Blog Post: Friday April 20, 2018

About Drought Showcase

How do we talk about drought?


A lot of the About Drought Showcase focused on the way we talk about drought, and how a public understanding of drought impacts on resilience to and mitigation of drought; water scarcity and water use. t is important to consider the different types of drought: hydrological, rainfall and human usage based.


The DRY (drought risk and you) project has been integrating drought narratives with drought science. I was impressed by this project as it appeared to be truly interdisciplinary. One of the challenges with this work was that the academics from the various different backgrounds spoke different languages, and a great deal of time was spent on creating a common linguistic framework.


The project looked at how you can use storytelling to both communicate about drought as well as learn about drought. Storytelling is a way to communicate and express experiences, and to build relationships. All useful things for organisations that want to influence people’s behaviour. However, stories also convey the way people value experiences, which we should take head of, if we want to really want to become a customer-led sector.


In one workshop we heard a story told by a Welsh Steelworker who remembers the 1976 drought. In his story, deposition pollution from the Steelworks always created water shortages, by affecting water quality, but this was particularly bad in this year. In his narrative, the drought had little to do with rainfall. In fact, he didn’t really see the ‘drought’ at all, simply the pollution and the associated impacts on his water use. For me, this echoed current concerns and confusion of the public about the role that mismanagement, climate change, weather, industry use and personal water use have on the water resources situation. You can hear more stories of drought on the ‘Who’d have thought that?’ podcast.

This great chart from the About Drought Showcase identifies just how low (water) drought features in mainstream media.

How do we change the story?


At the About Drought Showcase Ana-Marie Milan presented some fascinating CCWater research on engagement.  In it they found that people are happy to be nudged to save water and for water companies to invest in infrastructure, as long as the water companies help them  understand why this should be done. This is positive news for the Waterwise UK Communications Platform, which was presented at Leadership Group for Water Efficiency and Customer Participation meeting earlier this week. The Platform will at first start as a collaborative process to find out what knowledge needs to be imparted to customers and how best to do so, with a view to creating externally facing aspects going forward.


Waterwise’s Water Efficiency Strategy for the UK outlines that to accomplish wide scale water efficiency, a water-saving culture must be developed throughout the UK. The 2012 drought highlighted the importance and benefits of having joined-up messaging across the sector (as did the recent freeze-thaw incident). However, it also demonstrated issues around a lack of awareness and understanding in the community on water resources issues such as supply and groundwater.


We know that most people take some actions to save water, but we also know that there is a lot more to do. Water efficiency needs to become the norm across all activities throughout everybody’s lives – wasting water should be seen as going against the norm.

Consistent and co-ordinated messages are important for effective communication and vital to developing a water-saving culture. But there is a lack of consistent, sustained messaging and little coordinated or collaborative action between water companies, and this may become even more challenging if competition is introduced for household customers in the future. The UK Communications Platform will take a coalition approach, involving water companies, Water UK, NGOs, government, regulators, professional institutes and others, to jointly deliver messages to customers. This approach would build on successful industry coalition approaches on the three Ps and wet wipes, and drinking water.


Keywords: communications > conference > drought >