Using creative processes, appreciative inquiry and art to bring communities’ views to life
J Chong, K Winterford, A Lederwasch
Publication Date (Web): 14 September2018

New approaches to engaging the community are needed to navigate the increasing complexity of planning urban water systems in the face of uncertain climatic, social, economic and political futures. This paper shares an innovative approach developed by the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney in collaboration with the NSW Government’s Metropolitan Water Directorate. The community engagement process described in this paper was conducted for the greater Sydney region, whose population is expected to reach nearly 6 million by 2036 (NSW Office of Water 2010). 

Our approach integrated futures visioning, Appreciative Inquiry and creative processes to engage the community on their vision for the future. Futures methods are built on a fundamental principle that our “image of the future” – combining foresights as well as aspirations – is core to anticipating, driving and deciding how to achieve change (Voros 2001). Appreciative Inquiry is a form of inquiry which focuses on discovering the positive within any social situation as a way to create change. Appreciative Inquiry approaches recognise that the meaning and knowledge created depends on the language used.

Our workshop activities included:
  • Paired-interviews, whereby partcipants used Appreciative Inquiry-framed questions, to explore the highlights of water use and management in the recent past and to share preferred visions of water use and management in the future.
  • A futures triangle exercise, which encouraged participants to recognise that multiple alternative futures are possible, from the current situation and system.
  • Small groupwork, which utilised a range of creative visioning tools to develop detailed scenarios and narratives of preferred water use and management.
  • Creation of artworks to illustrate the preferred scenarios– artist Aleta Lederwasch sketched alongside the participants, and during the work of small groups, to capture the elements of the preferred scenarios. Participants provided feedback on concept sketches and Aleta then developed final artworks post workshop that incorporated this feedback.
  • Capturing participants’ feedback on processes through video interviews.

Futures triangle
Futures Triangle

This innovative process produced three scenarios that took the form of artistic visualisations with accompanying narratives. The scenarios were: 1. Healthy, green, balanced; 2. Innovation, technology, data; and 3. Educated, informed, aware. Combined outcomes of community and stakeholder workshops, and the individual future scenarios have been key inputs in the review of the NSW Government’s Metropolitan Water Plan.

This project demonstrated the value of using creative processes (futures and art) and Appreciative Inquiry in community engagment processes. The creative processes used were effective in inspiring new world views and opened up possibilities for sharing technical water system information with the community in a way that informs and builds on community visions through art. This innovative, effective and tested process has potential for use in other water community engagement processes.

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