The Grand Challengers Podcast Episode #8

Don’t forget the social – experiments in urban water and energy transitions

Guest: Megan A. Farrelly

April 11th, 2023


“… A big part of my work is always making sure that I’m industry-relevant… ensuring that what we are doing will turn around to have a benefit to industry, is critical…”

In the face of an unpredictable future, we are all called upon each and every day to think of out-of-the box ways to tackle challenges to our environment, wellbeing or how many bottles of wine to stockpile before the next major drought.

My guest today is Associate Professor Megan A. Farrelly, a human geographer and the Associate Dean of Graduate Research at the Faculty of Arts at Monash University, Australia. Megan has been undertaking research in the urban water governance space for over 15 years looking into how we can transition our cities towards new technological and sustainable practice.

Today’s show provides a gentle introduction into the world of qualitative research as we explore Megan’s transition into the social sciences and discuss institutional challenges in water and energy, in particular, the story of Water Sensitive Urban Design in Melbourne, Australia.


Megan A. Farrelly is an Associate Professor of Human Geography, specialising in environmental studies that seek to understand how spatial dimensions and institutional structures and processes influence pathways for delivering more sustainable urban and rural environments. She is also the current Associate Dean of Graduate Research at the Faculty of Arts, Monash University Australia. Megan’s expertise relates to unpacking how technical and governance innovations within urban water and energy sectors, can be ‘mainstreamed’ to deliver better climate outcomes.

Megan engages widely with State and Local Governments and research-based organisations, which, in the past, has included, among others: Yarra River Protection Ministerial Advisory Committee (2016); Clearwater (Melbourne Water) (2014); Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities (2014); and the Environmental Protection Authority, Victoria (2009).

Her recent work has involved exploring how we can better integrate distributed energy resources (i.e. solar photovoltaics and batter storage) into conventional grid infrastructure, as well as exploring contemporary challenges to adopting alternative stormwater technologies and practices. Megan has published her research in leading academic journals – Global Environmental ChangeEnvironmental Science and Policy and Journal of Cleaner Production, and regularly consults for and provides advice to Government agencies (e.g. Water Utilities, EPA and Department of Environment, Water, Land and Planning).

Resources Related to the Episode

(Disclosure: Links on this page to “View on Amazon” are Affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.)

