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Predicting and addressing water related conflicts through innovative combinations of biophysical, socioeconomic and political data

An integrated platform for water, peace, and security to predict, and thus help prevent, tension and conflict within and between countries.

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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional Beneficiary Feedback in this field

Please see attachment 'BridgeBuilder Challenge Refinement Process - Summary of Beneficiary Feedback' for extended user feedback.

Explain your project idea in two sentences.

This project aims to equip decision-makers with the information needed to better understand, predict, prevent, and mitigate conflicts stemming from water resource over-exploitation and scarcity.

What is your organization name? Explain your organization in one sentence.

The World Resources Institute is a global research organization that turns big ideas into action.

Is this project idea new for you or your organization? If no, how much have you already executed on?

Resource Watch is already in advanced stages of development as an open, freely accessible, online global data system. The idea to combine advanced monitoring, data, complementary imagery and maps, cloud computing, mobile technology to detect potential conflict hot spots has never been applied before

What is the problem you aim to solve with this idea? How would you define this problem as urgent and a priority in your target community?

Water crises are a major global risk and are likely to increase in intensity over time. But (inter)national and local actors have critical knowledge gaps on the environmental risk multipliers for human well-being and societal stability, and limited access to integrated data to analyse and predict.

What is the timeline for your project idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

Currently: engagement with partners and end users for project finalization. Autumn 2017: Beta version of Resource Watch (RW) is launched. Winter 2017: Project partners share their ‘data layers’ that are mounted on RW. Spring 2018: integration of (socio-economic and bio-physical) data on RW is completed. Summer 2018: World Release. WRI and partners present the Platform to the media and target audiences. Autumn 2018: Insights from users and communities gathered for M&E

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of responsibility).

WRI will coordinate a group of partners that will contribute to the project in different ways: technology for Resource Watch (Google; Vizzuality; Esri, etc.); bio-phisical data (Deltares, UNESCO-IHE, etc.); socio-economic indicators (HCSS, UNDP, ESPA); 'impact' and engagement partners to monitor use

What do you need the most support with in this project idea?

  • Understanding your User and Community

What is your primary goal over the next 6 weeks of Refinement?

  • Iterate or improve on my product/service

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) results for this project?

1 – Successful launch and functioning of the platform technology, Resource Watch 2 – Tracking the use of the platform (user's registration; data use; beneficiary mapping) 3 – Development of 'Case Studies' for further engagement and inspiring others 4 – Development of new partnerships; additions to the platform (new content and functionalities); successfully continue to refine methods

How has your project proposal changed due to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase?

As indicated in the attachment 'summary of beneficiary feedback', several comments were integrated in the design. Among these, the most important addiction are related to: - more 'user friendly' functionalities on the platform; - modalities of approaching users and assuring diffusions of results; - offering additional possibilities to visualize and interact with data in tailored ways

Current geopolitical crises provide evidence of how bio-physical changes, such as water scarcity, climate change impacts and soil degradation increasingly provide a fertile ground for tensions and conflicts within and between countries, especially when combined with socio-economic vulnerability, political exclusion, societal inequalities. While the root causes of conflict can often be found in the bio-physical domain, with food insecurity, job losses and migration as secondary effects, these relationships are not well understood.  There is limited access to integrated data for analysis and predictions of potential conflict ‘hot spots.’ Actors that need to be involved (development experts, defense analysts, environmental change experts, and diplomats) have little interaction. Thus, there are critical knowledge and policy gaps on the environmental risk multipliers for human well-being and societal stability.  

The World Economic Forum has identified growing water crisis as a top global risk. Clean, reliable water supply are vital for agriculture, energy, manufacturing, cities, households and ecosystems. Yet, the world’s water systems face formidable threats. More than a billion people live in water-scarce regions, and as many as 3.5 billion people could experience water scarcity by 2025. Lack of water can create food insecurities and even partial economic collapse – leading to displacement and migration. Combined with a failure of governments to provide for other basic needs, chronic water shortages make countries more susceptible to extremism, political uprisings, and wide-ranging destabilization. The water crisis is likely to increase over time. Many climate impacts manifest themselves in the hydrological cycle, e.g., changes in precipitation leading to prolonged droughts or flooding, glacier melt, sea level rise and salt intrusion, and higher evapotranspiration. Growing populations and increasing economic prosperity also increases demand for water, and in turn lead to increased quantities of untreated waste water – further reducing the quality of a scarce resource that we tend to take for granted.

Environmental factors are rarely the sole cause of tensions or violent conflicts. However, water risks and related environmental stressors are implicated in all phases of the conflict cycle, from contributing to the outbreak and perpetuation of violence to undermining prospects for peace. In many regions across the globe, the impacts of climate change and growing water stress are likely to increase the potential for tensions and conflict, as people compete for increasingly scarce water resources. Emerging economies are especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, ecosystem degradation, and water stress, and these issues are intensifying in many parts of the developing world, especially Africa and the Middle East.

