One of the greatest obstacles to improving critical water infrastructures (e.g., drinking water, storm water, waste water) for public health protection in low Human Development Index (HDI) countries is developing engineered solutions that are socially, culturally, and geographically relevant. Such “context-sensitive” interventions demand multisectoral collaborations among environmental engineers, social scientists, health professionals, and stakeholder groups. In doing so, solutions can be viewed holistically and can integrate local knowledge systems into decision-making processes, thereby making outcomes more resilient and sustainable over the long term. Practical challenges persist, however, in carrying out such projects, especially when the problems cross-cut different scales: household, community, and watershed.
This panel brings together a group of anthropologists and engineers to discuss these challenges and how outcome-driven qualitative research can contribute to improving interdisciplinary collaborations and developing context-sensitive solutions. The panellists, currently or formerly associated with the University of South Florida, will share their recent experiences in working collaboratively with anthropologists and engineers on precision interventions in water infrastructure in international settings. Examples of our university-engaged research from the US Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Belize, and Bolivia document how and why these successful collaborations developed and the key role that qualitative research methods played in project implementation. The greater goal of this effort is to stimulate new, cross-disciplinary dialog about how we might design convergent research, in which anthropology and engineering (and potentially other perspectives) converge on global change problems surrounding water, infrastructure, and health.
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