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8 September 2009
University researchers have developed an interactive, computer game-style tool called Windscreen that lets people ‘see’ how their choices in water use affect their community and also helps determine how resilient communities are to ongoing limited water availability.
The result of a joint project between Deakin University and the University of Ballarat, Windscreen is designed to look like the dashboard of a car, with the user seeing three different views through its ‘windscreen’: a sporting ground (footy), a paddock (fields) and a river (flows).
Using onscreen controls, the user allocates water from a limited supply to these three elements. The windscreen scenes change to reflect the choices the user makes – for instance allocating enough water to make the fields look lush could result in a parched footy ground or vice versa.
As Dr Anne Wallis, senior lecturer at Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences, explained, each view represents a different aspect of the community: “On the visualisation you’ve got the sporting ground, the fields and the river and they actually represent the social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainability, because footy and sport is about social interaction, fields are economic production and the river, or flows, represent the environment.”
Dr Wallis said the project, which involves researchers across a range of disciplines, came about because of a need to know people’s expectations for water use.
“We need to know people’s preferences with regard to allocating limited supplies of water. With a limited supply of water – and a supply that is likely to become more limited with climate change – decisions have to be made about how you’re going to allocate it. So our initial discussions revolved around people’s preferences for water allocation, but also looked at determining community resilience to diminishing water availability.
“We started to think that water futures are about what people want their future to be, and about how they might visualise that future. Then we began to ask how we determine what people want their future to look like, and we thought that could be done using photos,” she said.
The tool was trialled earlier this year in Victoria’s Wimmera Mallee area. At the time, one of the trial researchers, Jessica Block from the University of Arizona, said some responses to the tool were very pragmatic. For instance, people accepted dry scenarios for the river and sporting ground in order to protect the economy of a community, the fields.
“People said well that’s okay, because our lake looks like that and has done for the last ten years and I have been playing on a footy field that looks as dry as that, but my brother’s farm would still be thriving so I’m okay with that,” she noted.
Ms Block also said people taking part in the trials placed priority on the community.
“People tended to think about what the community needs, not their personal preferences. There was a great deal of compromise and a sense of we all need to pull together, a very strong community feeling in the responses I got.”
Dr Wallis said the potential of Windscreen was already attracting attention.
“Windscreen has attracted interest from a number of groups involved in water management and I’m pleased to say with funding support from the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority we will be trialling Windscreen in the Corangamite region. Comparing the results from this trial with our previous results will allow us to look at how people in wetter areas prefer to allocate their water in contrast to people in drier areas,” she said.
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