Studies increasingly recognize water-related risks as key contributing factors to disputes and conflicts within and between countries, with potentially significant consequences for international, regional, and national peace and security. In the case of Syria, this link has been convincingly made. Yet despite growing attention to the interlinkages between natural resources, peace, and security, national governments, especially the diplomatic, defense and development sectors, continue to operate in policy silos, without the coordination needed on these issues, and with too little knowledge on the environmental stress factors.

The data revolution, a convergence of information and communication technologies and human networks, provides us with an unprecedented opportunity to tackle the barriers of information availability and accessibility. Through the internet of things, it is now possible for us to monitor the earth in near real time, analyze changes, and immediately distribute the information directly to decision makers, and those who can influence them. This project aims to equip decision-makers with the information needed to better understand, predict, prevent, and mitigate conflicts stemming from water resource over-exploitation and scarcity.

The data sets that would be instrumental to address this issues already exist, but are scattered across different sites and not served up in an integrated, user-friendly, actionable manner.  We will draw on data sources from highly regarded, mostly technology-oriented project partners, that have agreed to share their data with us. WRI will be responsible for curating and integrating the data, visualizing, quality assuring, and building a community of users around the platform. The platform will be free, open access, and capable of interoperating with other organizations’ data systems. We will use the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY) as the default, providing open access to users. Likewise, the data architecture will be open source, allowing others to build on our system and resurface the data on their own systems. This open design will ensure that Resource Watch, and the 'Platform for Water, Peace, and Security' that will be powered by it, are a scalable, global public good freely available to all.

Two key factors will assist in ensuring the long-term sustainability of the Platform for Water, Peace, and Security. First, by building on the Resource Watch application programming interface (API) the costs of maintaining and updating the platform will be significantly reduced. The Resource Watch API is a data catalog and connector that simplifies the process of accessing data services across the web to create maps, graphs, and other visualizations. Its use of open source micro-processors make it easy to update and maintain. In addition, the costs of updating and maintaining the API are shared across the various platforms that are powered by it. Second, WRI has formed a Resource Watch Partnership of the world’s leading information and communication technology providers (both private sector and public sector). These partners provide significant pro bono contributions, including data, technology, and expert advice, helping to ensure the platform stays at the cutting edge of technology. Other relevant stakeholders that have committed to this initiative are partners in WRI’s 'Aqueduct' and 'Global Forest Watch' data platform. They will help ensure we continue to have the best available data on the platform. We will continuously work to integrate new data sets into the platform when they become available. Where good data already exists, WRI will seek to partner with the originator and integrate it into Resource Watch and the 'Platform for Water, Peace, and Security', rather than duplicate efforts. We will recognize our data partners’ contributions on the platform and provide them with information on how their data is used on the platform. They can, in turn, use this data to demonstrate to their funders how they are expanding the reach of their data by partnering with us.

We will leverage our partnership with data suppliers and users to help us conduct an in-depth user assessment of the platform after its first year. One year after launch, we will convene partners from the user community to assess how they are utilizing the system and what improvements can be made to enhance their user experience. We will also seek input to this process from a broader network of local NGO, government, and business users that we will build over the duration of the project. To assist with this, we will keep a database of key users identified in the first year to follow up with via interview or survey periodically. And for those users who sign up for alerts, we will be requiring a few fields to be filled in to facilitate identification of users. We will supplement these direct feedback processes with information from Google Analytics and related tools that quantify and monitor use of the 'Platform for Water, Peace, and Security.’ 

WRI will use feedback from our partnership with target users, together with information from the platform monitoring indicators, to inform the design of the user interface and types of data surfaced. This feedback will also inform how we prioritize direct outreach and engagement to users. We will develop an operational beta prototype platform that will be tested with users ahead of the launch. We have extensive experience executing user-testing protocols for data platforms. This includes reviewing wireframes and demonstrating initial functionality of the platform ahead of the launch. We view platform development as a continuous learning process, monitoring feedback throughout the project development and roll-out phases, and adapting the system to best meet the needs of target users.

Grassroots organizations are a core target user of the 'Platform for Water, Peace, and Security.' They will provide much needed information to local communities in their efforts to advocate for and promote positive change. Local communities often do not have access to timely, high quality monitoring and contextual information about their natural resources. Information flow will be two-way. Local communities will be able to provide information to the 'Platform for Water, Peace, and Security' via its easy-to-use uploading and sharing functionalities. WRI has a vast network of partnerships with local NGOs around the planet that can directly use the site and help us to link to others in their own networks. For example, the WRI-convened Access Initiative is the world’s largest network of civil society organizations dedicated to ensuring that people have access to information about resources. The Initiative operates in 50 countries and has over 250 civil society organizations in its network. We will work to expand our network of grassroots organizations, monitor their use of the platform and continuously improve it according to their needs, enabling organizations conducting innovative work at the local or regional level to gain a wider reach to scale up their impact. 

