can honestly say that it has been a rewarding experience so far.

As someone with an academic background rooted in physical science, this PhD has been an opportunity to increase my knowledge base in the social sciences. Like many PhD Researchers, I have learnt the importance of reading, studying, attending conferences and networking with colleagues in academia and in the industry. Also, I have certainly learnt invaluable things about life and much more about myself.

I have come to realise that every PhD Researcher’s experience is unique, and a lot of hoops to be jumped depend on one’s own circumstances. So for myself, these two life lessons resonate with me due to my circumstances prior to and during my first year.

  1. Use your time wisely as though it were money

I spent the first half of my first year attending seminars and trainings on preparing for the PhD journey. Likewise, I racked up hours in mandatory lectures on core modules. I should point out that the majority of trainings and lectures are very useful, and I advise that these should not be shunned by students.

I assume that you have pragmatic and supportive Supervisors as I do with whom you have carefully conducted a tailored Training Needs Analysis. It is therefore okay to put your effective learning styles and time periods into consideration, and spend your time in places and on things you deem fit – assuming that you make good judgements as a PhD Researcher should.

Thus, in retrospect, I can recognise that time is invaluable and so is one’s intrinsic gauge of needs and contentment. Valuing my time pushed me even further to saying NO!

‘No I do not want to attend a certain training – its content is similar to one I already attended’. ‘No I do not want to meet up with colleagues – I’m going to have a sleep-in’. ‘No I will not attend that conference – the timing conflicts with something else which is important to me’. ‘No I do not want to add a certain goal to my list of research objectives – It is entirely out of my intended scope’. ‘No I do not have to live locally in order to study better – I am moving’.

  1. Worry is no virtue to have

Worry is indeed a misuse of the imagination. This is certainly the most important life lesson for me.

In the beginning, several mundane and important things bothered me – ‘Can I pull through? Will it work out? Am I over-studying? Am I under-studying? Why is a Jane/John Doe being a drag-down?’ So many academic and non-academic things weighed heavily on my mind.

However, in the last quarter of my first year, I had a reawakening. With more control of my time and improved emotional resilience, I began to do things more differently – being more aware of my environment and exploring real life. I suggest that one needs to have a life outside of the PhD, for the fear that you may lose a sense of yourself.

Whilst I recommend taking breaks and doing extra-curricular activities, I suggest that you define your boundaries so that you do not lose focus of your research. Nevertheless, as I am currently doing, I recommend revisiting that neglected hobby of yours – I took up photography again and I am reading more books. Take up a sport if that helps – I started running – have run 135km in the past two months. Make friends – there is a world of brilliant minds out there. Keep active and your imagination may stay stimulated – I do the games nights, the lunches and dinners, the networking events, the art workshops, the dance classes, walks in the parks, visits to museums and galleries, the libraries, the debate clubs!

Most importantly, never give up – focus on your goal to complete your PhD successfully. If somethings or some people send your emotions spiraling down, simply distance yourself from them. In most cases, you need to be in a good emotional state to do a PhD!

Water-Rich Water-Poor

Recently, I have been doing a lot of reading on global water challenges. Considering that water is essential to life but finite, the importance of water management cannot be overemphasized. The world we currently live in is at the mercy of rapid population growth and urbanization. Whilst these are not entirely detrimental to economic development, mismanagement in different sectors of the global economy is a reality. For instance, many have critiqued the water sector as failing to successfully tackle the issue of increasing water demand, attributing this to poor water management. Many have also suggested that water utilities need to look beyond relying on administrative control and technological solutions to water issues. There have been recommendations to involve people in water matters using a sort of communitarian approach that supports people to take on responsibilities as citizens who own, and use and/or manage water wisely.

But how does a water utility implement its approach to motivating water responsibility amongst the public?

A friend of mine recently relocated from a ‘developed’ to a ‘developing’ country. He was moping about his electricity bill. There had been no power supply to his house most days of the month.

So I asked ‘how about your water bill’.

He replied; ‘what water bill?’ ‘Where will that come from?’

To which I replied; ‘your water company of course, your utility, who is your water utility?’

I don’t know them. We drilled a borehole in my compound. So I think I am my own (pauses)… what did you call it? water utility? Yea, we are the water utility. I and my landlord – we own our water’…; he replied.

My friend gave a real-life insight into the crisis of water inequality that many fail to acknowledge. On one hand, there is the failure of water governance in many catchment areas around the world; on the other hand, is the complacency of the people who are at the receiving end – the water users.

Some water utilities in ‘developed’ countries consider passive and active ways to nudge the ‘Water-Rich Public’ to become owners of water who use water wisely, and also maintain ‘visible’ relationships with their utilities. But in neglected catchment areas of the world, most water utilities alienate themselves from their ‘Water-Poor Public’, forcing people to develop their own initiatives to own and manage water, by themselves.

To say the least, my friend ensued a sense of pride for ‘his water’. A self-proclamation that he ‘owns’ his water in partnership with his landlord is somewhat impressive yet worrisome. This goes against the underlying principles of the human right to water and sanitation. However, if one stripped away the fact that my friend’s water treatment, storage and supply are all ‘managed’ in-house (literarily!), the remaining intangible responsibility of ownership and personal connection to water is what water utilities in ‘developed’ countries spend resources trying to instil in their Water-Rich Public.

I am drawn to a careful conclusion that whilst the ‘Water-Poor’ environment is appalling, there are lessons in there that the ‘Water-Rich’ environment can draw from. It is no news that utilities operating in ‘Water-Poor’ catchment areas can also draw invaluable lessons from the utilities in ‘Water-Rich’ areas.

So what is a good starting point?

I think that rather than typical conversations on how to ‘change’ the public’s perception of water and their water behaviours/practices, more than ever before water utilities need to look inwards, re(assess) how their water management enacted through public (dis)engagement significantly shapes the public’s perception of water and their water behaviours/practices as well as their perception of their utilities.

Sometimes, actions contradict perspectives and intended outcomes of actions.