Wading Into the Water (Thinkers)

Deidre Peroff, Wisconsin Sea Grant’s social scientist, lives and works in a city that’s intensely focused on water (Milwaukee). She works in a building that houses researchers devoted to its study (UW-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Science).  And since joining Sea Grant, she’s become involved in improving water resources and access to them among Milwaukee’s residents through community engagement, education and outreach.

So it was probably inevitable that she’d become involved with the Wisconsin Water Thinkers Network (WWTN), a fledging group of Wisconsin professionals and volunteers engaged in engaging the public around water-related issues. Peroff, who joined WWTN’s Leadership Committee last year, will be one of the facilitators at “Developing a State of Engaged Water Thinkers,” a networking event set for March 22 in Green Lake.

“It’s good to have a general water focus group, and Sea Grant is a great partner for something like this,” Peroff said. “Our outreach specialists all do different things, but we come together around water.”

So far, it’s been an especially great fit for Peroff, who’s an expert in the systems thinking approach that defines the network’s framework—it’s all about the linkages and interactions that form a much bigger picture.

“It’s nice to have a more informal space to discuss these issues,” she noted. “When you give people a space to talk about what they’re facing in their professional and personal worlds, you see things very differently.”

That’s also the theme of the March event. Representatives from groups such as the Milwaukee Water Commons and the Wisconsin Green Muslims will share strategies for creating public engagement programs. The keynote address will feature Matt Howard, the director of the Alliance for Water Stewardship speaking on the topic, “Thriving in a Water-Stressed World.”

Peroff said she’s hoping the network will continue to embrace a bottom-up, community-based focus that will open the door to further inclusion of tribal and minority communities. For her, the virtual space represents a golden opportunity to accomplish that. Last year, Peroff conducted a webinar on social science for network members, and she’s hoping to be part of similar efforts in the coming months.

“When we started, we had nothing but this interest in water,” she said. “It was difficult and daunting at first, but it’s great to see what it’s become.”

For more information on WWTN, click here.