Soft-Path Water Management Study in Abu Dhabi

This paper will focus on describing the methodology implemented in the research to answer the study question of whether ‘soft path’ water management can be analyzed and applied for sustainable water management in Abu Dhabi. It will include an explanation of the selection of participants for the qualitative interviews, the actual interview structure and analysis, processes of data collection for interviews and literature review, final indicators, evaluation of the study area, and any limitations and ethical considerations.

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Data Collection

Both qualitative interviews and the literature review were targeted at defining institutional capacity adopted from Patch’s (2010) research, which reviewed the concept within the context of developing countries classified as “advanced economies” (p. 18).

Literature Review

A literature review of published documents, research articles, and statistical data was conducted to understand the water situation in Abu Dhabi. The process of collecting data for literature reviews began with the researcher deciding on the scope of the review (50 sources from different databases). Databases used in the search included Google Scholar, Academic Search, ScienceDirect, Web of Science, as well as standard search engines such as Google. Inclusion criteria for the literature review were peer reviews, publishing dates between 2000 and 2017. Governmental and organizational sources (.gov,.ae,.org) online sources were also included in the review because they possessed relevant information.

Interviews

Collecting data from interviews and available studies allowed the researcher to attain both personalized information on interviewees’ attitudes towards the study topic as well as statistics and reports from various organizations that monitor the water situation in Abu Dhabi. Interviews were conducted face-to-face with each participant separately in locations that were the most convenient for them; the researcher did not interfere with the work or personal life of any of the interviewees. An interview schedule was designed to help with time management, data collection, as well as later transcription and analysis. The time limit for each interview has one hour; the researcher recorded them on a device for later transcription.

Qualitative Interviews

The study employed qualitative interviews as one of the methods of data collection. As the number of individuals who can give an expert opinion on the suitability of ‘soft path’ water management in Abu Dhabi is reasonably limited, qualitative interviews allowed the researcher to go deeper into study questions and gather relevant and more reliable information (Sargeant, 2012).

Selection of Participants

Snowball sampling was adopted to select participants for interviews and was combined with convenience sampling. Snowball sampling is a non-probability technique for finding subjects for research; “one subject gives the researcher the name of another subject, which in turn provides the name of a third, and so on” (Atkinson & Flint, 2001, p. 1). This type of sampling can be characterized as a link-tracing approach to participants’ selection that takes advantage of the existing social networks within communities to identify respondents who could provide a researcher with an ever-expanding set of contacts to approach and interview. Convenience sampling is another non-probability technique that allows researchers to select participants based on their accessibility and proximity (Roberts, 2014).

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As a result, the researcher managed to obtain a viable group of individuals who were interested in participating and could provide additional contacts for extending the study sample (Atkinson & Flint, 2001). The researcher did not set a specific number of participants to interview; however, it was expected that a more substantial amount of interviewees would bring multiple perspectives on the topic of sustainable water management in Abu Dhabi. Among twenty potential participants, seven interviewees agreed to be involved in the study. Each of them suggested a further individual contact, which resulted in fourteen participants in total. Those who were contacted but refused to participate in the research did so due to their unavailability to be interviewed, or they felt they did not have enough expertise concerning the topic of the interview. Potential interviewees were initially contacted by e-mail; it only took a week to receive replies from all of them, indicating the general level of interest of the public in the study issues because it usually takes longer to get responses.

Structure of Interviews

The interviews on the topic of a “soft-path” approach for sustainable water management in Abu Dhabi were structured around four principles to differentiate between the nature and purpose of the questions the interviewees were asked to answer. These principles were: “treating water as a service rather than an end in itself,” “ensuring ecological sustainability,” “conserving quality and quantity,” and “looking ahead by working backward” (Patch, 2010, p. 48). Each principle allowed the researcher to differentiate between the categories of interview questions, structure their content for further analysis, and guide the conversation with participants. Subsequently, the principles served as a basis for the development of codes and final indicators during the process of interview analysis.

The following is the list of interview questions grouped under each underlying principle:

A. Treating water as a service rather than an end in itself
1 How the Abu Dhabi government sees water as a service to ensure the continuance of good public health, enhance the economy, and the best lifestyle to the citizens (and residents)?
2 In your opinion, what role does the ‘water’ has in achieving Abu Dhabi Vision 2030?
B. Ensuring ecological sustainability
3 How does the water sector consider water conservation as a priority?
4 How are different government/private sectors and the community supportive of water conservation programs and planning?
5 What water conservation measures are taken in Abu Dhabi that can be regarded as a new source of water?
C. Conserving quality and quantity
6 What lifecycle (i.e., from the processing of water to end-of-life management of wastes) assessment conservation tasks are carried out for water supply and demand?
7 What are the incentives for water consumers to minimize water usage?
8 How does current water quality match the end-users’ requirements, for example, domestic usage, irrigation, industrial activities, etc.?
D. Looking ahead by working backward
9 Based on your experience, how easy is the access to data on water demand forecast and population data by water sector professionals?
10 How backcasting (i.e., defining the desired future and planning backward to the current tasks that are needed to achieve that future) method is implemented by the water sector in Abu Dhabi to set a goal(s) for future water use and conservation?

