"In these scary times, we are excited to launch a new joint project that highlights community/utility collaborations that are working, and seeks to identify new success stories as well. In the face of massive public-health threats like COVID-19, trust in water quality becomes more important than ever. With our partners at River Network, we are building a trust-building workgroup that gleans lessons in building transparency, trust and collaboration between community and local water leaders. Read more about the project below, and please reach out if you'd like to join us!" - Cynthia Koehler, Executive Director, WaterNow Alliance
By: Katherine Baer, Director of Science and Policy, River Network
Like many of you, I have seen too many examples in the last few years where trust between a local community and their water system has eroded because, for example, key information was withheld. Unfortunately those limited cases can erode trust beyond the impacted community and make others question and lose trust in their local service providers. Globally, the Edelman Trust Barometer shows that distrust in government, business, nonprofits and the media is driven by a “growing sense of inequity and unfairness in the system” that doesn’t serve everyone equally.
We know, however, that many local water systems proactively work to build and foster trusting relationships with community leaders. These relationships can lead to adoption of improved technology, transparency and public health. Whether working together on designing programs for water affordability, siting and implementing green infrastructure or providing community-based research to inform water management decisions, we know that there are many “bright spots” out there where this is happening. In Camden, New Jersey, for instance, the Camden Smart Initiative, part of the Camden Collaborative Initiative, is a partnership between water utilities, community organizations and local government to revitalize neighborhoods using green infrastructure installation and training.
Because most decisions and spending on water happen at the local level, if we want equitable and sustainable water systems, it’s imperative that local water systems build and foster durable, lasting, collaborative relationships with members of their communities.
What’s required to create such relationships? Under what circumstances do they last? How can we support more of them? We’ve heard from members of our network that finding ways to work in partnership with water systems and utilities and create (or recreate) trust is a high priority.
That’s why we’re excited, with support from Spring Point Partners, to team up with WaterNow Alliance on a new project: “Building Relationships Between Local Community Groups and Water Systems.” Together, we’re looking for teams of water systems and community groups who have built strong relationships. We’ll spend time learning from and amplifying these stories, synthesize the findings to create a set of “best practices,” and share it all with the network so other communities looking to establish similar partnership-based initiatives and increase trust can succeed.
If this sounds like your group and something you’ve achieved – please join our trust building workgroup. Contact us with questions and learn more here.