Why water sustainability needs more creative thinking

Posted 6 March 2017

Ozwater'17 articles
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the water industry should consider using art to better articulate community input on water sustainability projects, said industry experts.
Innovation artworkTo design resilient and affordable water systems that promote urban liveability into the future, community stakeholders must be engaged in the planning process, said Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF) Research Director Joanne Chong.

“Our approach to community engagement was about inviting them to share their vision for what Sydney would look like in 50 years, and the place of water in that vision,” said Chong, who will be discussing her work at the upcoming Ozwater’17 conference.
“At the end of the day, the community voice is crucial. Ultimately, it’s the customer and community who will be experiencing – and paying for – water services.”
The NSW Metropolitan Water Directorate engaged Chong and her colleagues to undertake a unique approach that applied appreciative inquiry, creative future methods and art for engaging the community in urban water planning. 

Artist Aleta Lederwasch was commissioned to create visual outputs of the community workshops, which could then be shared at an industry workshop with other stakeholders. The result was three works encapsulating community concerns and desires for water sustainability in their area. 

“On top of being a fun, creative and interactive process, it shows participants that their input was being valued and heard,” she said.

“I feel that at many workshops, participants are often left wondering whether their voice and written contributions will have an effect on decisions. People who attended these workshops seemed to appreciate that the utility was doing something different to ensure that their input would be heard and shared. The artworks are tangible outputs that showcased their ideas for water sustainability across Sydney.”

Another benefit of this approach is that images can communicate ideas and concepts in a way words can’t, said Lederwasch.

“In today’s time-poor world, images are powerful and effective because they articulate a concept in seconds,” she said.

“Visual stimuli can also encourage people to use a different part of their brain when approaching issues – one associated with empathy and foresight. Those are extremely important capacities to tap into when discussing water sustainability and community issues.”
There are also huge opportunities to develop public interest in water sustainability issues through appreciative inquiry approaches, which focus on discovering the positive within any social situation as a way to create change, Chong said.  

The upcoming Ozwater’17 conference in Sydney will feature a stream devoted to customer and community engagement. For more information, click here
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