September 28, 2015 Society

What Works Best to Engage Water Users?

Communication is getting easier, with ever more communications tools and channels connecting us to friends, family, colleagues and customers. With greater choice comes greater complexity. Whether social media, apps or smart meters, with so many ways to communicate what is the most effective way for a water utility to engage with its customers?

Have you heard about the latest mobile app to help water users track their usage? What about the tool that helps customers pay their water bills by SMS? And have you joined all those water utilities on Twitter for their weekly Twitter chat? If you’re like the great many water professionals who are tantalised by reaching out to customers in the new digital era, the myriad number of new technologies to help utilities connect and engage with their customers and the public can be incredibly exciting, but also downright daunting.

Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) can improve interaction between those who manage water and those who use it, even in rural areas or resource poor settings that lack consistent internet access. But, which technology is the right one for each community or region? With the vast array of tools available—from social media to apps and SMS to smart devices and more—water professionals need help navigating the options.

A Twitter campaign to map and respond to water leaks may be a useful tool for one community; while another community may need remote sensors that provide information to users to manage their own water use; and yet another in a rural area might gain the most from an SMS platform that allows people to understand and monitor water availability.

The International Water Association’s Public and Customer Communications (PCC) Specialist Group (SG) is addressing the challenges of a rapidly changing ICT environment so our members, and water professionals everywhere, get an understanding of what types of communication tools are out there, know when to use them and assess which ones are right to use for your specific situation.

Water professionals often have limited resources, with only so much time and money to spend on engagement, and even less for implementing and managing specific technologies for engagement. We are putting together a guide to help navigate the options and provide a strategy for finding the best solutions.

To kick-start the development of the guide, and to foster a broader dialogue about what works and doesn’t work for professionals using tech in communications, the PCC SG is bringing together experts in ICT at our Technology and Social Media to Engage Water Users workshop at the IWA Water and Development Congress in Jordan.

Building on an earlier panel session, Leveraging Mobile Phones to Improve Utility Services, the workshop, examines the benefits and limitations of these tools specifically to engage and communicate with customers, as part of or separate from ICT for asset management, data collection, governance or decision-making. Facilitated by experts, this session will use small group discussions to allow participants to share experiences, including best practices, model programs, infrastructure limitations and performance metrics.

While the focus of the workshop will be on ICT, we will continue to add to our body of information after the Congress, adding tips on social media and incorporating other input. There will constantly be new tools coming out to help us communicate with customers and the public, but rather than listing out the specific tools, we’ll be focusing on the overarching questions of how to know what will work for you.

As we want to gather and collate information that is helpful to you, let us know what questions you’ve encountered while trying to implement—or even decide whether to implement—communication technology for your own engagement efforts.

Not-to-be missed Public & Customer Communications sessions at the IWA Water and Development Congress:

 

Bridging the Gap: Engineers and Technical Staff as Communicators

Date and time: Wednesday, 21 October from 09:40 to 11:00 at

Venue: Wadi Rum Hall 2.

To bridge the gap between “technical information” and “public information”, engineers and technical staff often need the help of communication specialists. In this participatory workshop, Dr. Eng. Silver Mugisha (Uganda) will share his experience with the National Water and Sewerage Company and illustrate how these specialists at the Company empower engineers to strengthen their communication skills. In working groups, attendees will develop solutions and analyse issues such as reducing NRW, water conservation and household water management.

Join us and learn more about the work of the IWA Public and Customer Communications Specialist Group.

 

Leveraging Mobile Phones to Improve Utility Services

Date and time: Wednesday, 21 October, 11:30 to 12:50

Venue: Petra Hall 2

The use of mobile technology in emerging markets continues to outpace access to basic water and sanitation services. The GSMA Mobile for Development Utilities Programme supports leveraging of mobile technology to improve or increase access to utility services for the underserved. For example, remote monitoring of service delivery or consumption can be received in real time through GSM networks, communication with customers can readily become a two-way exchange, and mobile money can allow more flexible and secure collection of payments. This session will share leading examples of mobile innovations that have improved water or sanitation services or enabled new service delivery models.

 

Technology and Social Media to Engage Water Users

Date and time: Wednesday, 21 October, 14:10 to 15:30

Venue: Petra Hall 2

This workshop, organised by the IWA Public and Customer Communications Specialist Group and following on to the “Leveraging Mobile Phones to Improve Utility Services” session, examines the benefits and limitations of ICT tools to engage customers. Facilitated by experts, this session will use small group discussions to allow participants to share experiences, including best practices, model programs, infrastructure limitations and performance metrics. The results of this workshop will be used to help develop a guide for choosing and using ICT for engagement.

Abby Crisostomo

KLH Sustainability, United Kingdom, Secretary