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Reimagining water futures: exploring culture and the communication of water stewardship science

How can complex scientific messages be communicated to enable change at various levels: from local communities within a river basin, to businesses and the wider public?

The project aimed to communicate complex scientific messages on sustainability, equity and social justice in the use, allocation and stewardship of water by bringing together academics, artists and science writers.

Rejecting simplistic messages of ‘water wars’ or ‘global water crisis’, this explorative project created messaging around how local water problems are bound up in issues of regional geopolitics, modern-day consumption, the global food and energy trade and power politics between (and within) the Global North and Global South. The project is based on scientific ideas evolving from Dr Naho Mirumachi's book ‘Transboundary Water Politics in the Developing World’.

Rice paddy and rice farming

Cultural engagement and communication with groups who can act as catalysts is key to affecting change in water stewardship.  Three key groups need to be engaged :

  1. businesses embedded in trade and that directly face consumers;
  2. politicians and policy-makers who need to understand the complexity of water issues;
  3. and consumers who have an impact on the demand for water.  

Complex scientific messages need to be translated, interpreted and disseminated in a variety of formats in order to address these diverse audiences and interests. The project intended to develop a platform for new messaging on water issues - ultimately aiming to affect change in these audiences. This was brought about in a workshop that explored examples of illustrations and science writing as forms of communication.

During the workshop, 15 participants collaboratively analysed and explored methods for communicating new and emerging messages on water stewardship through culture and media, using tools of illustration and science writing.  The workshop aimed to innovate communication of the nuances and complexities of the power politics and social injustices existing within current arrangements of water stewardship through creating a platform for sharing ideas that can be taken further in larger projects.

Project team

Dr Naho Mirumachi is a Lecturer in  the Department of Geography, King’s College London, with over 12 years of research experience. Naho’s research focuses on the ways in which the environment is bound up in issues of development and the power and politics that influence the appropriation and allocation of natural resources. Some of her latest thinking has been published in ‘Transboundary Water Politics in the Developing World’ , Routledge (2015). Naho has worked in a variety of developing country contexts including Nepal, India, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Lesotho, South Africa and most recently Tanzania.

Ruth Macdougall‘s environmental art practice has developed through her experiences living, studying and working in locations as diverse as Beirut, Chile, China, Zambia and the Scottish Countryside. At the heart of Ruth’s work is the engagement and participation of her local community. As a primary source of information and guidance, she relies on evolving relationships and subtle collaborations to arrive at a work that not only tells a story but also characterises the community that tells and retells that story. Through ongoing research, ideas of physical endurance and environmental sustainability continually surface as partner concepts that inspire and drive me. 

Wendy Barnaby specialises in radio and writing, mainly in the areas of science and medicine, and has, in the last few years, taken a particular interest in questions relating to water. Her writing has appeared in many outlets and  magazines such as Nature and New Scientist.  Wendy teaches students of science journalism to write, train scientists to talk to the media, and sits on various panels more or less related to journalism. She was Editor of People & Science, the magazine published by the British Science Association, from 2001 to 2014.

Reimagining water futures: exploring culture and the communication of water stewardship  is a collaboration between the Department of Geography at King's College London, environmental artist Ruth Macdougall, and science writer Wendy Barnaby. The collaboration was brokered by the Cultural Institute, King's College London. 

This project is part of the King's Early Career Researchers scheme. Dr Naho Mirumachi has been mentored by Dr Ruth Craggs, the Cultural Institute’s Knowledge Exchange Associate for the Faculty of Social Science & Public Policy.

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