Cross-domain coordination

Dr Shaun Smith is a postdoctoral researcher at the Transforming Cities hub. He investigates the cross-domain coordination across infrastructure 'domains', such as electricity and water. He has extensive research experience in African countries of research on access to services in urban areas. Discover more about this topic and Shaun's work on this page.

What is Cross-domain coordination?

Understanding the relationship between infrastructure domains such as water, energy, and wastewater is crucially important for sustainable development. Traditionally, such infrastructures, and the resources provided by them, have been managed separately: that is, by distinct ’siloed’ policies and distinct actors. This has often resulted in conflicts or complex ‘trade-offs’ between different domains which have acted as barriers to broader urban sustainability transitions. Therefore, to tackle complex environmental problems while maintaining reliable supply of services, new approaches are needed that transcend individual silos.. The first step to greater coordination is first understanding how infrastructures interact and complex interdependencies between them.

Los Angeles river
Los Angeles river drought. Credit: iStock/LeoPatrizi

Los Angeles & Maputo

One of Shaun's personal research projects examines cross-domain infrastructure governance in Los Angeles and Maputo. Both cities have faced recurrent droughts in recent years. This has forced governance actors and infrastructure providers to pursue new strategies for water delivery, including local wastewater recycling. Wastewater recycling itself is increasingly being repurposed as an energy source or energy sink. At the same time, cities are also wrestling with the technical challenges of renewable energy supply, which requires increased storage, often in the form of water. In this context, this research explores the shifting relationality (or ‘nexus’) between the water, wastewater, and energy infrastructure domains in the two cities, particular in terms of governance systems. The research aims to understand how a more context-specific and politically sensitive view of cross-domain collaboration can inform urban sustainability transitions.

I look at sustainability in terms of more inclusive and ecologically sensitive forms of infrastructure delivery.

South African woman loading greens in a wheelbarrow, crop fields in the background

South Africa

“Nexusing water, energy and food to increase resilience in the Cape Town metropolitan region” is a further  research project coordinated by Shaun. The project is part of the Merian Fund which encourages cooperation between Dutch and South Africa academic institutions and is funded by the NWO (Netherlands) and NRF (South Africa). The project aims to explore ways to improve the capacity of Cape Town’s urban residents and authorities to prepare for, cope with, and learn from resource crises in the city through more integrated infrastructure planning. A guiding question is how can water, energy and food governance systems be better coordinated to increase urban sustainability.

Interested in more of Shaun's work? Click this drop-down bar for a list of his publications.