Can You Crowdsource Water Quality Data?

The contamination of drinking water, through industrial pollution, agricultural practices, and inadequate sanitation, is a predominant public health hazard. As governments begin to tackle water quality issues, water-quality monitoring is a logical starting point.

A World Bank report, Crowdsourcing Water Quality Data: A Conceptual Framework, argues that one can only manage that which you measure and understand.

However, traditional water quality monitoring infrastructure is expensive; testing usually requires the use of expensive and sophisticated testing equipment, technologies, and specially trained personnel. Given the ubiquitous nature of mobile phones and the Internet, can citizen science be coupled with crowdsourcing?  How can crowdsourcing water quality monitoring tools be used to increase community participation and understanding of water quality?

The model would typically work in the following manner: consumers use their mobile phones to report water quality data to a central data collection point. This service then shares the data via social media, websites and phone messages.

This way all stakeholders involved – individual citizens and the water agencies – have access to the quality of their water and can take decisions based on this data. There has recently been a spurt of mWash applications by aid agencies and policy makers to create applications that use mobile phones for data quality monitoring and collection.

The development of a crowdsourced water quality project is conducted in four phases:

1. Investigation and scoping: this is Phase 1 and involves the initial investigation to choose the best site and the feasibility of the project. This phase involves choosing the team, identifying stakeholder needs, the water quality indicators that need to be tracked. At this stage, it is important to determine the project goals and then work backwards to determine what is needed to achieve these. Some of the questions that need tackling include: Who will serve as the project sponsor? And how will the team interact (meetings, briefings, updates)?

2. Initiation and Customization: Phase II involves creating, developing, and implementing technological solutions, as well as water quality testing distribution and educational awareness programs.

3. Implementation: the execution of the crowdsourcing project. During this phase, communities and management agencies are educated; testing kits are distributed; water quality is screened by citizens and uploaded to the project database; results are disseminated to the community and used by water management agencies to manage the resources and communicate with stakeholders.

4. Evaluation and Reporting: Compiling information and computing metrics, surveying and taking the testimony of participants, and reporting results to the communities, managing agencies, and interested stakeholders. Outputs can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the program and determine areas where improvements are required. If the program is to be continued, this is likely a periodic report.

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