UNU Workshop Covers Effective Communication of Water Governance Issues

  • 2013•09•11     Stockholm

    Fundamental and rapid global changes (including climate change and biodiversity losses) are upsetting the planet, to the extent that we can no longer rely on current water management methods. “Baby step” improvements will not suffice: what is required is a major leap forward.

    During World Water Week 2013 in Stockholm, the UNU Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH) joined with the Stockholm International Water Institute and Conservation International (CI) to organize a 7-hour workshop on “Linking Science, Practice and Policy under Increasing Complexity and Uncertainty”. This 4 September workshop, co-chaired by Jennifer Durley (UNU-INWEH) and Lina Barrera (CI), brought together scientists, policymakers and practitioners to consider effective knowledge management and cooperation under changing freshwater futures.

    Workshop participants discussed the difficulty of communicating innovations and improvements in water governance in the face of high levels of complexity and uncertainty. Session presentations spanned examples from high-level international interactions to more bottom-up, local grassroots approaches.

    Among the key messages derived from the workshop:

    • Research is best communicated through means that “appeal to the heart”: a narrative that puts a human face to the research and allows the public to directly absorb key messages. This increases the likelihood that local and global media will further disseminate the findings, ultimately bringing them to the attention of all policy- and decision-makers.
    • Given the complex, multi-disciplinary nature of water problems, communication must extend across three levels of the science–policy–practice spectrum: between individual scientists, who are often unaware of colleagues elsewhere doing similar work; within organizations, where departments often work within closed silos; and among individuals and organizations in the wider external social and political context.
    • Scientists need to recognize that people are looking not only for facts or arguments, but for understanding to affect change. This requires being creative with communication efforts — going beyond the traditional workshops and brochures as a methods of dissemination to include innovative means (the fine arts, online games, social media, etc.) that appeal more directly to the public, and the politicians who represent them.
    • Today’s complexity of water problems requires a more robust model than the one-way scientist-to-“user” template. All stakeholders, including scientists and researchers, the public, civic leaders and politicians must learn together and from one another.

    For more information about the workshop, see the World Water Week Workshop Summary on the UNU-INWEH website.