The CRC for Water Sensitive Cities advocates a collaborative approach to creating water sensitive cities—fostering the relationships between providers, governments and the community that are necessary for achieving a shared vision among diverse stakeholders. At a recent workshop in Wellington (New Zealand), water practitioners from across the country highlighted a gap in our current approach—how do we ensure water sensitive practices are also culturally sensitive? In particular, how do we ensure Indigenous knowledge, values and stories are embedded in the way we perceive and interact with our water?

New Zealand has a long history of ensuring policy and practice reflects cultural values and concepts, so our CRCWSC representatives at the workshop—Jamie Ewert (National Engagement Manager) and Katie Hammer (Project Manager for IRP1)—were keen to learn from their experience. Jamie, Katie and the workshop participants spent some time exploring what culturally sensitive practice would look like:

  • Urban water management is co-defined, co-developed and co-managed with Indigenous partners.
  • Indigenous knowledge, stories and values are embedded in water planning and decision making.
  • Indigenous voices and representatives are involved in decision making at all levels.
  • Water design solutions will be site-specific and reflect the cultural and environmental context.

“The strong message from participants was to avoid tokenistic processes,” said Jamie. “Decisions and actions must be based on a genuine partnership, rather than traditional consultation. Indigenous communities and perspectives must be involved from the beginning, right through to the end, including monitoring cultural values over time.”

The workshop—organised by The Sustainability Society—was held in Wellington, 2 May 2018. Participants included government representatives (local, regional and national), as well as private sector representatives.

Participants at a workshop in New Zealand considered how to create a meaningful indicator of cultural engagement.