Improving drinking water consumer confidence reports: Applying user-centered design

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Mary Fox , Vidisha Agarwalla, Kayla R. Iuliano , J. Harry Munroe, Keeve E. Nachman , Thomas A. Burke


The US Environmental Protection Agency is revising its policy on drinking water quality reports for consumers. These reports are intended to enhance the public’s “right to know” and to spur action to protect and promote safe water. However, these reports are known to be highly technical and difficult to access compromising their communication value. This study engaged a focus group to gather evidence on how these reports can be improved. We applied user-centered design principles to understand public drinking water consumer information needs and preferences and to develop new communication tools and methods. Through a set of in-depth interviews, we learned that most participants were unaware of the report until introduced to it during the study. The focus group participants voiced preferences for: better ways to convey technical information; more health information; a clearer understanding of costs and billing; and neighborhood or household level water quality information. Following the interviews, we convened two rounds of small group meetings to create new report designs and to review and refine the designs. The focus group developed a one-page summary statement, water contaminant trend charts, an interactive map, and other recommendations on ways to improve dissemination of the report. The project results, focus group recommendations and designs were submitted to the US Environmental Protection Agency for consideration as the policy for these reports is finalized. We believe these findings provide valuable insights into water quality communication challenges that are widely applicable and will be informative for water utilities as they prepare future reports.



Public Health


Communication, consumer confidence report, drinking water, user-centered design


Published: 2023-07-20 05:25


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

Additional Metadata

Data Availability (Reason not available):
Data collected for this study included responses to interview questions, interview and small group discussion transcripts, recommendations and visual designs. Summary data from interviews, visual designs and recommendations are provided in the paper or in the supplemental files. The consent agreement approved by the IRB for this study stated that interview and discussion transcripts would not be shared.

Conflict of interest statement:
The authors have no competing interests to declare.