Aligning the Wisconsin Idea on water: Interpreting public perspectives and values

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07/01/2022 -

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  • Michael Cardiff, UW-Madison, Department of Geoscience
  • Ken Genskow, UW-Madison, Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture
  • Bret Shaw, UW-Madison, Department of Life Sciences Communication

Rural land covers most of the state of Wisconsin and thus overlies the majority of aquifer volumes in the state. Rural landowners and land workers are thus intimately connected to the quantity, quality, and availability of groundwater, and are similarly strongly affected by groundwater issues. The range of issues that may be important to the rural public is vast, from quality concerns such as nitrate and microbial contamination, to quantity concerns that include agricultural irrigation needs and impacts of groundwater to springs and streamflows. Despite this range of issues and the likely salience to rural populations, there have been few efforts to document rural perspectives (attitudes, perceptions, and values) related to groundwater issues, and the variability of these perspectives within the state. This project will implement the “Wisconsin’s Waters Survey” – a community-sourced public survey that will be delivered to a range of rural communities. This project will also apply natural language processing (NLP) algorithms – including topic modeling and sentiment analysis – to published research, news, and other text bodies, and assess how water issues are represented in each text body. Finally, we will assess the degree to which published material aligns with priorities and values expressed by rural stakeholders. We expect the research in this proposal to benefit efforts of researchers, regulators, and others working with rural audiences by helping them to tailor messaging and framing of water research across diverse rural audiences. Similarly, NLP tools will provide methods for water researchers to understand how local issues are being discussed and framed in different bodies of literature.

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