The order of the questions was chosen in such a manner that the interview included as many questions about sustainability and the soft-path approach as possible. Due to limited time, the researcher could not ask too many questions that were not linked to the study objectives. The list of questions above is all related to the four principles developed on the basis of research by Patch (2010), who also identified the themes of human resources, information resources, financial resources, policy and legal environment, political environment, community awareness, and involvement, technological solutions, and practical considerations. While this study took inspiration from Patch’s (2010) themes, it focused on broader indicators due to the lack of resources to conduct more detailed interviews. It is important to mention that the indicators that were developed as a result of the data analysis were different from the ones of previous research.

For testing whether the questions for interviews developed by the researcher would work during face-to-face interactions with participants, a pilot (sample) interview was conducted. Such trials are essential to perform because they allow researchers to understand possible issues that could arise while increasing the likelihood of the main study’s success (van Teijlingen & Hundley, 2002). While a pilot interview did not guarantee success, it fulfilled an array of essential functions, such as providing valuable insight into participants’ reactions that the researcher can take into account when performing the main interview (van Teijlingen & Hundley, 2002).

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Analysis of Interviews

After the completion of interviews with each out of fourteen participants, the contents of the interviews were transcribed into a digital format of word processor files. Each of the fourteen interviews was labeled with a number (01 through 14) to ease the process of identification and avoid any disclosure of a participants’ private information (Patch, 2010). To analyze the transcripts, matching was used for grouping the answers given by interviewees based on their similarities (Kohlbacher, 2006). The process of matching allowed the researcher to be more productive when dealing with a smaller number of interview transcripts while still finding connections between key topics that interviewees offered (Kohlbacher, 2006). Relevant themes developed on the basis of research questions became a basis for the development of groups; each answer given by the interviewees was matched to a theme; then, these matches were combined into groups for later analysis. The process of analyzing the interviews with regards to matching themes was as follows:

  • Becoming familiar with collected data: transcribing, re-reading, and noting general ideas that prevailed in interviews (Vaismoradi, Turunen, & Bondas, 2013);
  • Generating codes: coding interesting features that are relevant to the research topic (Patch, 2010);
  • Reviewing themes: determining whether the themes identified during the code generation process are applicable for being grouped by topics (Vaismoradi et al., 2013);
  • Defining groups: finalizing the definitions of groups identified during code generation (Vaismoradi et al., 2013);
  • Reporting: selecting final examples, linking them to thematic groups, and producing a report (Vaismoradi et al., 2013). Reporting is the final step of the analysis process and was later used by the researcher to compile the findings and research conclusions.

It is important to mention that codes included in the analysis of interviews were developed on the basis of concepts on which interviewees had similar opinions (Rubin & Rubin, 2005). As cited in Patch (2010), concepts are words or terms that “represent an idea important to your research problem; themes are summary statements and explanations of what is going on” (p. 60).

After coding relevant themes, the researcher then sorted them in order to determine what the coded data meant by looking for links and patterns that connected themes and concepts and writing about them in narrative form. Each theme was accompanied by a narrative that compared and analyzed the specific answers given by the interviewees. The transcripts were subsequently reviewed and rechecked by the researcher to compose a narrative to make sure that the comparisons between respondents’ interviews were used within the appropriate context. The gathered information was later combined with the literature review to assess Abu Dhabi’s institutional capacity to implement the soft-path approach.

Indicators

Final indicators developed as a result of the interview analysis were associated with the measurable description of the validity of the soft path approach to water management in Abu Dhabi. The combination of final indicators can be considered a framework of the study results because they finalize the contribution of the research to the theory of water management (Patch, 2010). Human resources, information resources, financial resources, policy, and legal environment, political environment, community awareness and involvement, technological solutions, and practical considerations were all themes used for the development of indicators: “Treating water as a service rather than an end in itself,” “ensuring ecological sustainability,” “conserving quality and quantity,” and “looking ahead by working backward were the principles to which questions were linked (Patch, 2010, p. 47). The table below illustrates examples of such indicators:

