Late Friday, well into the evening, we finally wrapped all our water and sanitation MOOC filming. This brought to a close a production effort that has spanned three years, since we began recording for our Part 1 MOOC back in 2013.

I completed my part of our filming a month ago when I interviewed former Ofwat Chief Executive, Regina Finn. Now it was time for Dale to record his final material. He did so in style, by interviewing renowned international regulatory innovator, Professor Stephen Littlechild:

Photo: Professor Stephen Littlechild interviewing for our water and sanitation MOOC by Professor Dale Whittington at the University of Manchester.
Photo: Professor Stephen Littlechild interviewing for our water and sanitation MOOC by Professor Dale Whittington at the University of Manchester.

This interview had taken quite some time to schedule. When Dale arrived from the States the night before, he’d partially lost his voice, but he was nevertheless determined to seize this rare and long sought after opportunity.

Stephen and Dale had an interesting link. They were both supervised by late mathematical genius and – among other distinctions – co-developer of data envelopment analysis (DEA) Abraham Charnes.  Stephen and Dale discussed their memories of Abe Charnes in the interview, and the influence his approach to tackling real-world problems had had on their later careers.

Some of the other subjects Dale and Stephen discussed in detail were:

  • Prof. Littlechild’s role in the invention of RPI-X price cap economic regulation of utilities;
  • Non-price related tools and instruments for regulation, beyond RPI-X;
  • Tariff rebalancing and tariff design issues;
  • The possibilities for ‘light touch’ economic regulation of utilities in the UK and elsewhere in the world;
  • The evolution of utility regulation models, approaches and institutions since the 1980s;
  • Issues around the ‘cult of the individual’ in UK regulators and private utility firms;
  • Consumer forums and customer engagement for better utility business planning;
  • Differences and similarities between regulation of public sector utilities in Scotland and of privatized utilities in England and Wales in the UK;
  • Possibilities and problems around applying RPI-X to developing country contexts;
  • Issues around re-nationalizations of certain privatized utilities around the world;
  • The feasibility of alternative models for water and sanitation service delivery in the face of sustainability and climate change pressures; and
  • Prof. Littlechild’s advice to MOOC learners interested in getting into the field of utility regulation.

Filming took over two hours and it was truly fascinating to watch two deep intellectual thinkers delve into challenging issues around regulation of essential utilities.

Prof. Littlechild also shared many personal recollections and behind-the-scenes details about his regulatory involvements over the years. Many of these I’d never heard or seen in print before – in spite of my having read much of the epic 1,300-page, two volume set of ‘official history’ books by David Parker on the UK privatizations.

I think the final edited interview will not only have value for our MOOC learners but also constitutes invaluable oral history. I can’t wait for people to be able to watch the interview, and I’ll look into whether I can make parts or all of it available here on Waterstink at some point in the near future.

Overall it’s been a tremendous effort to reach finally this stage. And I couldn’t think of a better way to cap off several years of work on these MOOCs! Now comes the intensive final work of getting everything ready to launch later this year. Watch for news here, as I’ll put up the exact launch date as soon as it’s confirmed…

Duncan Thomas

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