Behavioural knowledge: dealing differently with water

This project is part of the Water Quality Knowledge Impulse. Water quality is not only a matter for water managers. We are all collectively responsible for water of good quality. How can we ensure that people modify their behaviour for the benefit of water quality? In this ‘Behavioural knowledge’ project we will try to answer this question.

What is the problem?

Water managers work hard on improving ecological water quality. But more than their effort alone is needed to improve the water quality in the Netherlands. Part of the solution lies in you and me behaving differently. Together we can ensure that less plastic, fewer pharmaceutical residues and fewer fertilisers end up in the water. But how do you get people to adjust their habits and modify their behaviour? That is what this project is about.

What are we going to do?

Many people have a lot of trouble changing their habits and behaviour. Citizens find it especially difficult to behave in a particular way if this mostly involves practical inconveniences in the short term, with the positive consequences only to be experienced in the future. Among the factors determining how appealing the desirable conduct is to citizens, companies and governments is the physical, social and policy context.

People are more inclined to make the desirable choice when the choice is easy, attractive and socially acceptable. Thus, fashionable bottles stimulate people to drink more tap water. This reduces plastic waste. When we want technical solutions to better embedded, a change in behaviour is also often called for. We could for instance use filters in washing machines to cut the amount of microplastics from clothing that end up in the water. But the successful introduction of this solution requires a behavioural change on the part of citizens, companies and governments. Citizens have to choose washing machines with filters, companies have to manufacture and sell the washing machines, and governments could financially assist the introduction of these washing machines.

The development of behavioural knowledge is an important component of the Water Quality Knowledge Impulse. This involves studying what Water Authorities, drinking water utilities and governments can do to stimulate behavioural changes that have a positive impact on water quality.

What are the deliverables?

To date, the insights from behavioural sciences have not, or have hardly, been applied in water management. The ‘Behavioural knowledge’ project brings these separate worlds together. With this in mind, we will develop a toolbox for professionals at Water Authorities, drinking water utilities and governments. This will allow them to apply insights from the behavioural sciences and public administration in practice. We will test the toolbox with water professionals to ensure that it meets their needs.