EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Social science for hydrologists: considerations when doing fieldwork with human participants

Sally Rangecroft1, Eddie Banks2, Rosie Day3, Guiliano Di Baldassarre4,5, Theresa Frommen6, Yasunori Hayashi7, Britta Höllermann8, Karen Lebek6, Elena Mondino4,5, Melanie Rohse9, Maria Rusca4,5, Marthe Wens10, and Anne Van Loon3,10
Sally Rangecroft et al.
  • 1School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, UK (
  • 2National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training and College of Science and Engineering, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia
  • 3School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK
  • 4Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
  • 5Center of Natural Hazards and Disaster Science (CNDS), Uppsala, Sweden
  • 6Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems, Humboldt University Berlin, Berlin, Germany
  • 7College of Indigenous Futures, Arts and Society, Charles Darwin University, Australia
  • 8Department of Geography, University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany
  • 9Global Sustainability Institute, Anglia Ruskin University, UK
  • 10Institute of Environmental Studies, VU Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Water is at the core of many current and future global challenges, which involve hydrological, technical and social processes. Therefore, successful interdisciplinary research on how water-related issues interact with human activities, actions and responses is increasingly important. Qualitative data and diverse perspectives provide much-needed information to improve our understanding and management of water-related issues. To collect this information, hydrologists are increasingly conducting fieldwork with human participants (e.g. individuals, policy-makers, community leaders, government representatives, etc.) themselves, and collaboratively with others. Although collaboration between hydrologists and social scientists in interdisciplinary projects is becoming more common, several barriers, including lack of understanding and experience, can result in hydrologists and social scientists remaining somewhat separate during research, leading to suboptimal research outcomes. Hydrologists who are planning and undertaking fieldwork involving human participants may be underprepared because they are unfamiliar with key social science approaches and concepts. Therefore, here, we help guide hydrologists to better understand some important issues to consider when working with human participants, to facilitate more collaborative research.

As a group of social, natural, and interdisciplinary scientists, we discuss a number of important elements of fieldwork involving human participants that hydrologists might be unfamiliar with, or might have different approaches to than social scientists. These elements include good ethical practice, research question frameworks, power dynamics, communication of science (e.g. participatory mapping, photovoice, videography, and interactive graphs), and post-fieldwork reflections. There are also issues to consider when working collaboratively with social scientists, such as vocabulary differences and different methodologies and data collection approaches (e.g. interviews, focus groups, questionnaires, workshops, ethnography).

We believe that by introducing hydrologists (and natural scientists in general) to some of the key considerations when working with human participants in the field, more holistic, ethical, and successful research outcomes can be achieved. We also want to stress that collaboration with social scientists stays important and research ethics, design, participant involvement, and results, may be compromised without the input and experience of social scientists themselves. Facilitating these collaborations between the natural and social sciences will improve interdisciplinary water research, resulting in a better understanding of the interactions between water and society.

How to cite: Rangecroft, S., Banks, E., Day, R., Di Baldassarre, G., Frommen, T., Hayashi, Y., Höllermann, B., Lebek, K., Mondino, E., Rohse, M., Rusca, M., Wens, M., and Van Loon, A.: Social science for hydrologists: considerations when doing fieldwork with human participants, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-5221,, 2020.


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