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A dream come true: Mapping cultural values of rivers around the world

So, do you remember my rant about trying to get recognition for my work?


I recently got a big grant for early-career researchers grant from Formas for my project “Putting locals first: mapping cultural values across rivers of the world”. I cannot be happier!! It is a great achievement for all researchers to win a grant but particularly so when it is your own idea at stake, your own salary, your own independence.


"Around the world" is an overstatement: Here goes the map with the case studies I will develop in the next 4 years. You might recognize some are already ongoing!


A few days after knowing about the grant, I got to celebrate with some of my amazing colleagues - in the photo, Louis (left) and Francisco (right) - over an event for foreign researchers in the Stockholm City Hall. They thanked us for bringing our science to Sweden. We were all grateful, as it was our first time being thanked for moving around the world!


Things change quickly when you get a project like this. You get interest from more research centers, and can focus on applying for funding for more pieces of the puzzle. But actually, in terms of research ideas and content, I have been what we would call an independent scientist for a little while, only I was there "half the way". I kept needing external funding, and got two amazing scientists who helped me keep my postdoc job while longing for a grant to happen (Thank you, Stefano and Gia).


I will try to quantify the intangible cultural values that link citizens to rivers, to understand how the bond between people and rivers can be a driver for sustainable development by leveraging social change. This project has already begun in my head long ago :) but I look forward to tell you more about it.


The work I have done in the Tagliamento has been a solid foundation that has allowed me to develop my ideas into a bigger, more ambitious project. In terms of research, the main points I have contributed to science with this "pre-study" are summarized below. I hope this summary will help those associations who care for the Tagliamento to see.


#1 - A win for my river of the heart


In my very first work on the Tagliamento river I identified for the first time the discrepancy between what is discussed in local newspapers, and what research is being done on the river. I found that there is very little done in terms of:

o flood research (both modelling and socio-hydrology), with some great studies but little overall that could be used to build a case for river and flood management alternatives that include river conservation;

o sustainability and co-design of solutions that will allow to adapt to climate change, my main subject of study.


Of course, I did more about it, see the next two points!


#2 - Floods and conservation


My study looking at flood perception and official flood maps points out that awareness and preparedness need to be improved, meaning that often people do not know what to do when there is a flood.

A striking 82% of the respondents believe that it is possible to reduce flood risk and preserve the river, "pointing to the necessity to tackle together conservation, risk management and land use planning in order to develop risk-oriented river management strategies" (from Scaini et al., 2021, read more here).


"Most respondents believe that risk reduction and river conservation are compatible" – Scaini et al., 2021

#3 - What do locals want?


In my work on “What locals want”, river conservation is the first priority for locals. People identified their priorities for the river and were surprisingly even across stakeholders groups. Cultural values have the potential to be problem-solvers in the way the river is managed. This though requires more effective communication, collaborative approaches that involved knowledge users well beyond the typical (sloppy) participation that is unscientific, lacks evidence basis and clear objectives.


"Any river intervention should be pondered carefully accounting for its environmental impact also in terms of loss of the cultural services provided" – Scaini et al., 2022

#4 - Fix the broken links through collaborations


My work is built on outreach and communication, as well as citizen science activities. I mostly did this in my home region in Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy. I am cherishing the network of collaborations because it took time and energy, but also because I know there is still much to do to fix the broken links between science and the real world.


#5 - What now?


My next steps include setting up many case studies across the world.

I will also work in rivers in Sweden, and I look forward to collaborate with many of my colleagues at the Department of Physical Geography. The Balkans will also be part of my next steps, as soon as the Soca/Isonzo data collection is done (stay tuned!).


But this also means that I will be able to keep going with my now largely extra-time projects involving outreach and science communication. My case studies include the river where everything started, of course… Not before some rest over the holidays.


See you soon, Tagliamento!

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