From citizens to water ambassadors: the alliance between operators and users

31 Oct, 2023

Illustrazione del paper Ref Ricerche e Amapola "Da cittadini dell'acqua ad ambasciatori"

Reflections and ideas on paths and tools for participation in the integrated water service in the third Position Paper from Ref Ricerche and Amapola. Suggestions, proposals and perspectives that start from an analysis of the data to develop dialogue based on knowledge and trust between operators and citizens.

The role of communication in the integrated water service: building knowledge and trust between citizens and operators

If we asked a hall full of people how the water service works in Italy, many of them would probably have nothing to say. But if we asked them what they think about the quality of the service, we would find that a lot of them are dissatisfied or disappointed. Why is it that so many people are still badly informed or have mistaken opinions about the real situation?

Laboratorio Ref Ricerche and Amapola have looked at these questions in two recent studies, set up to explore the relationship between citizens and the integrated water service. The studies highlighted a series of gaps in people’s understanding of the service and the changes that have been introduced, as well as many demands for improvements often driven by emotion. The solution to this type of problem is easy to find and challenging to put into action: communication has to be improved. The water service operators and citizens need to start a proactive dialogue and build a relationship based on mutual trust.

The importance of the integrated water service

The integrated water service is not simply about supplying water; it is crucial to society, because the right to drinking water is a fundamental human right. This means that service operators have a social, educational and cultural role to play over and beyond their responsibility to provide water. Management of the water service requires activity on a range of fronts, including guaranteed quality, protection of water resources, the environmental balance and sustainability on many fronts. However, this cannot be achieved by the providers alone, it needs active collaboration from citizens: both sides have to work together to promote responsible behaviour and rational use of water.

The “water ambassadors” and communication strategy

A key element to improve communication between providers and the public is the figure of the “water ambassador”. The name is evocative and refers to the traditional role of the ambassador: to facilitate communication, information and dialogue among interested parties. Specifically, operators should be aware of the impact of their activities and communicate effectively to establish a two-way relationship with users, demonstrating that they promote change. Citizens, on the other hand, are no longer just users or consumers, they are also providers, financiers and employees of the water service, and must have an active role in the definition of the operators’ environmental and social policies. So an approach must be made to all stakeholders to engage everyone affected by the sphere of action of the service manager through a transparent approach.


Sustainability is now the new normal, and businesses have to take account of their impact on workers, on the environment and on the community. Planning is vital to promote sustainability in the integrated water service and must incorporate specific goals to meet the challenges of today and – above all – of the future. This requires a detailed analysis of the internal and external context and the involvement of corporate functions and key stakeholders in drawing up objectives and ensuring constant monitoring through key performance indicators that can be measured over time.

The sustainability report is the tool to be used to provide transparent disclosure of the environmental, social and economic aspects of the operations of water service providers. Reporting is not just a starting point or a destination, it is a tool for information and dialogue. It is used to communicate results, strategies and policies to the public in a direct and effective manner, making information accessible to everyone. It also provides significant information about ESG indicators of interest to investors, banks, citizens and consumers.

Apart from the correctness and accessibility of the information provided, it is also important to act on the factors that cause the greatest distortions in people’s views. The biases that influence perceptions and behaviour should be analysed and reversed through communication based on listening and engagement. Building an open, transparent and genuine two-way relationship between operators and citizens takes time, dialogue, active listening and engagement. Communication projects – in the true sense of making information common knowledge – thus play a vital part in strengthening the alliance, acting on one hand as an information and education tool to spread awareness and understanding about water and the service and, on the other, activating engagement and participation processes of vital importance to operators as they build a new and more inclusive relationship with their stakeholders.


To achieve sustainable development goals in water services, an alliance needs to be built between citizens and service providers. This is essential to meet global environmental and social challenges and, to be effective, must begin from an analysis of data and trends in order to fully understand people’s concerns and requirements.

Communication improvement strategies have to go beyond simple awareness-raising and circulation of knowledge: they must actively involve people, listen to them and respond to their needs. Communication has to be a two-way process where stakeholders can influence decisions and contribute to the development of consensual solutions.

This relationship is essential to meet the challenges involved in sustainable water management and foster responsible behaviour from both sides. Only through dialogue based on knowledge and supported by concrete action can a solid partnership be formed that helps to guarantee a sustainable future for the integrated water service and its users.