Themes Indicators of capacity Indicator questions
Human Resources Full-time, dedicated staff for managing water conservation programs. Is there full-time dedicated staff in the water sector responsible for water conservation?
Does the staff in the water sector have access to water conservation training and further education?
Themes Indicators of capacity Indicator question
Information resources The employees have access to recent and future data on water demand and population. Do employees have access to data on water demand?
Continued and regular monitoring is conducted to ensure that data is up to date. Does the staff monitor the results of any water conservation programs/ policy changes/ interventions? Is the data kept up to date?
Information and data are shared among staff and stakeholders. Do stakeholders cooperatively share information and data among themselves?
The staff has the capability to keep up with research and technology in the water sector—for example, climate change research, lab testing, policies, etc. Does the staff keep up with the latest research & technology in the water sector?
Is the sector in Abu Dhabi up to date with the possible effects on water resources of future climate change?
Themes Indicators of capacity Indicator question
Financial resources The water sector considers a financial bottom line to ensure that it is efficient and cost-effective. Does the water sector maintain its financial bottom line?
There is regular funding for water institutions to achieve water conservation. Did the water sector allocate and regulate funding for water conservation efforts?
The water sector guarantees a balanced and maintainable budget for water conservation. Is the annual budget constant and predictable each year?
There is a possibility for external funding to the water institution. Is it possible for water institutions to get external funding?
Lifecycle assessments are carried out for water supply and demand projects. Are water supply and demand projects supported by lifecycle assessments?
Water rates represent the full cost of water services and provision (including conservation, production, treatment distribution, operation and maintenance, and water source protection). Do water rates reflect the full cost of water services and provision?
There are available incentives to consumers, such as residents, businesses, etc., to support water conservation. Are there any incentives to support the conservation of water resources?
Themes Indicators of capacity Indicator question
Policy and legal environment The water sector has a clear goal of sustainability. Does the water sector have a clearly identified goal?
Water conservation is a long-term (more than one year) priority for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Does the Emirate of Abu Dhabi see water conservation as a long-term priority?
The water sector has a water conservation plan/program that has been actively implemented. Does the sector have an active water conservation plan/program?
Water conservation is integrated with other planning programs. Is water conservation integrated into land-use planning?
Is water conservation integrated into economic planning?
Water conservation is organized among different water sector departments. There might be one lead department. Have various governmental departments contributed to water conservation programs and planning?
A use of backcasting as a planning tool. Is backcasting used as a tool for planning?
Water conservation is important for planning and constructing new water supply infrastructure. Is water conservation important for the development of a new water supply infrastructure?
Water conservation program(s) and planning combine(s) a number of effective strategies and approaches that have not been extensively implemented (to date). Are there any innovative developments and programs that are related to water conservation?
Does the water conservation program include strategies for reducing outdoor water use and summer peak demand?
Is water infrastructure sized applicably for demand?
Themes Indicators of capacity Indicator question
Political environment The water sector has strong leadership for water conservation. Did the water sector/your organization publically advocate for water conservation?
The water sector liaises its activities with other departments (horizontal linkages). Is there a collaboration between water sector organizations?
The water sector liaises with other local community organizations (horizontal linkages). Does the water sector liaise with local community organizations?
Water sector shares its activities with non-government, professional, and private sector organizations (horizontal linkages) (e.g., LEED). Does the water sector liaise with non-government organizations?
The water sector liaises with private-sector organizations (horizontal linkages). Does the water sector liaise with private-sector organizations?
Water sector liaises its activities with other levels of government (vertical linkages) (e.g., input into provincial building codes). Does the water sector liaise with all levels of the government?
Themes Indicators of capacity Indicator question
Community awareness and involvement The water sector actively engages the public in decision-making. Is the public involved in decision-making?
The water sector carries out public education and outreach program(s) for water conservation. Does the water sector sponsor outreach programs and education to promote water conservation?
Education and outreach efforts represent public opinions about water conservation. Is the importance of water conservation addressed in the community? Does it help individuals to understand the value of water resources?
Indoor water conservation practices and technology are presented in water conservation program(s) and planning. Does the water sector promote indoor high-efficiency appliances (e.g., toilets, washing machines, showerheads)?
Are greywater systems and wastewater reuse encouraged by the water sector?
Themes Indicators of capacity Indicator question
Technological solutions Outdoor water conservation technologies are included in water conservation program(s) and planning. Does the water sector encourage automatic irrigation systems?
Are automatic irrigation systems mandated to control unnecessary watering?
System-wide water conservation technologies are included in water conservation program(s) and planning. Is water-leaking repair encouraged for homeowners?
Is there a leak repair schedule?
Themes Indicators of capacity Indicator question
Practical considerations Easy-to-implement and short-term things are important water conservation program(s) and planning. Are water policies, regulations, guidelines, etc., that are issued by water sector’ organizations easy to implement?
Water conservation program(s) and planning should start with methods that need little to no behavioral changes.
Social sciences as well as engineering in the sphere of water management. Does the water sector pay attention to social sciences’ contribution to water conservation, such as awareness, media, behavioral changes, etc.?

