How User Research is Helping Find the Best Way to Improve a Community’s Water Access

Nis Bojin

Nis Bojin

January 18, 2024

Code for Canada visits Kativik

Like the majority of people in Canada, you probably never think twice about being able to turn on a faucet and fill a cup of water. The vast amounts of water we use to flush our toilets, fill our washing machines and take our showers comes and goes almost as though it will never run out.

But what if it did run out? Several times a month?

This is reality for the Indigenous people of Kativik, a remote territory comprising 14 villages in Northern Quebec, where the ground is permanently frozen and reliably piped water remains a pipe dream.

Code for Canada Product Manager Annie Rajam visits residents to interview them in-person as part of the Kativik project team's user research.
Code for Canada Product Manager Annie Rajam visits residents to interview them in-person as part of the Kativik project team's user research.

A harsh reality

For Kativik’s residents, access to water involves daily refills of tanks attached to homes and businesses via service trucks. Without an underground sewage system, similar trucks also need to come and take the wastewater away, making these two services precariously intertwined.

If water or waste service doesn’t arrive — which can happen about four to eight times a month — residents need to call for it, and they aren’t always successful. From inclement weather and a limited driver workforce to the equation, and you have a fragile supply system that doesn’t take much to disrupt.

Improving this system is now the primary challenge of Kativik’s Regional Government (KRG) — and they’ve reached out to Code for Canada for help.

Together, Code for Canada and the KRG have begun exploring a series of data-driven solutions, providing critical insights into how Kativik’s existing water system works, to make it more reliable for the residents it serves.

Unraveling the problem with user research

To better understand the problem at hand, Code for Canada sent a team of three researchers to the Kativik village of Kuujjuaq in November of 2023.

Our team began an examination of the problem with the aim to first understand before jumping to solutions. We started with user research.

We spoke to Kativik residents and service workers, collecting qualitative narratives from affected stakeholders, identifying associated pain points and discovering potential opportunities.

The team made several key observations, including:

Next steps

With these crucial insights and other findings in hand, Code for Canada and the KRG are now looking at developing tools that can help facilitate the communication of information along the service chain, simplify the service request process for residents, and make it easier for drivers to have access to clear and concise information in delivering their critical services.

Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for the latest updates on this critical work. Inspired? Reach out about working together on something new.