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Vernacular knowledge and water management – Towards the integration of expert science and local knowledge in Ontario, Canada

Hugh Simpson
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Guelph, Ontario, Canada; School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada; Water Policy and Governance Group; hcsimpso@uwaterloo.ca

Rob de Loë
Department of Environment and Resource Studies, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; Water Policy and Governance Group; rdeloe@uwaterloo.ca

Jean Andrey
Professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Management, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; jandrey@uwaterloo.ca

ABSTRACT: Complex environmental problems cannot be solved using expert science alone. Rather, these kinds of problems benefit from problem-solving processes that draw on 'vernacular' knowledge. Vernacular knowledge integrates expert science and local knowledge with community beliefs and values. Collaborative approaches to water problem-solving can provide forums for bringing together diverse, and often competing, interests to produce vernacular knowledge through deliberation and negotiation of solutions. Organised stakeholder groups are participating increasingly in such forums, often through involvement of networks, but it is unclear what roles these networks play in the creation and sharing of vernacular knowledge. A case-study approach was used to evaluate the involvement of a key stakeholder group, the agricultural community in Ontario, Canada, in creating vernacular knowledge during a prescribed multi-stakeholder problem-solving process for source water protection for municipal supplies. Data sources – including survey questionnaire responses, participant observation, and publicly available documents – illustrate how respondents supported and participated in the creation of vernacular knowledge. The results of the evaluation indicate that the respondents recognised and valued agricultural knowledge as an information source for resolving complex problems. The research also provided insight concerning the complementary roles and effectiveness of the agricultural community in sharing knowledge within a prescribed problem-solving process.

KEYWORDS: Vernacular knowledge, water governance, stakeholder networks, collaborative decision making, agriculture, Ontario, Canada