Water, wastewater and drainage: consultation analysis

Summarises the responses that we received on our consultation on the the water, wastewater and drainage principles and considerations in developing policy for the future of the water industry in Scotland in response to the climate emergency.

Annex B – Consumer Scotland deliberative research summary

We have included the below section which summarises Consumer Scotland’s deliberative research on climate change, water and Scotland’s future. Consumer Scotland is a non-ministerial office of the Scottish Government. This research was a separate piece of work carried out by Consumer Scotland that shares many similarities with the water, wastewater and drainage policy consultation. We have included it below as a supplemental piece of research which reaches many of the same conclusions as our consultation.

Climate Change, Water, and Scotland’s Future – Deliberative research undertaken by Ipsos for Consumer Scotland

Background and context to the research

As the statutory body for consumers in Scotland, Consumer Scotland exists to represent and advocate on behalf of all consumers, including in the water sector. Since 2022 Consumer Scotland has participated in the Scottish Government’s water sector policy development process. As part of this we identified a research need to better understand the views of domestic consumers on how Scotland’s water, wastewater and drainage services should be adapted to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

To this end, as part of our 2023-2024 work programme, we commissioned the research agency Ipsos to deliver a programme of deliberative research that would provide insight into how consumers and others can and should be part of Scotland’s transition to a more resilient and sustainable water sector that contributes to a just transition to net zero. The research focused on three key areas:

  • managing water resources and strategies for reducing water demand
  • wastewater management as it relates to the water environment
  • the sustainable management of rainwater in Scotland’s local communities

Aims and objectives

The research aims and objectives were to explore the following key issues:

  • the extent to which consumers are aware of climate change impacts in the Scottish water sector and whether they understand the need for adaptation
  • what information is needed by consumers, and in what format, to support informed decision making
  • understanding consumers’ views on a range of policy options and solutions relating to water resources and services, sewerage and drainage
  • exploring consumers’ views on where responsibility should lie for tackling the impacts of climate change on water in Scotland, how urgently this needs to be done, and what considerations should be taken into account
  • understanding the motivations, opportunities and support required by consumers to change their water behaviours to be more sustainable

Research approach

A deliberative methodology was identified as being most appropriate for the research given the complex and multi-faceted nature of the research aims and objectives. The specific approach taken was a “public dialogue”, whereby members of the public receive detailed information from experts with specialist knowledge on specific topics. The intention was for the research participants to consider collectively a broad range of evidence and deliberate on future policy options and/or decisions.

The research involved 41 individuals from across Scotland being recruited by an independent recruitment agency to take part in 5 three-hour online workshops between October and November 2023. The sample was recruited to be broadly reflective of the population in Scotland.

The overarching question the public dialogue explored was: “How should we deal with the impacts that climate change is having - and will have - on water in Scotland?”

During the deliberative dialogues, a range of experts presented evidence and detailed information to inform participants on key issues facing the Scottish water sector in relation to climate change. Participants then discussed and deliberated over possible strategies and solutions to help address the impacts of climate change.

In total the research participants took part in 15 hours of deliberation across 5 workshops, considering a different set of issues at each one while continuously building on their own learnings. The approach taken gave the dialogue participants the time and opportunity to learn about complex and often unfamiliar issues, before working together to develop considered conclusions to answer the overarching research question.

In addition to the summary of cross-cutting themes presented below, the research report by Ipsos and Consumer Scotland’s associated policy briefings have been published separately. These documents contain a more detailed analysis of the research findings and our key policy recommendations, based on the evidence we have gathered.

Cross-cutting themes to emerge

A range of cross-cutting themes emerged from the research that encapsulate well the collective views of the participants.

  • growing alarm at the scale of the challenge – At the outset of the research there was some general awareness among participants of the issues associated with surface water flooding. In comparison, most participants felt they knew little or nothing about the impacts of climate change on water resources and wastewater services in Scotland. As the research progressed and participants learned more about the issues, they expressed alarm at the scale of the challenges faced by the sector and the need for clear and urgent action to enable adaptation became clear to them. A view consistently expressed was a desire for the water sector as a whole to put long-term and sustainable solutions in place for adapting to climate change, and to invest in innovative approaches that deliver additional environmental, social and health benefits to local communities
  • affordability of water charges with safeguards in place – Affordable water services was raised throughout the public dialogue as a key issue. While future price rises were expected to pay for improving Scotland’s water supply and wastewater infrastructure, participants were generally looking for reassurance that any investments would be “future-proofed” and provide value for money in the longer term. A significant theme cutting across the research was that any negative impacts on consumers who can least afford to pay more should be avoided. Participants wanted to see an equitable approach, where vulnerable consumers and those on the lowest incomes are protected
  • behaviour change will be key to adapting to climate change – From early in the learning phase of the deliberative research, participants felt there was a fundamental need to change how people in Scotland value, use and conserve water and how they interact with drainage and wastewater systems. The contribution of behaviour change from consumers and businesses was recognised as an important factor in tackling the impacts of climate change on Scotland’s water resources, including by reducing demand for water, lessening strain on the sewerage system and by minimising the risk of surface water flooding. Participants generally held a view that there would be an openness among the public to doing things differently. Education and raising awareness were seen as an important enabler to changing behaviours, as was actively involving local communities in decisions around climate adaptation. However, participants also recognised that change can often be challenging, so while awareness-raising is a necessary pre-condition for change, for it to be a success it will need to be coupled with different forms of tailored support that make behavioural change easy, accessible and affordable for all consumers
  • everyone has a role to play in tackling the impacts of climate change – By the end of the dialogue, participants came to a collective view that everyone has a role to play in tackling the impacts of climate change on Scotland’s water sector. This includes the Scottish Government, Scottish Water, small and large businesses, developers, local authorities, individual consumers, and the communities where they live. Central to this is the Scottish Government and Scottish Water showing leadership and creating an enabling environment that will allow consumers and businesses to also do their part.

Summary and reflections

Over the course of the 5 workshops, there was a clear shift in perspective from the research participants. While participants generally started from a position of lack of awareness about the issues, once they learned more there was broad agreement that Scotland’s water sector needed to be ambitious in its approaches to tackling climate change impacts. Alongside this, there was a recognition that individual consumers will also have a key role to play in reducing the strain on the system, whether through reducing personal water consumption, avoiding disposing of inappropriate items down sinks or toilets, or by better managing rainwater at a property level. There was a clear appetite from participants for more information on the topics discussed throughout the deliberative process, and a desire to see behavioural change supported by wider, systemic action on the part of Scottish Government, Scottish Water, business and industry.

Research participants were also able to take a holistic and integrated approach to the issues. For example, participants felt that there was a mutually reinforcing relationship between communities being involved in decisions about how their local areas can best adapt to climate change, on the one hand, and further behaviour change, such as saving water, on the other. There was a strong view that fostering a sense of shared ownership amongst communities of their local water environment would better help to educate them about the value of water and the impacts of climate change.

The nature of the public dialogue demonstrates that, when provided with relevant information and given time and space to reflect on the issues in detail, research participants are able to take a considered collective view of the potential solutions and to be positive about the capacity for change and adaptation both at an individual and a systems level.


Email: waterindustry@gov.scot

Back to top