Study Area Evaluation

A qualitative interview is a method that allowed the researcher to evaluate the attitudes of study participants towards the phenomenon of soft path water management in the context of Abu Dhabi (Wutich et al., 2013). On the basis of the final framework of positive and negative indicators, qualitative interviews served the following purposes:

  • Evaluating the public opinion about the viability of soft path water management in Abu Dhabi;
  • Demonstrating the actual viability of the soft path approach toward sustainable water management;
  • Strengthening the body of evidence for the meaningful application of theory in practice.

The final results of the study were retrieved from combining the literature review on the soft path approach, and its principles and current measures to evaluate the supply and demand of water in Abu Dhabi (statistical data from relevant authorities) with indicators interview respondents gave to either support or deny the viability of the soft path approach to water management in the Abu Dhabi context. Such a combination of theory and practical research enabled a number of conclusions to be made. It is essential to note that the topic of the soft path approach to water preservation and management is fairly new, and, thus, the qualitative interviews gave results that were directly linked to participants’ personal knowledge of the subject.

Limitations and Ethical Considerations

Two key limitations of the research were associated with the lack of knowledge about the soft path approach toward sustainable water management. As the approach is relatively new, there is a gap in published research, which subsequently influenced the scarcity of the literature review. For the same reason, interview respondents did not always have enough knowledge of the phenomenon and, thus, sometimes could not give informed answers about the viability of soft path water management in the context of Abu Dhabi. It is expected that the current research will add to the body of available literature on the topic of soft path water management and will provide evidence to either support or deny the use of this method.

During the interviews and their analysis, the researcher took measures to follow ethical guidelines and prevent the disclosure of participants’ personal information. These measures included sending consent letters to participants (Appendix A), coding their personal information, and avoiding bias by eliminating possibilities for personal judgment and expression of opinions. All study participants were thanked for their contributions and were given an option to be sent digital copies of interview transcripts with their analysis. It is noteworthy that twelve out of the fourteen participants agreed to receive copies of interview transcripts, which points to the level of interest of interviewees to explore the topic of soft path approach water management in Abu Dhabi.

References

Atkinson, R., & Flint, J. (2001). Accessing hidden and hard-to-reach populations: Snowball research strategies. Social Research Update, 33, 1-3.

Kohlbacher, F. (2006). The use of qualitative content analysis in case study research. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 7(1). Web.

Patch, W. (2010). Implementing the soft path approach to water management: A case study of southern York Region, Ontario. Web.

Roberts, K. (2014). Convenience sampling through Facebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Rubin, H., & Rubin, I. (2005). Qualitative interviewing: The art of hearing data (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Sargeant, J. (2012). Qualitative research part II: Participants, analysis, and quality assurance. Journal of Graduate Medical Education, 4(1), 1-3.

Vaismoradi, M., Turunen, H., & Bondas, T. (2013). Content analysis and thematic analysis: Implications for conducting a qualitative descriptive study. Nursing and Health Sciences, 15, 398-405.

van Teijlingen, E., & Hundley, V. (2002). The importance of pilot studies. Nursing Standard, 16(40), 33-36.

Wutich, A., White, A., White, D., Larson, K., Brewis, A., & Roberts, C. (2013). Hard paths, soft paths or no paths? Cross-cultural perceptions of water solutions. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 18, 109-120.

Appendix A

Dear Participants,

This letter is an invitation to participate in a study I am conducting as part of my master degree in the Governance and Public Policy in _ University. The thesis on “The Soft-Path Approach for Sustainable Water Management: An Analysis of Its Suitability in Abu Dhabi”.

The interview questions are divided into two sections to examine the suitability of Soft Path Approach in Abu Dhabi and to understand the institutional capacity of Abu Dhabi to implement this approach.

Please note for the purpose of this thesis the ‘soft path approach for water management’ is a concept for long-range planning that involves quantitative and qualitative methods to develop options for fresh water policy that are economically feasible, environmentally sustainable and socially acceptable.

The four principles of soft path approach are:

  • Treating water as a service rather than an end in itself.
  • Ensuring ecological sustainability
  • Conserving quality as well as quantity
  • Looking ahead by working backwards.

Participation in this interview is voluntary. You may reject answering any questions. The information you provide will be considered entirely confidential. Names and details will not appear in any thesis or report.

If you have any questions regarding this study, or would like additional information, please contact me by email at XXXXXX. You can also contact my supervisor, Professor XXXXXXX at XXXXXXXXXX or email XXXXXX

I hope that the results of my study will be of benefit to the Emirate water management organizations, as well as to the broader research community.

I look forward to speaking with you and thank you in advance for your assistance in this project.

Soft-Path Water Management Study in Abu Dhabi
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