WRI and its partners will develop an outreach and communication strategy at the outset of the project to ensure target audiences are engaged in the design of the platform. We will form a partnership of data providers and target users, including and especially grassroots groups that will meet regularly throughout the life of the project to provide guidance on the design and use of the platform. In addition, the platform itself will be designed to actively push data out to users and not just cater to those who visit the platform. For example, the platform will incorporate an alert system whereby users can sign up for up for alerts on hot spot issues or emerging trends in their geographic interest areas. We will also push out a regular rolling series of 'insights' (data driven stories), highlight major issues at the nexus of natural resources, climate change, and human security to media and journalists. These ‘insights’ will be designed to educate and inspire target users. Our goal is to build a media community that gets in the habit of checking the water, peace and security 'Insight of the Week.' Finally, we will reach out to target users in the security and disaster response community through presenting at events which they regularly attend. We have already identified an opportunity to put water security on the agenda of the UN Security Council in 2018, by leveraging our long-standing partnership with the governments of Sweden and the Netherlands, which are each chairing the Security Council for one month in 2018. They have reached out to WRI for assistance in making the case to UN Security for the need to reframe national security to also include water and climate risk. Other relevant events that we have identified include:

  • Global security conferences (e.g., the Munich Security Conference);
  • Global water conferences (e.g., the Stockholm Water Week annual conference);
  • Diplomats and security experts (e.g., EU, EEAS, NATO, US Departments of Defense and State, US Army War College, US and European think tanks);
  • Global development organizations (e.g., USAID, bilateral donors in Europe, World Bank);
  • Global investors, insurance companies, and multinationals; and
  • The NGO community on disaster and conflict response (e.g., Care, Red Cross, Oxfam).

Explain your idea

Early detection of potential conflict ‘hot spots’ is critical. It requires integrated data systems that link data on political exclusion and socio-economic inequalities, current and projected freshwater supply and demand, integrating the climate change impacts and other ecosystem data such as deforestation, food, energy. The World Resources Institute (WRI), together with a group of international partners, will bring together a variety of data sets on the new WRI ‘Resource Watch’ platform to help forecast, monitor, and manage potential areas of conflict. ‘Resource Watch’ as a data platform is already in advanced stages of development as an open, freely accessible, online global data system that unites technology, transparency, and human networks to drive sustainable management of the planet’s resources. It will combine advanced monitoring systems, data (historic, near-real-time, and projections), complementary imagery and maps, cloud computing, mobile technology, and a networked world to create never-before-possible transparency on what is happening to the world’s resources―both faraway and right at home. This resulting radical transparency on climate change, energy, food, water, cities, ecosystems and other critical issues will empower civil society, NGOs, the media, and progressive public and private sector leaders to take action to conserve, restore, and sustainably manage resources at a pace that matches the modern world. A beta version will be launched in autumn 2017. This Idea relates to the specific Platform for Water, Peace, and Security which will be mounted on Resource Watch, expanding the data layers related to water stress and societal stress, combining more detailed data sets on water and connecting these with data on socio-economic and political data to better anticipate potential conflict ‘hot spots’. Such integrated data sets currently do not exist. Our partners will bring in required data on societal stress (exclusion and inequality) and we will work together with top experts to deepen the current and projected water demand and supply levels. This platform will help national and international decision-makers identify and visualize political, economic, and social threats stemming from water resource risk. This innovative, comprehensive, interactive platform will be free and publicly accessible, providing radical transparency in near real time. This integrated data hub aims to be the trusted source of actionable information to predict and prevent conflicts and humanitarian crises around the globe. We aim to create a community of experts from different fields and organizations working together to tackle complex interconnected issues that affect peace, planet and prosperity.

Who Benefits?

The ultimate beneficiaries are vulnerable people on the front-line of growing water scarcity. This platform will help decision makers to better understand and act on water stress. National and local governments would have a tool to cross-reference water risk indicators with social, economic, political and conflict data, to better predict tensions, population displacements and political instabilities. Diplomats and defense analysts would be able to improve their response to, and possibly prevent water-related disasters. International development agencies, multilateral organizations and regional bodies would have a credible, science-based source of information to inform their sustainability and economic development agendas. Citizens, local communities, and civil society organizations would get access to vital information to advocate for and promote positive change. The media would have a reliable set of data on which to report crises and disaster risks with greater relevance and accuracy

How is your idea unique?

