Citizens’ needs and perceptions of the aquatic systems in Ghent


A focus group workshop was held in Gent on March 5, 2024. Ten residents of Ghent with diverse backgrounds (e.g. retired, students, employed, expats) participated in the event. The workshop aims to gain insight into the citizens’ ideas, values, needs and expectations on urban aquatic systems and their surrounding areas, as well as on how the citizens would like to report environmental observations (e.g. soil erosion, litter, the proliferation of algae and parasites…).

During the workshop, the participants expressed a strong desire to protect the environment and ensure a healthy future for their communities and future generations. They found significant improvement in the water quality of the urban streams in Ghent and a strong decrease in problems related to unpleasant odours and mosquitoes that were observed in these streams a decade before. They also perceived an app as a tool for contributing to improved stream management, faster intervention on issues, and increased public engagement. Furthermore, the participants also pointed out a sense of civic duty, environmental responsibility, and personal satisfaction as additional motivations for app usage.

The participants noted their preferred tool/platform, i.e., a dedicated mobile app with a user-friendly interface, where they can report environmental observations. They also indicated that features such as quick selection forms, photo/video capture, and automatic geolocation are crucial for efficient data collection. On the other hand, the integration with existing apps received lower interest, suggesting a preference for a focused citizen science tool.

The participants desired timely updates and information on public safety and environmental awareness: water quality and pollution levels, flood risks and disease warnings associated with the streams. The transparency in policymaking and updates on the overall health of the streams (water and soil) were also important for the participants. There was however a moderate interest in a social media feed showcasing observations from other users suggesting potential for community engagement.

The participants also expressed their concerns and considerations related to the use of apps. The lack of time due to daily life emerged as the biggest potential barrier to app usage. Furthermore, user concerns focused on app complexity, technical issues, and privacy while some participants questioned the impact of their individual contributions. At the end of the workshop, participants called attention to the importance of addressing these concerns through a user-friendly app, clear privacy policies, and highlighting the value of individual participation.

Author(s): Marie Anne Eurie Forio and Long Ho, University of Ghent