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Water Works: Biodiversity and Water Access

Posted on 11 March 2021

Written by:

Deborah Ajia

On the evening of 25 February, we brought together a diverse group of people for Water Works; People & Materiality in Place the second event in our Co-designing Sustainable Places series.

The event focused on one of our most precious resources, water. Our natural beauty spots and green spaces have become a safe place for us during the pandemic, but how aware are we of the role of water in the biodiversity around us? How aware are we of the natural cycles of water? Water is a key element in our lives, but at times we forget how much water we utilise and therefore waste, from drinking to bathing to watering our flowers. 

Our Co-designing Sustainable Places, the 2020/21 Glass-House event series, continues to explore issues and co-design propositions for reshaping our neighbourhoods within the context of our climate emergency, the Covid-19 Pandemic and place-based inequalities.

The Glass-House worked alongside The Glasgow School of Art’s Innovation School to develop and deliver this event. It utilised creative co-design methods to activate both citizens and different sectors as collaborative placemakers, embedding ideas of value, respect, utilising water effectively and sharing it equitably.  

Facilitation team: The Glass-House alongside Lizete Druka, Jonathan Balwin and the M.Des students.

Water Works was a chance for Master of Design (M.Des) in Design Innovation & Environmental Design students from The Glasgow School of Art to converse and generate ideas with the general public, whether practitioners, policy-makers or citizens with an interest in placemaking and sustainability. It also provided a valuable opportunity for them to practice their facilitation skills.

Setting the scene

Lizete Druka discussing the student projects and topics.

Lizete Druka, M.Des Innovation Lecturer in Environmental and Ecological Design, and Jonathan Balwin, Programme Lead for Design Innovation, introduced the themes and reasoning for the student topics, and how the students aim to design for beyond the human, whilst thinking about the natural systems that we rely on for our survival. The students on the Masters programme have been working on the theme of water with input from Arup and exploring themes such as water scarcity, flooding, droughts, climate change, biodiversity and ecosystems as well as exploring differing cultural significance and uses of water.

For this event students focused on biodiversity and access to water.

Co-designing ways to activate people

Event participants were divided into groups and asked to co-design engagement activities that activate local people and organisations in gaining awareness, influencing and playing an active role in shaping how we relate to, manage and use water. 

Splitting off into break-out rooms, each set of attendees was accompanied by two students, one acting as a facilitator, and the other a reporter to help lead the task at hand. The digital whiteboard tool Miro was used so each group could create visuals to help them illustrate their engagement activity ideas. Our student facilitators guided our event participants through a co-design activity that allowed them to contribute in a number of ways to the group task, whilst helping those less comfortable will the technology remain engaged with the discussion. 

After the group work, we re-convened in our main virtual discussion space to hear each group present their ideas.

Enabling Biodiversity

Group 1 worked on a number of ideas, including engaging stakeholders in co-producing knowledge surrounding biodiversity and how other cultures utilise and relate to water. They also discussed engaging with local waterways by hosting water inspired photography exhibitions and wild swimming. Getting into water is one of the best ways to engage with it, after all!

The group thoughtfully touched upon the impact of tourism, which can be a good way to educate and engage people in regards to biodiversity., Conversely, it can also be damaging to nature if people fail to appreciate and respect their surroundings.

Edward explaining the ideas group 2 generated.

The next team mentioned bringing communities together and identified young people, government bodies and local communities as their target audiences. Creating documentation and leading educational events can spread awareness about the plight of their local nature spots. They explored ways to utilise social media and the most popular was to create a YouTube account showcasing a portfolio of documentaries produced by local people about their green spaces and waterways. Walking groups and getting people in their local spaces can be a powerful way to engage people in championing and enabling biodiversity, while improving their wellbeing.

Group 2’s Miro board collage

Access to water

The next two groups focused on access to water. Group 3 brought up water usage and recycling as a point focus, and saw raising awareness as an essential starting point. Pinpointing children, families and policy makers as their target audiences, they were keen to impart knowledge surrounding climate change to these groups and to activate them as champions, changes habits, behaviours and routines, all of which can make a big impact on water usage and wastage. Self-sufficient communities and social equality were also the key themes that arose in their conversation.

The final collective defined a number of major issues, including creating access to water for all, recycling and filtering systems for rainwater harvesting.

Ana presenting the group 4’s ideas.

They proposed creating common food growing spaces to connect communities, a popular theme that we see emerging in many of our recent events and conversations. This could also bring a wellbeing aspect to it, while helping communities to generate ways to recycle water and to fight social inequalities in relation to access to key resources.

Group 4’s Miro board collage

Summing up

The ideas formulated during Water Works were creative and immersive. The students and attendees looked at ways of rekindling our respect, sensory and emotive awareness and our morality surrounding water by encouraging wild swimming, food growing and recycling rainwater. Our shared discussion and exploration of these themes stressed the importance of raising awareness and helping all of us reevaluate our relationship with water, as well as consider how cultural and geographical differences can impact on how we access, use, and manage water.

The adult human body is made up of 80% water and is essential to us, yet many of us within the UK take our access to water for granted. By sharing information on our changing environment, climate change, self-sufficient communities, cultural links to water and by thinking of humans as part of our ecosystem and not as a separate body, we can inspire people to create a behavioural shift that can make a huge difference to biodiversity and sustainability and can fundamentally change our personal and societal relationship with water. 

 “Nice to be involved, to meet and work with new people and to consolidate my understanding of our research topic”

Student facilitator from The Glasgow School of Art

You can watch a recording of this event here, and see the Miro boards here.

We’d like to thank The Glasgow School of Art, Lizete Druka, Jonathan Balwin, Ian Reid, the student facilitators and all attendees for their participation and contribution. 

Please visit our events page for updates and registration information for our last event in the series, Co-design in the Time of Covid on 25 March.