Summer School 2023: Healthy and resilient catchments – from science to action

Global Water Partnership Central and Eastern Europe, as a partner of the EU Horizon 2020 OPTAIN project, organized its 2023 Summer School for 21 selected Msc, PhD students and graduates working in water management, representing Belgium, Sri Lanka, Norway, Iran, the Philippines, Slovenia, Lithuania, Bolivia, Germany, France, Turkey, Ghana, Brazil, Kosovo, Slovakia, Finland and Hungary.

The Summer School was held from 2nd to 8th July 2023 at Prague in the Czech Republic and aimed to expand practical knowledge, skills, and competencies to support better implementation of natural, small, and underutilized water and nutrient retention measures.

Day by day program

The program comprised 18 lectures and 8 dedicated group work sessions. In addition to 22 hours of lectures and 12 hours of group work, participants experienced real-life Stakeholder Assembly and a full day field visit of the OPTAIN pilot study area Čechtický stream.

On the arrival day participants were introduced to project OPTAIN and its innovative methods by the project lead partner Martin Volk and Felix Witting (UFZ, Germany).

The second day was dedicated to the participants introduction and experiential learning leading to setting the working environment, and to the topics Policy Framework, Stakeholder Engagement and NSWRM (Natural Small Water Retention Measures). The participants were divided into smaller groups each tasked with a unique problem to solve. The participants were guided in a process of gaining new skills. All required knowledge and tools were applied during group work sessions. They developed various scenarios and solutions, with the lectures complementing one another.

During the field visit led by Research Institute for Soil and Water Conservation (Tonda Zajicek, and Veronika Sitkova) and Tatenda Lemann (University of Bern, Centre for Development and Environment) the students visited interesting sites with applied NWSRM.  Various practical aspects of NSWRM application were discussed with the lecturers and stakeholders directly in the field. Students had a unique opportunity to get insights about farmers about their challenges, their everyday work, and the NWSRM benefits.  The students learned about the catchment monitoring (stream runoff, weather, drainage, groundwater, water quality sampling), NSWRMs and soil conservation measures that are practically applied.

In the next few days, the students continued working with all acquired knowledge and data, scripts and models for measures allocation needed for preparation of the group ́s unique solution. This work was guided by Mikolaj Piniewski (SGGW, Poland), Brigitta Szabo, Piroska Kassai (ATK, Hungary) and Michael Strauch (UFZ, Germany). GWPO’s Senior Learning Specialist - Gergana Majercakova (GWPO, Sweden) engaged students in a session on innovative knowledge management approaches, specifically in IWRM.  She presented the IWRM Action Hub, and the participants had the opportunity to dive deep into concepts and practical examples of different Communities of Practice, discussing the value of peer-to-peer learning and knowledge exchange.

Under the direction of Csilla Farkas (NIBIO, Norway) and Maria Eliza Turek (Agroscope, Switzerland), participants delved into climate and land use scenarios modeling applying different measures at a plot scale. They learnt the process of SWAP model set-up and calibration, data needs.  Furthermore, they learnt about the modeling at watershed scale, and under the guidance of Michael Strauch (UFZ, Germany) they explored the unique OPTAIN approach for NSWRM allocation optimization. With Natacha Amorsi and Philippe Lanceleur (OiEau, France) they exchange their knowledge about interactive learning environment.

Stakeholder assembly

After the successful finalization of the curriculum the students worked on their final presentations, summarizing the tasks they had completed on their individual case studies during the week. Their presentation was the answer to local water governance challenges. The solutions were built on the information they had acquired and the resources they had created or given access to. Students share their solutions with stakeholders in a Stakeholder Assembly. Stakeholders were able to ask questions and give feedback to the presented solutions. Students were able to discover their potential and focus their efforts in their future plans as aspirant water professionals thanks to this final test of their professional prowess. The Summer School ended on a high note with a plan to a follow-up cooperation and commitment to support each other in their professional growth.

About GWP CEE Summer School

GWP CEE Summer School is a flagship youth initiative of Global Water Partnership Central and Eastern Europe. Each year, the Summer School brings together a cohort of aspiring young water and climate specialists to enhance their education and practical experience. The Summer School is based on a combination of theory and practice presented by a plethora of speakers from relevant backgrounds. Making use of the problem-based, competence-oriented, experiential, and transformative learning, group work, intercultural team interaction, and interaction with stakeholders, the students experience a unique journey of learning and practicing the learnt. They are empowered to tackle sustainability challenges of our lifetime by using cutting-edge knowledge in developing their careers.

This year summer school was organized together with the OPTAIN project partners and supported also from EU Strategy for the Danube Region, Priority Area 4 (Water Quality).