22 November 2022

Circular water experts explore amplifying citizen co-creation

With each year, challenges grow regarding how to supply fresh water globally. This is why expert stakeholders in the field of circular water are working to enhance knowledge and use of nature-based solutions (NBS) as a key tool to foster water reuse and the mitigation of water pollution and run-off. Achieving these aims involves many technical considerations; however, technical know-how cannot be deployed without also including the all-important ‘human element’ through NBS co-creation.

This was the central focus of a recent cross-cutting dialogue, in which experts discussed circular water, co-creation, and knowledge exchange, leaving space for inquiry on best practices in the field of citizen participation.

The conclusion of the dialogue was clear: in order to more effectively achieve circular water goals, meaningful public involvement in co-creation is paramount. This requires in-depth exploration of what public participation should (but doesn't always) entail, and the use of dialogues like this one to share tips and tricks on how to move toward more effective collaboration with citizen stakeholders in both communication and co-design.

Among the many lessons presented, a clear key message emerged: co-creative discussions must have clear facilitation, meaning a designated contact who engages only in furthering dialogue of the participants, remains neutral, and has clear intentions to retain fairness and increase public impact.

Lastly, the dialogue made use of a case study of co-creative work on circular water in Gdańsk (Poland) to illustrate these points. Gdańsk was recently hit by two strong floods, which impacted local perceptions of flood mitigation. Local stakeholders came together as a public force, shaping decisions on how the city would protect Gdańsk against future floods, including through the use of rain gardens. Over time, citizen awareness has increased substantially in the municipality, with citizens even taking proactive leadership over the creation of their own rain gardens.

It is clear that when citizens are made part of the co-design process, opportunities for innovative co-creation in NBS flourish!

This dialogue was organised in the context of the NICE project, in which ICLEI Europe is a partner. Read more about the discussion here.