This project began, in early 2020, as a study of how locally-focussed civil society organizations transition to a more regional or provincial focus, and what the implications of that transition are for organizational dynamics, using Water Watchers as a case study. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, researchers shifted direction towards capturing some of emerging impacts on grassroots advocacy groups and their campaigns, focussing on water advocacy organizations in southwestern, Ontario, Canada.

To get real-time perspective on emerging impacts of COVID-19 and shifting priorities for water advocacy, between June and August, 2020 -- in the midst of adapting to COVID-related lockdowns and physical distancing -- Water Watchers researchers interviewed 26 individuals representing water advocacy organizations and networks from across southwestern Ontario. Then, in March 2021, nearly a year into the pandemic, academic researchers interviewed WW personnel to gain in-depth, retrospective perspective on the impacts of COVID-19 on a sample organization (WW) and its campaigns and internal dynamics. To add dimension to the analysis, the research team also conducted some analysis of engagement with WW’s social media over the first year of the pandemic. Following the interviews and social media analysis, researchers conducted a focus group with WW personnel to clarify, test, and deepen themes emerging from the interviews, and to elicit perspective on the implications of COVID adaptation for ongoing organizing and campaign work.

The aims of this project were to

  • Document some of the real-time impacts of the COVID-19 on the Water Watchers and related water advocacy networks
  • Draw lessons from this experience for understanding non-profit adaptation and crisis management


Articles and other outputs:

Case, R, & Eady, A. (2022). Crisis and opportunity: the impacts of COVID-19 on water advocacy in Ontario, Canada. Journal of Community Practice30(3), 279-298. doi:10.1080/10705422.2022.2103864. [By subscription: Abstract and details here]


University of Waterloo/SSHRC Robert Harding/Lois Claxton Humanities and Social Sciences Endowment



  • Justin Langille, Interviewer (Water Watchers)
  • Dani Lindamood, Community Research Coordinator (Water Watchers)
  • Allison Eady, RA Qualitative Analysis (PhD Candidate, Community Psychology, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo)
  • Hannah Grewal, RA Social Media Analysis (Masters of Environmental Studies, McMaster University)
  • Shifra Fern-Weinbren, Literature Review (Bachelor of Environmental and Resource Management, University of Waterloo)

Principle Investigator:        
Dr. Robert A. Case, Associate Professor, Social Development Studies
Renison University College (Affiliated with University of Waterloo), Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
[email protected]; website