Many of our current societal problems are complex because they are interconnected and interdependent. These problems are dynamic, non-linear and are often interconnected with other problems including food, energy, water, health, and environment. Decisions related to these problems – involving variables, processes, actors, and institutions – are complex. When neither the certainty of scientific solution nor the consensus of what intervention to implement exists: What we need is Engineering Diplomacy.
For example, over the last several decades, we addressed our water problems with reservoirs and treatment facilities. At that time, desired goals and outcomes could all be quantified in neat objective functions. Today, however, we are tasked with satisfying both quantitative and qualitative objectives, such as value-laden water claims made by and on behalf of individuals, industries, and ecosystems, as well as ensuring a sustainable future. To satisfy these diverse objectives, we need to recognize the disconnect among values, interests, and tools, as well as problems, policies, and politics.
The talk showed how the rigor of scientific methods as the principle with the negotiated application of sustainability and equity is used as guiding values to design and implement pragmatic interventions. Using examples from emerging water problems, the talk described how to identify and implement societally relevant solutions given the context, constraints, and capacity of a given system.