Building community water literacy

Creating engaged communities who actively participate in decision making about water


We are working with Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub to develop and test practical strategies to develop and evaluate engagement activities that help build community water literacy.


Water literacy refers to the community’s knowledge of water and understanding about how their actions can affect water management.

Water literacy is a key foundation of a water sensitive community. If the community does not know or understand the water cycle, then they cannot actively participate in water management.

To understand community water literacy levels, the CRC for Water Sensitive Cities (CRCWSC) undertook a national benchmarking of community water literacy in 2015. These were the key findings:

  • Literacy is different to behaviour change. The first represents what you know about the water cycle, the second is about the actions that you take, whether intentionally or by habit.
  • Literacy levels vary between states, but is generally low (even when compliance with target behaviours is high).
  • Distinct segments of the community can be identified with respect to gaps in water literacy. This allows targeted interventions.
  • Some community segments are particularly lacking in water literacy, yet have a potentially large impact on things like water use.
  • Low community water literacy is a barrier to the introduction of novel water management solutions (i.e. the community aspect of the authorising environment), and to behaviour change campaigns.
  • The way that we (as water managers) communicate with the community creates unnecessary barriers (e.g. using jargon terms such as ‘fit-for-purpose water’, ‘raingarden’).

What we’re doing

This project has 5 objectives:

  1. Consolidate existing CRCWSC research related to community water literacy.
  2. Identify practical actions that agencies can take to lift community water literacy e.g. how to achieve cut through water communications, and how to adjust actions to suit different contexts.
  3. Pilot selected actions.
  4. Develop metrics to evaluate the success of water literacy actions.
  5. Document the transferable lessons and communications collateral via a guide for water management and communications teams.

The proposed messages and mechanisms will be trialled in 2 locations: Western Australia and Victoria. In particular, the pilots will test interventions for improving basic water literacy among key segments of the community in Perth and Melbourne. Targeted messages will be delivered through a range of channels via a suite of communications assets specific to each city. The interventions are designed to be delivered by water management organisations such as water utilities and local governments.

The pilots will test the practicality and effectiveness of these interventions, produce communication assets that can be reused and replicated in other locations, and provide a refined suite of principles for raising awareness and building water literacy.

How it will help

The outcomes of this project include:

  • increased capacity of water managers to design effective and efficient communications and engagement campaigns
  • content that improves community water literacy, including sample communications assets
  • proven delivery mechanisms that improve community water literacy about complex water management topics such as water recycling, water quality, water pollution, water conservation and net zero.

Related research

We worked with Alluvium, the Victorian Department of Environment, Energy and Climate Action (DEECA) and water practitioners throughout Victoria to understand how water corporations and catchment management authorities engage with customers, and explore the difference between activities in metropolitan/urban areas and regional/rural areas.



What does a Water Sensitive City look like?

The CRCWSC has produced research, guidelines and
tools related to the following topics:

Integrated Urban Flood

Climate change


Economics and
business case

Flood resilience
Green Infrastructure
Urban heat