Improving Communication with the Public on Water Industry Policy Issues

This report was produced for the Urban Water Research Association of Australia, a now discontinued research program.

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Improving Communication with the Public on Water Industry Policy Issues

Report no. UWRAA 6

November 1989


This project had the main aim of establishing future directions for education and public involvement programs for domestic water consumers in major Australian cities. It was conducted in Sydney, Perth and Canberra as these cities have contrasting water supply histories and problems. It was believed that this would allow sufficient generality of findings for application to other Australian cities.

The first stage of the study involved the measurement of public attitudes to and perceptions of a wide range of water management and planning topics as well as public involvement and communication issues through a questionnaire survey. The second stage attempted to relate actual participation behaviour to these attitudes and perceptions through the conduct of problem-solving workshops.

Although the attitudes and perceptions measured in the first stage were indicative of the individual situation in each city, the second stage showed a remarkable similarity between cities in actual attendances of the workshops and preferences for public involvement procedures, information, education and communication.

The study found that there are four distinct ways that people think about water which will be useful in the future planning of public education and persuasion campaigns.

The study also found that, given the facts of a water management situation, the public come to solutions not dissimilar to that of planners and are prepared to take some personal responsibility in the solution. However, an integral part of this public responsibility is the public assurance of accountability of the water agency and the genuine will on the part of the agency in seeking public opinion. For this reason it has been recommended that a Domestic Consumer Advisory Group or Regional Advisory Groups be established and that public involvement indecision making be regarded as a regular and integral part of the Communication, Education and Information program.

As a result of public preferences, the study also recommends a greater emphasis on personal, informed contact by the water agencies with the public and less emphasis on mass media presentations.

An effective workshop procedure has been identified, for the conduct of the workshops. Unlike previous findings in public involvement, this study achieved a representative sample of each city at the workshops rather than a higher socio-economic status group of attendees.

Specific suggestions for the implementation of the recommendations are made.

The report attempts to present the results of statistical analyses as simply as possible. The authors may be contacted for further details, should the reader require. Summaries have also been produced at various points throughout the report as a further aid to the reader.

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