Fighting the effects of Climate Change…

contributing to a save-water charity, and protecting the first Welsh Bible… all at the same time.

Since February 2019 I am a Research Fellow in a European funded research initiative.   As a research team, we aim at building innovation competencies of the water-energy sector and reduce climate change impacts. The programme is a collaboration between Trinity College (Engineering and the Business School), and Bangor University in Wales.

The researchers come from all over the World and include geologists, engineers, climatologists, environmentalists and management scientists. My role as a management researcher is to combine theory and practice – to help to develop innovation competencies within the water- energy network in Ireland and in Wales, capture what we learn about innovation practices and disseminate it to a wider audience, academics and practitioners.

This year we launched two new energy saving hydropower sites.  The first one was installed in the Blackstairs Co. Wexford, Ireland. The installation reduces energy consumption from water treatment and distribution works by 20-25%.  Cost savings resulting from the installation are donated to the “Wells for Life” Charity. This Charity helps to provide clean water sources for people in India who don’t have access to safe drinking water.

A second installation launch took place in November, in Ty Mawr, Snowdonia, Wales. Ty Mawr is a 16th Century farmhouse. It was the birthplace of Bishop William Morgan, whose translation of the Bible into Welsh in 1588 has been described as the most significant step in ensuring the survival of the language today. This time the energy generated through hydropower is set to protect 200 rare Bibles, including the first Welsh translation, from the effects of climate change. Increased rainfall and damp are affecting the manuscripts. Now the plan is to use electricity generated from a stream nearby to control humidity levels.

So, we install technology developed by the research team to combat the effects of climate change, learn how to get better at innovating and spread the knowledge at the same time.

Learning in action: Plan – act – reflect – learn – repeat

It was only a matter of time before I would apply my action learning mindset from my research fellow life to my life as a powerlifter. Powerlifting is a form of competitive weightlifting in which athletes attempt three types of lift in a set sequence, squat, bench press and deadlift.

Action Learning Cycle
The Action Learning Cycle

Action Learning in Management Development and Research

Action learning is an approach to problem solving. It involves taking action and reflecting upon the results and then learn from what happened. The new learning then can be used for new action planning, taking action and so on. Action learning is becoming increasingly popular in management development and is applied in both the private and the public sector. Here managers address real-life problems and usually work with a group of co-workers, to plan and then take action and after reflection, learn from what happened. It is an approach to find resolutions to messy issues or wicked problems where issues are complex and dependent on so many factors that it is hard to grasp what exactly the problem is, or how to tackle it. I am applying action learning in both my academic and my managerial work life.

Action Learning in Athletic Sport

Now I apply the planning – acting – reflecting – learning approach to my powerlifting training and competition also. But let me explain.

I use a training journal and write down what I am planning to lift at my next training session (planning action). Then I carry out the lifts (taking action). I usually video the lifts on my phone to check if the technique is  good, if the speed of the lift is adequate and if my form is OK. I reflect on how the lift felt. Did it feel heavy or light? Was I struggling or am I ready for loading on more weight. What went right what went wrong?

Then I learn by asking “Why”. Why did the lift feel good? Why did the lift feel heavy? For example, what time of the day did I train? How was my nutrition on the previous day? Did I have a good night’s sleep? I write down my observations so that I can compare them to past and future training sessions.

So, one might ask why applying action learning to something as simple as powerlifting, where the athlete just picks up a weight of the ground? Well, as all powerlifting athletes can confirm, lifting may look simple, but in order to set and break records the applied technique is very complex and the preparation quite intense. Also, the human body is one of the most complex systems in the world. We still don’t know enough about the mind-body connection in sport and why we perform well on some days and not so well on other days. So far, I haven’t found any scientific article that explains the complex workings of the human body when carrying out athletic sports. I would be happy to learn more about it from existing knowledge. But in the meantime I will continue to learn from action!

Learning to innovate and addressing the water crisis

Water scarcity affects every continent and was listed in 2019 by the World Economic Forum as one of the largest global risks in terms of potential impact over the next decade.

Since February 2019 I am working in an EU funded project, addressing water supply, where engineering, environmental, geography and management researchers from many countries work together with a network of industry and water authorities. The engineers, geographers and environmental scientists develop and progress the field trials of new technology. As a management and action researcher, I am helping to bring the right people together, to disseminate the new technology and help to ensure adoption becomes reality. I support the learning in action by the network through questioning, critical reflection, understanding the motivations and overcoming the barriers facing water authorities, users and industry.

An example is the launch event in Blackstairs, Co Wexford, Ireland, in May 2019.

Over the last year, researchers in Trinity College Dublin had developed a low-cost hydro-power turbine, reducing energy consumption from water treatment and distribution works by 20-25%.  (Read more at https://www.tcd.ie/news_events/)

A prototype of this turbine was installed in the Blackstairs Group Water Scheme site, Co. Wexford, Ireland. The opening event was primarily designed to officially launch and demonstrate the installation to national water treatment site managers and industry representatives and government officials, so they could see the benefits.

Beside the celebrations, this was a learning opportunity also for all of us, for practitioners and researchers alike. Not only did we learn about new hydro-power technology, we learned to innovate also.

Innovation has many different definitions. In the context of this innovation project, the one I think fits best is developing solutions to existing problems.

Learning to innovate means acquiring the capabilities to find solutions to existing problems, in this case finding, solutions to address the problem of the high energy costs for water treatment.

So, what exactly did we learn during the event?

Setting the Scene

First of all the organisers of the event learned how best to create an environment that facilitates learning to innovate, to put in place the logistics such as the support staff transport, catering, the timing of events, so that the learners could just focus on the learning and did not have to worry about anything else.

Facilitate Discussions and Questioning

About 40 water industry representatives and 10 researchers attended the event. We had to ensure that all were comfortable to ask plenty of questions, both formally and informally.
After the initial welcome, presentations where held by both researchers and site managers, facilitating initial questions.

Then the visit to the turbine demonstration site visit followed. After the official unveiling of the plaque, the attendees formed smaller groups, so they could discuss the installation, ask the researchers about the installation and how it worked, and assess how the technology could work on their site.

Back at the event location, a formal question and answer session took place. Initially a facilitator asked panel members a number of general questions, where all could listen and then participate in the conversation. We agreed to have a follow on session in one of the other water treatment sites. During the lunch afterwards more questions arose.
Throughout the event we emphasised that both researchers and practitioners are learners and teachers.

Learning about Barriers and Enablers to Innovation

Deriving from all the questions asked the participants learned about the barriers and enablers to innovate. The barriers were for example the volume of data required to assess the feasibility to install the turbine, and the variation in the local environments. However, there were many enablers also, for example the belief among all that this was the right thing to do and the availability of research funding.

Overall, site managers, water industry representative and other practitioners learned about energy recovery possibilities in their own operation facilities. The researchers learned how to diffuse their new inventions.

Above all, however, both practitioners and researcher learned what it takes to innovate,  and promote continuous innovation, an essential capability for addressing sustainability issues and global water scarcity in the 21st century.

Micropower installation in Blackstairs
The Hydropower Installation in Blackstairs, Co. Wexford, Ireland