Promoting Social Change (C8)

Changing the behaviour of water users and water managers towards more sustainable practices is a necessary step in achieving water security. However, this requires changes of deeply held attitudes in individuals, institutions, professionals, and social organisations to encourage a more water-oriented society. By definition, social change instruments are not neutral: the positive aims that one person might pursue with their behavioural change could be considered destructive by others. Therefore, it is important to be clear on the goal (what to change) and on the method (how to change).

The key to encouraging an IWRM-oriented civil society lies in the creation of shared visions, through joint diagnosis, joint creation of options, joint implementation, and joint monitoring. This requires broad stakeholder participation in water planning and operating decisions. Consequently, participatory approaches in IWRM can already be powerful instruments for social change. Participatory experiences offer people the chance to claim rights, but they also need to choose and meet the corresponding responsibilities. At all levels – national, regional and local – it is often the most deprived social groups which are excluded from regular participatory processes and where special efforts are needed to involve them. Participation needs to be supported by people with well-informed attitudes who can respond to the need for changing patterns of water management. Hence education, training, and awareness raising are important tools for social change.

However, it should be remembered that participation is costly in terms of time and money, and may postpone important investments. Participation does not solve conflicts of interest, although it can clarify the real issues and open the door for conflict resolution (C5.02; C5.03). Most importantly, participation can marginalise the poor or vulnerable still further if the mechanisms or fora are captured by the wealthy or more articulate, or a narrow advocacy group.

One of the biggest facilitators of social change is education (C8.01). By learning about water resources and the impacts of human behaviour on those resources, people can be inspired to change their behaviour towards more sustainable practices. In a school setting children and youth have to be present and they ideally explore the education material with their teachers, peers, and even family, which can result in wide-reaching and long term positive impacts on local and global water issues. Outside of schools, there are many other structured or semi-structured avenues for education about water.

Measures to Raise Public Awareness (C8.02) are ideal for general public education, providing people with better knowledge about water use and water management. They can be an important part of developing support in a community for projects or changes in water management practices.

One way of framing water use in a manner that is accessible to many people is the concept of the Water Footprint (C8.03) of a product, country, or company. Showing the amount of water that the production and transport of certain goods require, or the amount of water that an entity uses per fixed timespan, allows people to compare the water demand of different sectors or goods. Consequently, they can be more sustainable in their own consumption and/or put pressure on entities who are seen as wasteful or over-consuming.

One way to think about demand is the concept of Virtual Water (C8.04). It indicates how much water is used along the chain of production of goods and commodities and thereby helps to compare the impacts of water use across different sectors and to compare the water use of a product with the value added by it.