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Unprecedented concern and curiosity from the public about the water environment, resources and infrastructure signals the need to change the way research and innovation initiatives are communicated.  

On 30 November, at UKWIR’s annual conference, water company executives will join leaders from regulators, media, non-governmental organisations and the supply chain, to discuss the role of research and innovation in addressing the water challenges of the 21st century.  

Keynote speakers are Helen Wakeham, director of water transformation at the Environment Agency and Colin Skellett, chief executive of Wessex Water.    

In conversations with UKWIR ahead of the event, Skellett spoke about the need for increased investment in the sector, and ways that this can be achieved. He advocated for more nature-based solutions, cross-sector working and attracting young people with diverse skills into the water sector as possible solutions. 

Colin Skellett said, “The industry is subject to more public scrutiny than ever before, and there’s a recognition that we need significantly higher levels of investment going forward, but that’s also taking place at a time when there’s a cost-of-living crisis. So, to meet the challenges of the 21st century we must have more innovation. We must think and act smarter.” 

 Revealing where her focus is, Helen Wakeham said, “The size and scale of the challenge for the water environment is immense, and significant investment is needed. If we are to rise to it, then regulators, the water industry, the supply chain and others need to work together to innovate.”  

The event will also see Nicci Russell, chief executive of Waterwise chairing a panel discussion on customer engagement, while Ian Barker, vice-president of the Institute of Water is taking part in a panel discussing how to change the narrative on water. 

“Although the level and nature of public interest in the water sector has been challenging, it has helped to expose customers’ views on priorities for improvement,” said Barker, “and it has created a clear demand for rapid and meaningful action – which should be a catalyst for research and innovation.” 

Nicci Russell agrees change is vital, “We cannot keep doing what we’ve always done – the challenges are new, systemic and complex, and we need solutions that are systemic and complex. Some of this will be new, some existing, but the multi-layering will be essential in research and innovation. Otherwise, you press one button in and another one pops out!”  

This year’s session themes will be explored through a combination of presentations and panel discussions: 

  • Creating a better world for customers 
  • Opportunities for strategic partnerships 
  • Tackling our big challenges 
  • Digital transformation 

 UKWIR is the leading collaborative research organisation for the UK and Ireland water sector, and its annual conference, ‘Positively influencing the water sector through research and innovation’ takes place in London on 30 November 2023.  

UKWIR plays a vital role in boosting research and innovation in the water sector. By identifying and setting the research agenda, funding research, facilitating collaboration, and disseminating research findings, UKWIR helps to ensure that the water sector has the technologies and solutions it needs to meet the challenges of the 21st century. 

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