UNSW Canberra

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  • (2023) Varsha Sivagurunathan, Varsha
    The urban water sector is confronted with a multitude of challenges. Rapid population growth, changing political landscapes, aging water infrastructures, and the worsening climate crisis are creating a range of uncertainties in the sector around managing water. Scenarios have been used extensively in the environmental domain to plan for and capture uncertainties to develop plausible futures, including the field of urban water management. Scenarios are key in enabling plans and creating roadmaps to attain desired futures. Despite the advantages and opportunities that scenarios offer for planning, they also have limitations; generally, and within the urban water space. Firstly, the growing uncertainty surrounding urban water management systems necessitates a focused review specifically aimed at the use of scenarios in urban water management. This thesis presents a systematic review to empirically investigate the crucial dimensions of urban water scenarios. Through this review, key knowledge gaps are highlighted, and recommendations are proposed to address these gaps. Secondly, scenarios often depict distressing, almost dystopian futures. Though negative future visions help understand the consequences of present trends and aid in anticipating imminent threats, the limited exploration of positive future visions can make it challenging to find the direction to transform. Optimistic scenarios delve into what people want for the future and capture how their aspirations shape them. Imagining positive visions encourage innovative thinking, creates agency, and creates pathways to desired futures. There is therefore a recognition to move towards more positive, desirable futures. This thesis uses a narrative, participatory scenario process, the SEEDS method, to develop positive visions of urban water futures. The Greater Sydney region in New South Wales, Australia is used as a case study to evaluate the applicability of this approach for urban water management. The urban water sector in the Greater Sydney region faces a multitude of challenges including impacts from climate change, managing diverse water supply sources, and meeting future water demand. These challenges create an increasingly uncertain future for the water sector, where the scale and nature of water services needed in the Greater Sydney region can be unclear. Hence, the Greater Sydney region is selected as the case study region to apply the SEEDS method and develop scenarios for urban water management to plan for future uncertainties. Thirdly, only a few scenario studies include surprises, the unexpected events, which make scenarios useful for planning. Challenges around capturing surprises in scenarios include a lack of structured approaches as well as a lack of evaluation of those methods that have been developed. This thesis discusses the effectiveness and suitability of various surprise methods for scenario development. These methods have been applied in the context of the SEEDS method for urban water management. Finally, there is a lack of evaluation of the tools used to cope with surprises as well as a lack of evaluation efforts of urban water management scenario studies. The assessment of the SEEDS approach for urban water management as well as the different surprise methods for scenario development requires evaluation criteria. This thesis develops and presents an evaluation criteria list based on existing literature that captures key criteria required for adequate assessment of the surprise methods and the scenario process. This thesis contributes to the fields of scenario development and urban water management, and the use of surprises within scenarios. Critical gaps in existing urban water management scenario practices are highlighted and key recommendations are proposed to fill the gaps. Through the pilot study and full-scale implementation of a positive-visioning, narrative-based scenario approach - the SEEDS method, the thesis demonstrates that the SEEDS method is applicable for urban water planning and shows potential for use at different stages of water planning. The positive visions generated through the SEEDS method highlight fundamental aspirations for the urban water sector, possible challenges, and conflicts, and discuss pathways to achieve positive future visions. By using in-situ experimentation and engaging participants with expertise in the relevant field, this thesis provides a realistic evaluation of the scenario process and surprise methods. This thesis thus fills the critical gap about the lack of evaluation in urban water management scenario processes by assessing the scenario method using selected evaluation criteria. Further, the thesis contributes towards the development of quality surprise methods through application and evaluation, thus addressing the gap about the lack of evaluation of the methods used to explore surprise events. Finally, the lack of surprises in scenarios is addressed by presenting different methods that can be used to explore surprise events. Guidance is provided to researchers working with scenario development to understand the different surprise methods available and for choosing the appropriate method(s) to plan for uncertain futures.