Citizen science with impact is done TOGETHER – according to this new manual

Since 2016, both within and outside of its Joint Research Programme with the water utilities, KWR has built up extensive experience in citizen science. The researchers are now sharing this experience in the form of a manual: Handboek Citizen Science voor de watersector (Citizen Science Manual for the Water Sector). The five preliminary steps for a successful citizen science project are Aspire, Assess, Mark, Clarify and Arrange, which in Dutch form the acronym ‘SAMEN’, which means ‘TOGETHER’. From a clear definition of the impact of the project at multiple levels (for science, for the participants, and on the own organisation), to the actual arrangement of all that is required to get the project under way: the necessary training for the participating citizens, to a manual and the logistical planning. This SAMEN approach provides a highly suitable road map, which clarifies all of the steps at a single glance. Read more about it in H2O.

That citizen science can constitute a valuable instrument for water utilities was once again demonstrated in a De Watergroep project in Flanders. The research was carried out among residents in the West-Flanders region of Waarmaarde, on the edge of the drinking water utility’s supply area. The residents were given questionnaires to determine their perception of tap water. In addition, using a citizen science approach, 152 of the residents were themselves able to measure the hardness of the tap water in their own kitchen. The Waarmaarde water production centre supplies water to about 13,000 households. The area was selected for the project because a new water softening plant was to be put into service over the course of the research, and would reduce the water’s degree of hardness from ‘hard’ to ‘moderately hard’ [from 41.7 °fH (French hardness, as used in Belgium)/ 23.4°D (German hardness, as used in the Netherlands) to 19.9 °fH /11.1°D].

The project provided De Watergroep with new, clearer insights concerning its customers. By becoming more closely involved in research into ‘their tap water’, customers began to perceive their water and De Watergroep more positively. The direct sharing of accurate information (however complex), elicits trust and interest, and, in this case, demonstrated that the current softening technology is effective. The results of this project are described in detail in H2O.

Researcher Stijn Brouwer: ‘It is of course not news that water hardness is important for drinking water customers, and that the hardness experienced is associated with the quality experienced. But a lot less is known about the relation between perception, behaviour and the actual hardness and limescaling properties of the tap water. This project has clearly shown that customers also truly sense the water to be softer, better-tasting and judge its quality to be higher. They also adjust their behaviour and descale their household appliances less often. These changes in perception and behaviour were greatest among the citizen science project participants, who themselves were able to measure the changes in the water hardness after the central softening plant started operating.’