Risk perception

On the basis of insights into customers’ perceptions, needs and experiences, communications guidelines are being developed with regard to the presence of anthropogenic substances in drinking water and its sources.

Challenges regarding transparent communications

The number of substances detected in drinking water sources is rising rapidly. This is a consequence of economic growth, population growth, population aging, intensified production and use of chemicals, intensified agriculture and stockbreeding, lengthier periods of diminished river discharge, but also of advances in analytical chemistry. Thanks to developments in the availability and accessibility of data, the wide use of communications media, and a less self-evident trust in government and science, communicating about the presence of anthropogenic substances in drinking water and sources is becoming increasingly challenging. The sector-wide intention of increasing transparency about the presence of low concentrations of difficult-to-remove chemical substances in drinking water, explains the desire to provide customers with an accurate and understandable interpretation of measurement data and risks. This should keep them informed and also maximise and reinforce their trust. The development of a communications strategy and tools to this end requires a good understanding of the (underlying mechanisms of) customer trust in the water utilities, and of the needs of different customer groups. This can then be used to determine the most suitable manner of communicating information.

Knowledge for strategy and communications staff

This project elucidates the perceptions and needs of customers concerning the (chemical) quality of drinking water, and facilitates the unlocking and interpretation of knowledge that the water utilities possess about drinking water quality, treatment and source protection. Strategy and communications staff in the sector (water utilities and Vewin) and in government (RIVM, ILT, I&M) can draw on the results to develop communications strategies and tools – the latter is itself expressly not part of this project’s remit. The results will be incorporated into a report and also shared with the various stakeholders by means of workshops.

Anticipated Outcomes

This research will give water utilities insight into (a) the information needs of customers and variations therein, and (b) customers’ perceptions of the (chemical) quality of drinking water, including the underlying mechanisms. It will also produce knowledge about what kind of communication (level of detail, accessibility, specificity, complexity) about drinking water quality, anthropogenic substances in drinking water, regulatory frameworks, and (research in the areas of) monitoring and treatment best meets the information needs of customers, while maximising or reinforcing their trust. On the basis of insights into the perceptions, needs and experiences of customers, the project will provide guidance/recommendations for the development of communications tools for (different groups of) customers.

Ultimately, this knowledge could contribute to maintaining the customers’ perception of their water utility as a trustworthy and transparent organisation, which they can consult when in need of information about the (chemical) quality of their drinking water and its sources.