Banner – Singapore
Melbourne Yarra
Banner – Melbourne Docklands

Project A2.1: Understanding social processes to achieve water sensitive futures



 The objectives of this project are to understand and document the social and historical processes of domestic water use in Australian cities, in order to better inform future policy and interventions.

This is a multi-disciplinary study that brings together urban history, a large-scale representative survey and targeted focus groups to map historical and contemporary urban water use cultures and practices in order to better understand how and why we use water as we do, and to use this information and evidence to better inform future policy agendas.

The main outcomes will be a typology of water use cultures and contexts – including information about community values, ideals and perceived risks and recommendations for the development of effective and socially acceptable water sensitive interventions.


Sub-project Leader:

Jo Lindsay,  A/Professor
Monash University, School of Political and Social Inquiry
t. +61 (3) 9905 2425



An important insight from existing social science research is that water saving ‘attitudes’ do not necessarily correlate strongly with water use ‘practices’ (Sofoulis 2005; Fielding et al 2011; Head 2012). The social and cultural values around everyday water use need to be mapped and understood so they do not work against the need for change (Allon and Sofoulis 2006). Building on Urry’s (2011) arguments about climate change most of the time people are creatures of social routine and habit and sometimes fashion and fad. To move to a water sensitive future ‘we must effectively connect to the existing patterns and practices of people’s everyday lives’ (Urry 2011, p15). The aims of this project are to uncover existing social practices around water use and recommend points of connection so that we can both challenge high water use social norms and mobilise social contagion for positive change (Dzidic and Green 2012; Hunter and Brown 2012).

It is essential to have a full understanding of the Australian water use cultures and what beliefs and values drive behaviour to develop effective water sensitive policies and interventions. This project focuses on social context rather than individuals. The project has practical significance because social change occurs through collectives – communities, neighbourhoods, friendships, groups and families. The project also has scholarly significance, as it will extend the historical and social science literature on urban water use and provide a unique opportunity for interdisciplinary knowledge transfer.


Links to other Projects:

Sub Project A2.2 – Accelerating Transitions to Water Sensitive Cities by Influencing Behaviour 
Sub Project A2.3 – Engaging Communities with Water Sensitive Cities.

It is envisaged that the findings from the three projects A2.1, A2.2 and A2.3 may ultimately be combined in year 4 under a broad behaviour change theme in report publication. The aim is to provide accessible information for policy makers and water practitioners.

Information sharing with other projects within the broader CRC has already begun and will increase as the work proceeds. Connections will be enhanced through participation in the bi-annual CRC wide workshops