Global Water Citizenship

Integrating Networked Citizens, Scientists and Local Decision Makers

PI: Colin Robertson, Wilfrid Laurier University
Co-I's: Rob Feick, University of Waterloo; Steven Roberts, Wilfrid Laurier University; Michael English, Wilfrid Laurier University
Changes in locally available water quality and quantity have direct impacts on the health and livelihoods of populations throughout Canada and internationally. As warming-induced environmental changes in northern regions transform ecosystems through permafrost thaw, changes in snow cover, vegetation communities, and related ecohydrological processes, the water resources that communities rely on are undergoing transformative shifts. In sparsely populated, climate-sensitive regions like northwestern Canada, there is an urgent need for holistic data-centric approaches that couple knowledge produced by scientific modelling, community-based monitoring, and citizen observations. Building the technical and social infrastructure to support Scientist to Citizen (S2C) and Citizen to Scientist (C2S) information exchange not only fosters involvement of the general public in fundamental scientific research, but also provides a forum for awareness of the threats posed by climate change to northern freshwater ecosystems. These information flows have enormous potential to not only improve scientific understanding of changing freshwater ecosystems, but also to actively engage citizens and decision-makers in evidence-based water resource planning and management.
Global Water Futures (GWF) provides a generational opportunity to create innovative risk management solutions for communities. We propose a project that aims to build the discipline of transformative water science by developing and testing big data analytic tools that support citizens and scientists in two-way knowledge exchanges. It is necessary to build the socio-technical capacities that harness S2C and C2S information flows, bridge knowledge gaps, and achieve long-range integration of GWF research into local decision-making. In years 1-3 of the project we will focus our work in the Northwest Territories, with planned expansion nationally and internationally in years 4-7. The impacts of climate change are most pressing in cold regions of the world, and the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) has identified climate change, innovative and emerging technologies, and an enhanced role for NWT residents as the three core cross-cutting themes in its GNWT Knowledge Agenda: Northern Research for Northern Priorities report (GNWT 2017), highlighting that “Efforts must be made to create clear data collection, management and sharing protocols for the NWT. The GNWT must ensure it has the capacity to maintain these protocols. This will allow for the standardization of the collection, storage and dissemination of observational data.”
Responding to these challenges, the proposed Global Water Citizenship (GWC) project will build on existing citizen networks and will design, test, and build data quality assessment and decision-support tools directly into the GWF platform. The overarching objective of GWC is to develop new approaches for integrating citizen data into environmental change research. Hydrological modelling has historically been poorly engaged with citizens (Buytaert et al. 2014). Big data, mobile apps, and low-cost sensors now afford new opportunities to engage citizens through transdisciplinary approaches. The outcomes of GWC will provide the human and technical capacities that will support the wider adoption of citizen-water science in GWF over the seven-year time frame by fostering deep and broad citizen engagement, developing innovative risk management solutions, while making contributions to the fields of environmental citizen science and geographic information science.