Project Description

Do Wins for Water Equal Wins for the Movement? Exploring the impact of campaign ‘wins’ on social movement organization in two Canadian communities

When a local environmental campaign is successful, do more people sign up?

In 2013, community activist groups including the Wellington Water Watchers challenged an appeal by Nestlé Waters Canada, to the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal, to have certain conditions removed from a water-taking permit issued for water-bottling operations in the county. Unwilling to fight against the community pressure, Nestlé eventually withdrew its appeal. (For more on this, see related news reports by CBC News and EcoJustice.)

In Hope, B.C., where Nestlé Waters Canada also has water bottling operations, social movement organizations organized themselves to take aim at Nestlé’s operations there, drawing attention to the lack of regulation governing water use in that province. This advocacy work eventually contributed to the enactment of the province’s new Water Sustainability Act in late 2013.

In both cases, these policy wins were celebrated in the community and across Canada as a significant victory for water activists. However, important questions remain concerning the continuing impact of these ‘wins’ on public attitudes about and grassroots involvement in the social movement organizations involved. Specifically, does an organization’s success encourage more people to become involved, or make them feel that their participation is no longer needed?

This project, based at Renison College at the University of Waterloo, aims to explore these perceptions and how they may have changed over time. This will be done through interviews with key informants, a survey of residents in the two communities, and a retrospective analysis of local and national news media.

The online survey is now closed.

Water Wins Spring 2016 Community Report is now available! View it as a downloadable PDF and also online.


This project is funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant.



The Water Wins project team has collected data through interviews with key informants, a survey of residents in the two communities, and a retrospective analysis of local and national news media, which we will delve into in a series of short reports.

This is a series of three community reports that will aim to answer key questions, toward eventually answering the project’s overarching question: does an organization’s success encourage more people to become involved, or make them feel that their participation is no longer needed?

Report One (Fall 2015): What are people concerned about when it comes to water? 

The report highlights which water issues communities in Wellington County care about the most, and how they compare with other Canadian communities.

Report Two (Winter 2016): What do people know about the work of local activist groups?

This second community report looks to answer the question: how much knowledge do people have about water activist organizations and campaigns in their community?

Report Three (Spring 2016): What does engagement in water activism look like at the community level?

This report looks to answer the question: What does engagement in water activism look like at the community level? It explores the ways in which individuals demonstrate their interest for water issues through their actions (i.e. what engagement in water activism actually looks like), and what key informants in local water activist organizations have to say about what they think motivates and deters people from becoming engaged in water activism.

Thank you for your interest in our research. We hope you find this series of reports to be interesting, informative and useful.


Robert Case
Principal Investigator

Robert Case is an assistant professor in Social Development Studies, at Renison University College (at the University of Waterloo), and a member of the board of directors of the Wellington Water Watchers, a citizens-based advocacy group based in Wellington County, Ontario.

In Guelph, where Rob lives, water has emerged as a significant focal point for policy development, technological innovation, and social action over past decade or so. In the early 2000s, as a volunteer with the Guelph International Resource Centre, Rob found himself immersed in a broad and interconnected web of diverse professionals, institutions and citizens’ groups that were active on water issues in Guelph and beyond.

Returning to academia in 2007 to pursue a PhD in Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University, Rob immersed himself further still in Guelph’s social networks of water activism, through a dissertation project that explored the dynamics underlying water activism in that context. The “Water Wins” research project builds on this research trajectory.

In his teaching capacity, Rob teaches courses on social policy and on community organization, largely to students pursuing a social work specialization. He has a PhD in social work from Wilfrid Laurier University, also in Waterloo, an MSW from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and a BSW from McGill University in Montreal.

Laura Zeglen
Project Coordinator

Laura is a recent Master of Arts graduate from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. Laura brings a diverse range of experience and expertise to coordinating this environmentally-focused project, from past research coordination work at the University of Toronto, to volunteering with the Brampton YMCA’s “Green Team”, to engaging with nature whilst backpacking and hiking in a variety of rugged landscapes around the world.

Currently, she is also coordinating a project at Ryerson University (, investigating Toronto’s green economy and exploring how various stakeholders engage in this economy. Her emerging research interests include new approaches to environmental education, community engagement in environmental initiatives, and learning what drives environmental policy change.

Siobhan Bonisteel Topping
Media Analyst

Siobhan Bonisteel Topping is an MES candidate in Environment & Resource Studies at the University of Waterloo. She holds an honours BA from the University of Toronto in Women and Gender Studies. Siobhan has experience with non-profit Board management, web design, social media and small business entrepreneurism. Past work includes being Editor of the Waterloo Region Food System Roundtable Blog, and Social Media and Web Development for a joint program between George Brown College and Negahneewin College.

Siobhan has a passion for all things environmental and her research focuses mainly on sustainable food and sustainable parenting within modern-consumer culture. She also has years of experience in grassroots community building projects and recently co-founded the Preston Community Garden.

Rebecca Pacheco
Research Assistant (Communications)

Rebecca is studying Social Development Studies at the University of Waterloo. She is specializing in social work and social policy and has chosen to minor in political science. She is working with Wellington Water Watchers as a research apprentice working with Robert Case as her supervising professor. She is passionate about social activism and really wants to make positive social change in her community. She loves learning about nature and the environment and loves spending time outdoors.



The Wellington Water Watchers are fully affiliated with this project, both in assisting with its administration, and in being one of the key social movement organizations being studied in this project.




The other key partner in this project is the WaterWealth Project, based in the Fraser Valley, B.C., who are assisting with the administration of the project in B.C.The WaterWealth Project is an important player in water protection in the province of BC. In February 2015, BC announced the first regulations of its newly-formed Water Sustainability Act, the creation of which was supported in large part by the work of the WaterWealth Project. Now, WaterWealth is contributing to the movement to hold the province to its stated aims, particularly around facilitating community involvement, regulation and enforcement, maintaining provisions for cost recovery for science, monitoring, and planning, and around fair pricing and licensing fees for existing groundwater users such as Nestle. For more on developments to the Water Sustainability Act, or for information about the WaterWealth Project, visit


Related Literature

Andrews, K and Caren, N. (2010). Making the news: movement organizations, media attention, and the public agenda. American Sociological Review, 75(6), 841-866.

Barlow, M. (2013). Blue future: protecting water for people and the planet forever. Toronto, ON: House of Anansi Press.

Case, R. (pending). Social Work and the Moral Economy of Water: Community-Based Water Activism and its Implications for Eco-social Work. Critical Social Work.

Case, R and Caragata, L. (2009). The emergence of a new social movement: Social networks and collective Action on water issues in Guelph, Ontario. Journal of  Community Development Society, 40(3), 247-261.

Hensby, A, Sibthorpe, J and Driver, S. (2011). Resisting the ‘protest business’: Bureaucracy, postbureaucracy and active membership in social movement organizations. Organization 19(6): 809–823.

Jaffee, D. and Newman, S. (2013). A Bottle Half Empty: Bottled Water, Commodification, and Contestation, Organization and Environment, 26(3), 318-335.

Jaffee, D. and Newman, S. (2013). A More Perfect Commodity: Bottled Water, Global Accumulation, and Local Contestation. Rural Sociology, 78(1), 1-28.

Morris, T. and Brandes, OM. (2013). The State of the Water Movement in British Columbia: A Waterscape Scan & Needs Assessment of B.C. Watershed-Based Groups. Report prepared for the Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia and the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance. Available at:


For more information on this project, contact:

Principal Investigator:
Robert Case, Assistant Professor
Social Development Studies, Renison University College (@UWaterloo)
[email protected]