Published 2022-05-05

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Changes to the climate and to financing – challenges to our infrastructure

Challenges to infrastructure brought about by climate change and good financing for maintenance – during Mistra InfraMaint’s matchmaking event, researchers and stakeholders discussed project ideas and explored opportunities for collaboration. The event was one element of the research programme’s preparations for an application for a second phase.

At the end of April, Mistra InfraMaint’s programme management and IQ Samhällsbyggnad, one of the research programme’s partners, organised a matchmaking event to which researchers and stakeholders were invited to discuss around thirty project ideas for the programme’s continued work. The participants included partners who were involved in the first phase of the programme, as well as potential new partners.

Magnus Arnell, Deputy Programme Director for Mistra InfraMaint.

“We believe that it is important to bring everyone together, researchers and stakeholders, to discuss our research questions and the needs and challenges faced by these organisations. Another important aspect has been getting together again, building up some team spirit. Our programme may appear to be extremely diverse, as we include water and drainage, roads and railways – industries that don’t usually have much to do with each other – but we cut across these areas using maintenance as the unifying factor,” says Magnus Arnell, Deputy Programme Director for Mistra InfraMaint.

During the event, researchers could pitch their project ideas, which had been developed as part of the programme, and then these were discussed in small groups using three questions: Do the ideas cover existing needs for research? What potential for collaboration can you see? What support is necessary to make the project a success?

Blue sky research with an eye on needs

One of the stakeholders at the meeting was Lena Blom, Strategic Coordinator at the Department of Sustainable Waste and Water, City of Gothenburg. The organisation has been involved with Mistra InfraMaint since it started, particularly because they employ a doctoral student, Anna Ohlin Saletti, who is researching excess drainage water as part of the programme. Finding intelligent, cost-effective solutions for water and drainage is a priority for Gothenburg, as huge volumes of water arrive at the treatment plants and climate change is expected to lead to increased rainfall.

Lena Blom, Strategic Coordinator at the Department of Sustainable Waste and Water, City of Gothenburg.

“The exciting thing about Mistra InfraMaint is that it doesn’t just focus on water and drainage, but also on other infrastructure that we can understand and learn from. We have good experiences from work using a thorough knowledge base that allows us to make good decisions. I was at the meeting because we want to further this wok and our participation. Water is not our only challenge, and we want to monitor the other issues the programme works with, to benefit from new knowledge,” says Blom.

She found the event enjoyable, with a good format where the same issues were discussed with different people, like speed dating. She also had feedback for the programme management; partly the importance of knowledge from the first phase of the programme being utilised and developed, partly opening up to entirely new ideas that were not discussed during the matchmaking event, and allowing the stakeholders even more participation in the processes. She also emphasises the importance of the programme having a coherent structure and links, such as through synthesis projects, so it is not run as small islands.

“There are many exciting things happening, and I hope the interesting reflections will be covered in the programme’s continued work. One area that interests me is how to deal with innovation in settings such as an administrative unit or municipal company. We face the same challenges as many other cities, and it is important for research to be both curiosity-driven while also being anchored in our need for knowledge.”

The changing climate and its effects on infrastructure

Mistra InfraMaint’s programme management has also visited several of the programme’s stakeholders to capture their needs and ideas. Lena Blom hopes that even more stakeholders will become involved and their opinions and feedback will be integrated. She also hopes that the window for influence does not close too quickly, but that there will be opportunities to review more finished material about the planned projects in the form of a rapid consultation paper.

One area that is ready for reinforcement if the programme is granted a second phase of another five years of research, is the effects of climate change, according to Magnus Arnell. Several project ideas are being discussed. In water and drainage, they include work on the needs for renewal and intelligent maintenance. For roads, it is about reducing the negative impact of hard surfaces such as roads and car parks, and thus reducing the risk of flooding. Another theme that Mistra InfraMaint wants to boost is the economics and organisation theme, where several ideas that were presented during the matchmaking event addressed the importance of sound finances.

“There are regulatory changes underway here, which we hope will contribute to adequate financing for maintenance,” says Arnell. “Many municipalities highlight work when there is a crisis, such as Gävle, which was affected by extremely heavy and sudden rain last summer, resulting in major flooding. But we cannot sit and wait for it to happen, we need to transfer knowledge and experience between municipalities and other bodies.”

The project ideas will now be updated based on the discussions at the meeting, after which the programme will make a selection. The application for the next phase will be submitted in December.