Workshop on Water-Energy-Food Nexus, Governance & Knowledge Sharing

In September 2022, the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS) hosted a high-level delegation from the Gulf states. Closer Cities organised a workshop on the Water-Energy-Food (WEF) nexus and knowledge sharing. The intention of the workshop was to learn from the best practices in the Netherlands and how these can be adapted to the specific contexts in the Gulf region. The Embassy of the Netherlands in UAE (together with RVO) organised a trade mission from the Gulf Region to the Netherlands on the topic of Resilient and Sustainable Cities.

As part of the Closer Cities project, the WEF-nexus workshop was co-organised by Peter Scholten, Jan Fransen, Negar Noori and Robbert Nesselaar. Inspired by the Closer Cities conference held in May this year, the workshop consisted of presentations combining practical examples with academic conceptualisations and concentrated on a world café in which the delegation members went into lively discussions concerning the boosts and barriers of knowledge sharing, the adaptation of WEF knowledge and experiences to the local context and the role of various stakeholders in these processes. From the three rounds of discussion, it became clear that trust between all actors is a pivotal element in urban knowledge exchange, as well as a good understanding of the local context and the interaction between urban science and practice.

Topics & Presenters of the day

  • Water Management in the Netherlands (Anne-Marie Hitipeuw- Gribnau, Team coordinator knowledge, and innovation, Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management)
  • Closer Cities Project (Robbert Nesselaar, Director  of City Marketing Arnhem Foundation)
  • Governance & complexity in the harbor of Rotterdam (Jan Fransen)
  • Knowledge sharing: insights from literature and practice (Peter Scholten)
  • Policy transplantation network (Negar Noori)
  • Interactive round table discussions on WEF-nexus & knowledge sharing in the Gulf region, challenges and opportunities & identifying ways forward


  • Emirates Green Building Council
  • Aldar
  • Centre of Excellence in Smart Construction (CESC)
  • WSP
  • Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure
  • Muscat Municipality
  • Ministry of Housing
  • Abu Dhabi Municipality
  • Muscat Electricity Distribution Company
  • Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences
  • Roshn
  • Buro Happold

Part One: Presentations

Jan Fransen: 

Over the past decades, Rotterdam has developed multiple policies and practices to make the WEF-nexus more sustainable. In these transition processes, not only technologies but also social and economic behavior has to change.

This results in participatory multi-actor governance processes. For instance, communities are engaged in developing water parks or designing and maintaining green areas. Such practices may be relevant elsewhere but are deeply context-specific. A debate emerged comparing participatory and multi-actor governance in the Netherlands and the gulf region.

Robbert Nesselaar: 

The Closer Cities urban research initiative (2021-2030) has a focus on urban knowledge exchange optimisation. Cities do collaborate in many ways, civil servants and other urban professionals learn and exchange urban insights.

But can we improve these processes? If we manage to detect and understand barriers and boosts for urban knowledge transfer, we could actually stimulate better use of effective solutions. One condition: understand the local context and possibilities of fine tuning for the local context. Closer Cities is driven by curiosity and the drive to have a positive impact. Improved use of urban knowledge should contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals. The Closer Cities project is aligned with the motivation of the Netherlands: solving global challenges together.

Peter Scholten: 

From an extensive literature review we found out that the processes of sharing knowledge can be characterized as through three main archetypes; transfer, exchange and co-creation.

Combining these insights with those from practitioners we find that in the sharing of knowledge or the transplanting of policies or ideas, the most important conditions are the inclusion of all relevant stakeholders, attention for and reflection on the processes, ongoing training and capacity building, and the building and maintaining of good and trustworthy relations between partners.

Negar Noori: 

In my presentation, I introduced the essence of my PhD research project, which is a framework for transplanting Smart City Policy.

The framework aims to understand the mechanism of ‘transplanting’ policy from good practice in one context to a Smart City initiative (as a recipient) in another. The policy transplantation framework offers a practical tool to guide policymakers in how to use insights from good practices when formulating and implementing policies for developing smart solutions. The framework stresses readiness assessment before adopting a policy and being aware of the contextual considerations to form the transferred policy in a proper to adopt in the recipient context.

Part Two: Round table discussions

The workshop’s table discussions indicate that knowledge sharing processes in the Gulf states are somewhat externalised. The process of forming an understanding of the underlying issues of a problem, finding the knowledge to solve it, and then providing options to deal with the problem is regularly given into the hands of external consulting entities from the private sector. The way of working is to try and find a quick fix to certain issues and hire an external party to fix them. There are indications of pros and cons to that strategy, that could be derived from the conversations during the workshop.

The positive side of this strategy is that such entities can form a bridge between governmental organisations that are characterized as working separately from each other and are bound by law to keep information exchange to a minimum, which results in a siloed way of working. Consulting parties can retrieve information from various governmental bodies and connect them. However, the negative effect is that this (integrated) knowledge rests with private parties as knowledge owners which are protective of their insights. As confidentiality is an important character of the overall working culture, it is important to provide a transparent environment in which it is clear what is confidential and what is not.

Another issue with the quick fix strategy is the externalisation of problem identification, resulting in a lack of developing a shared understanding of what the problem is. This will also hamper the alignment of all stakeholders and a subsequent embracing of the solution strategy.

Barriers and boosts of knowledge sharing

Using online platforms, workshops, field trips, network activities, and benchmarking were highlighted as the main tools in use for learning from practices. A barrier to making the most of the knowledge pool mentioned by the participants is the lack of a knowledge management department and a comprehensive knowledge sharing framework and/or platform for leveraging knowledge sharing. The legality underlying the process and commitments can always be considered a barrier to knowledge transfer. The importance of documentation for managing acquired knowledge to transform tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge was addressed. Involving knowledge institutes and academia was highlighted as a crucial element to overcome the barriers and more fundamentally change the mindset in knowledge sharing.

Decision-making processes are characterized by top-down, hierarchical steering. Stakeholder management is considered a difficult task but understood as important to create awareness and support for bringing in or developing new ideas and solutions. Storytelling, as an important part of the local culture, is considered a potential vehicle to engage stakeholders and translate and contextualize knowledge that is being shared.

Trust is a main condition for sharing knowledge and long-term relationships are key to building trust between partners. Especially in new relations, it is important to safeguard an initial level of trust through the use of agreements, MoU’s etc.

These elements all can contribute to what is considered essential; a motivation to share knowledge and learn from each other.