An Integrated Project Funded by the European Commission under the Sustainable Development, Global Change and Ecosystems Thematic Priority Area.
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Contract Number: 018320
Project Cordinator: Dr. Theo van den Hoven KIWA Water Research
Project Duration: 1st January 2006 to 31st December 2010

WA6 'Consumer Acceptance and Trust'

Rationale

It is increasingly recognised that successful implementation of new technological solutions requires systematic attention to be paid to issues of consumer acceptance and trust. New technologies will fail if the communities that use and depend upon them do not fully accept them. There is ample evidence of this in relation to the launch of various technologies. For example, the irradiation of soft fruits and the introduction of genetically modified organisms into food products sold in supermarkets have been largely restricted by robustly expressed public concerns about the underlying technologies involved. While many members of the scientific community, commercial interests and legislators have regarded the risks associated with such technological applications as acceptable and have permitted their sale the public has not trusted these groups and the products have either failed or struggled in the market place. We do not yet know whether similar processes will be evident as we seek more and more innovative solutions to the problem of supplying plentiful and safe water to the public.

 

The best technical solution may not always provide a good match with people’s values. People will evaluate the desirability of new technological solutions on a number of criteria and care is needed to ensure that these are taken account of. This should not simply be ‘bolted on’ at the stage of implementation but should inform the design and development of technological and regulatory systems. Our understandings of the issues that inform and affect consumer acceptance stem from cognitive models of consumer behaviour and information transmission as well as the social perspective provided by, for example, the Social Amplification of Risk framework.

 

The European Water Framework Directive (WFD, 2000) itself highlights the importance of public participation when it comes to the integrated management of water resources. Specifically the WFD states that “the decisions on the most appropriate measures to achieve the objectives in the river basin management plan will involve balancing the interests of various groups. ……. but it is essential that the process is open to the scrutiny of those who will be affected.” In addition the WFD notes that “Caring for Europe's waters will require more involvement of citizens, interested parties, non-governmental organisations (NGOs).”

The EU Water Initiative: Water for Life focuses directly upon improving access to safe water and basic sanitation in line with the Millennium Development Goals and the targets later set at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, in September 2002, The EU Water Initiative notes the importance of public partication in achieving these goals across Europe and elsewhere, stating “It will particularly require a great mobilisation of partners ranging from governments, water agencies, water users to civil society organisations and private enterprises” (EC, 2003). The Initiative specifically recognises the importance of end-user partication and community based approaches in bringing about improvements in drinking water supplies and sanitation.

 

Methodology

By adopting an end-user based perspective this work area will look at consumer expectations, decisions and behaviours around individual water consumption as well as the way in which water technologies and water management systems are accepted within communities. It is critical that the design, regulation and management of water supply systems occurs in-line with individual and community expectations.

 

A mixture of qualitative and quantitative methodologies are proposed for WA6 in order to examine consumer acceptance and trust in the water industry and new technologies, with the WA being sub-divided into four work packages. Work packages 6.1 and 6.2, although described separately as they have different focuses and outputs, have shared data collection activities. Thus one multi-country survey and one set of focus groups and interviews will be conducted for these two work packages. Thus much of the organisational work will be a joint effort between the partners.