In this citizen-science field pilot project, citizens participate for the first time as actual researchers in scientific research into drinking water. With the message that tap water is a fresh product, citizens take part in the collection of knowledge about changes in the microbial stability of water during its transport and its ‘residence’ in indoor water installations. The stability of water in bottles is also covered by the research. The objective of the project is to gather knowledge about the value of citizen engagement in different kinds of research in the water sector. We evaluate whether and how citizen engagement creates awareness and possible changes in behaviour with regard to drinking water. The pilot is being conducted in Amsterdam.
Citizen participation in innovative Next Generation Sequencing research
We are researching the following in this field pilot: (a) the new Next Generation Sequencing measurement technique, and (b) the relevance of citizen participation in scientific research: citizens are invited to actively take part.
Fifty Amsterdamers collect three samples of tap water in their homes: two from the tap (one immediately and one after five minutes of flow) and one from a source of their choice, for example, a bottle or bidon. These samples are then analysed in KWR’s laboratory using the new, Next Generation Sequencing measurement method, which determines the water’s bacterial biodiversity. The citizen researchers also test the water at home for microbes; they themselves monitor the microbial growth over a couple of days and transmit the results to KWR.
During the project – and after its completion – the citizen researchers, water company in Amsterdam (Waternet) and the researchers discuss their experience with the field pilot as well as its outcomes.
To recruit participants, the pilot has been publicised via the Facebook page, ‘De Versheid van Water’, Pakhuis de Zwijger, Micropia, the Waag-Society, Quest and EOS-wetenschap. The project was kicked off on 4 June at Micropia, the microbe museum in Amsterdam.
During a festive final session, the fifty participants, the field pilot monitors and the general public will reflect on the value, significance and (im)possibility of involving citizens in water sector research.
Proactive learning about citizen engagement with drinking water
This citizen science pilot offers the drinking water sector the opportunity to proactively learn about the engagement of citizens in research into the quality and composition of water, instead of having to wait for – and then react to – measurements made by a third party. Also, citizens can provide samples, which would be much more difficult if not impossible to acquire by regular means, such as sampling before tap-flow and from drinking water bottles. Moreover, with the help of questionnaires, we gain insight into citizens’ perceptions and possible behavioural changes (e.g., letting taps flow, freshening bottles of water). The project offers an exceptional opportunity, within a relatively controlled environment, to develop and test a communication strategy for the water companies.