Acting, predicting and intervening in a socio-hydrological world


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Acting, predicting and intervening in a socio-hydrological world
Hydrology and Earth System Sciences
Lane S.N.
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This paper asks a simple question: if humans and their actions co-evolve
with hydrological systems (Sivapalan et al., 2012), what is the role of
hydrological scientists, who are also humans, within this system? To put
it more directly, as traditionally there is a supposed separation of
scientists and society, can we maintain this separation as
socio-hydrologists studying a socio-hydrological world? This paper
argues that we cannot, using four linked sections. The first section
draws directly upon the concern of science-technology studies to make a
case to the (socio-hydrological) community that we need to be sensitive
to constructivist accounts of science in general and socio-hydrology in
particular. I review three positions taken by such accounts and apply
them to hydrological science, supported with specific examples: (a) the
ways in which scientific activities frame socio-hydrological research,
such that at least some of the knowledge that we obtain is constructed
by precisely what we do; (b) the need to attend to how
socio-hydrological knowledge is used in decision-making, as evidence
suggests that hydrological knowledge does not flow simply from science
into policy; and (c) the observation that those who do not normally
label themselves as socio-hydrologists may actually have a profound
knowledge of socio-hydrology. The second section provides an empirical
basis for considering these three issues by detailing the history of the
practice of roughness parameterisation, using parameters like Manning's
n, in hydrological and hydraulic models for flood inundation mapping.
This history sustains the third section that is a more general
consideration of one type of socio-hydrological practice: predictive
modelling. I show that as part of a socio-hydrological analysis,
hydrological prediction needs to be thought through much more carefully:
not only because hydrological prediction exists to help inform decisions
that are made about water management; but also because those predictions
contain assumptions, the predictions are only correct in so far as those
assumptions hold, and for those assumptions to hold, the
socio-hydrological system (i.e. the world) has to be shaped so as to
include them. Here, I add to the ``normal'' view that ideally our
models should represent the world around us, to argue that for our
models (and hence our predictions) to be valid, we have to make the
world look like our models. Decisions over how the world is modelled may
transform the world as much as they represent the world. Thus,
socio-hydrological modelling has to become a socially accountable
process such that the world is transformed, through the implications of
modelling, in a fair and just manner. This leads into the final section
of the paper where I consider how socio-hydrological research may be
made more socially accountable, in a way that is both sensitive to the
constructivist critique (Sect. 1), but which retains the contribution
that hydrologists might make to socio-hydrological studies. This
includes (1) working with conflict and controversy in hydrological
science, rather than trying to eliminate them; (2) using hydrological
events to avoid becoming locked into our own frames of explanation and
prediction; (3) being empirical and experimental but in a
socio-hydrological sense; and (4) co-producing socio-hydrological
predictions. I will show how this might be done through a project that
specifically developed predictive models for making interventions in
river catchments to increase high river flow attenuation.
Therein, I found myself becoming detached from my normal disciplinary
networks and attached to the co-production of a predictive hydrological
model with communities normally excluded from the practice of
hydrological science.
Open Access
Create date
16/06/2014 16:21
Last modification date
20/08/2019 15:49
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