  • Some fun figures of speech, I thought I’d include these because I found them quite amusing and Megan is very eloquent with her choice of words as she paints a very visual and quirky picture. Call me simplistic in my language use, but I enjoy collecting these fun figures of speech:
    • “bugbear” of technologists – any source, real or imaginary, of needless fright or fear
    • “to yarn” – (informal) to tell a long, rambling story, especially one that is implausible
    • “to dovetail” – to fit or cause to fit together easily or conveniently
    • “a broad church” – a group or doctrine which allows for or caters to a wide range of opinions and people
  • “The devil is in the details” – I love this quote [see Wikipedia for a more extensive explanation]
  • Qualitative Research: useful reference books on doing qualitative research if you’re interested in furthering your skills
    • Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches 4th Edition by John C. Creswell [View on Amazon]
    • The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research Sixth Edition by Denzin, Lincoln, Giardina and Cannella (eds.) [View on Amazon]
    • Grounded Theory: Extensive details provided in the references above, but for those who want a quick summary, view on Wikipedia
  • Western Australian (WA) Wine Regions:
  • The Millennium Drought, Australia:
    • Some background on the drought (officially 1996 to 2010):
    • The story of rainwater tank uptake during the drought:
      • Melbourne Water’s factsheet on the rebate
      • Some research: Gato-Trinidad, S. and Gan, K., 2014. Rainwater tank rebate scheme in Greater Melbourne, Australia. Journal of Water Supply: Research and Technology—AQUA63(8), pp.601-610. [Link]
    • The Wonthaggi Desalination Plant project [Melbourne Water] [Wikipedia]
  • Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) and its many other terms that it is known by including Low Impact Development (LID), Sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS), Nature-based solutions, sponge cities or Blue-Green Infrastructures
    • Useful papers on terminology:
      • Fletcher, T.D., Shuster, W., Hunt, W.F., Ashley, R., Butler, D., Arthur, S., Trowsdale, S., Barraud, S., Semadeni-Davies, A., Bertrand-Krajewski, J.L. and Mikkelsen, P.S., 2015. SUDS, LID, BMPs, WSUD and more–The evolution and application of terminology surrounding urban drainage. Urban water journal12(7), pp.525-542. [Link]
      • Ruangpan, L., Vojinovic, Z., Di Sabatino, S., Leo, L.S., Capobianco, V., Oen, A.M., McClain, M.E. and Lopez-Gunn, E., 2020. Nature-based solutions for hydro-meteorological risk reduction: a state-of-the-art review of the research area. Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences20(1), pp.243-270. [Link]
      • Matsler, A.M., Meerow, S., Mell, I.C. and Pavao-Zuckerman, M.A., 2021. A ‘green’chameleon: Exploring the many disciplinary definitions, goals, and forms of “green infrastructure”. Landscape and Urban Planning214, p.104145. [Link]
    • The Story of Stormwater and WSUD in Melbourne Australia: Brown, R.R. and Clarke, J.M., 2007. Transition to water sensitive urban design: The story of Melbourne, Australia  (Vol. 7). Melbourne: Facility for Advancing Water Biofiltration, Monash University. [Link]
    • WSUD for Flood Mitigation – the idea of rainwater harvesting – read the work of my former PhD student: Jamali, B., Bach, P.M. and Deletic, A., 2020. Rainwater harvesting for urban flood management–An integrated modelling framework. Water research171, p.115372. [Link]
  • Transitions Theory: Our talk about ‘Regimes’ and ‘Niches’ is a useful way of framing systems within the social sciences:
    • Geels, F.W. and Schot, J., 2007. Typology of sociotechnical transition pathways. Research policy36(3), pp.399-417. [Link]
  • The study Megan mentioned together with Josh Nielsen on the urban footprint and its layers:
    • Nielsen, J. and Farrelly, M.A., 2019. Conceptualising the built environment to inform sustainable urban transitions. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions33, pp.231-248. [Link]
  • David and Goliath [Wikipedia]
    • Also an interesting read: “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell [View on Amazon]
  • Megan’s experimentation paper, in which she did 150 semi-structured interviews over 11 different ‘experiments’:
    • Farrelly, M. and Brown, R., 2011. Rethinking urban water management: experimentation as a way forward?. Global Environmental Change21(2), pp.721-732 [Link]
    • More details on Lynbrook Estate and its use of nature-based solutions
      • Featured as an exampe in an Online Course on Water Sensitive Cities [YouTube]
      • Megan also published a case study report featuring Lynbrook: Farrelly, M. & Davis, C. (2009) Demonstration projects: Case studies from Melbourne, Australia. National Urban Water Govenrance Program. DOI:10.13140/2.1.1866.3049 [Link]
  • “The old academic in a white ivory tower” – the white ivory tower reference [Wikipedia]
  • Reference to Episode 3 – Martijn Kuller – view the shownotes and check out his episode for a related conversation on the power of maps for visualization and decision-making [Link to episode]
  • Megan’s Follow-up Paper on how the change came about:
    • Brown, R.R., Farrelly, M.A. and Loorbach, D.A., 2013. Actors working the institutions in sustainability transitions: The case of Melbourne’s stormwater management. Global Environmental Change23(4), pp.701-718. [Link]
  • The Water Sensitive Cities Movement in Australia
    • The Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Water Sensitive Cities program brought together research and industry across all disciplines. More info on their website
    • Useful Reference: Wong, T.H. and Brown, R.R., 2009. The water sensitive city: principles for practice. Water science and technology60(3), pp.673-682. [Link]
  • The Rules and Regulation to require nature-based solutions in Victoria, Australia can be found in the planning scheme [Link] – for those really interested, it’s Clause 56-07-4
  • Megan’s work in the energy sector:
    • What is an electricity microgrid?
    • Farrelly, M.A. and Tawfik, S., 2020. Engaging in disruption: A review of emerging microgrids in Victoria, Australia. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews117, p.109491. [Link]
  • “Water is life”, many quotes telegraphing this message, but one quote I like in particular is: “We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” — Jacques Yves Cousteau

Connect with Megan A. Farrelly