Knowledge lies at the root of the power to act for the public good. Currently, there is no global data system able to offer strategic and near real-time information on water risk and potential for conflict. The platform will work at the intersection of these issues, by promoting a comprehensive, cross-disciplinary approach, which will build bridges between policy areas and themes that are often not connected: peace and stability; socio-economic development and human well-being; environment and climate change. Our unique advantage is the strong partnership we will bring of organizations with deep expertise of these issues, committed to collaborate to bring this idea into action. As the lead partner, WRI is globally reputed for its innovative work on big data, leading with online platforms on water scarcity, climate change and deforestation to name a few.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

Tell us more about you

The World Resources Institute is a global research organization that spans more than 55 countries, with offices around the globe ( Our 700 staff and experts work closely with leaders in government, business and civil society to address today’s most pressing challenges. For 35 years, WRI has been a trusted partner working at the intersection of environment and development to advance knowledge and catalyze movements for change. Our reputation as credible, independent, neutral and trusted source of research allows us to convene international organizations, government agencies, civil society groups, businesses, and others around practical solutions. We have been able to forge innovative partnerships that move the agenda forward on key sustainability challenges at national and international levels. Our core strength lies the generation of high quality evidence, through robust and accessible sources of data and cutting-edge analysis of sustainable development issues. We are always looking for collaborative approaches and work with partners around the world to build networks and scale our efforts regionally and globally. We place a premium on the practical value of our work and our proven ability to shape outcomes at scale. To deliver the integrated Platform for Water, Peace, and Security, we are partnering with experts in socio-political developments that have the capacity to do predictive analysis, and with top hydrological experts that will contribute with their time, their extensive data sets, and analytical expertise. The work will be coordinated by WRI. WRI has a unique set of experiences, skills, and relationships it will draw on to execute this project, including: • Remote sensing and monitoring: with its own geographic information system (GIS) laboratory, WRI has two decades of experience converting remote sensing data (e.g., satellite images) into freely available information and maps designed to improve resource management and protection. • Mapping: WRI was one of the pioneers of applying maps to natural resource conservation and management, and has mapped the world’s forests, coral reefs, water resources, and more. • Legacy of resource monitoring: WRI has a history of monitoring the status of and trends in the planet’s resources through initiatives such as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, World Resources Report, Earth Trends, the Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (CAIT), Global Forest Watch, Aqueduct, and Rights to Resources maps. • Governance: WRI has internationally recognized expertise in environmental governance including how to strengthen transparency, access to information and participation in decision making, performance monitoring, and accountability. • Global communications reach: WRI’s communications team has a track record of delivering messages to target audiences and raising the profile of sustainability issues around the globe, with hits in top name media outlets on a regular basis.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.


Join the conversation:

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Hi World Resources Institute Team!

We’re excited to share with you feedback and questions from the BridgeBuilder team and an external set of experts. We encourage you to think about this feedback as you continue to improve and refine your idea. You are welcome to respond in the comments section and/or to incorporate feedback into the text of your idea. Your idea and all associated comments will all be reviewed during the final review process.

When thinking about desirability, feasibility and viability here’s what experts shared:
• One expert shared: “If designed thoughtfully, then the output of this idea has the potential to be quite valuable to the intended users. The concept itself is quite feasible, so long as the identified data fields are already being developed and will be accessible to the developers of the tool. Finally, with respect to viability, there are some serious concerns and questions around the sustainability of the tool in the face of resource limitations and the need for continued maintenance, data acquisition, etc. Would love to hear your thoughts around addressing these challenges. In addition would love to learn more about your continued outreach and education of the intended users of the tool?”
• Another expert shared: “RW has a strong track record. If this idea is pursued I would encourage an in-depth user review in a year's time to look at the extent of its reach into local communities.”

Human-centered design starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor-made to suit their real needs. How does this idea consider user needs?
• Yes. How will you bake user-feedback into your organization as you grow?

Outstanding comments and questions:
• One expert shared: “Resource Watch brings big data to policy makers and people. It adds an element of transparency sunshine into areas of intensive resource use where it is often difficult to really have a good grasp of what is happening. Its work on other ecosystems has been very successful in helping policy makers sort through 'alternative' facts and make better-informed decisions. RW would be very strong if it paired with grassroots organizations like EcoPeace/CLUA/EarthRights and others who are generally in the trenches. These are not service providers but community activists concerned about the loss of resources in their own backyard.”

Thank you so much for sharing the important work you are doing!

In case you missed it, check out this Storytelling Toolkit for inspiration for crafting strong and compelling stories: Storytelling is an incredibly useful tool to articulate an idea and make it come to life for those reading it. Don’t forget - June 16 at 11:59PM PST is your last day to make changes to your idea on the OpenIDEO platform.

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Looking forward to reading more!

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Dear OpenIdeo Team and external experts,

Many thanks for taking the time to provide such insightful comments! We are happy to share the replies that our team put together, that we consolidated in the attachment 'Replies to the Expert Questions' and also integrated in the full description of our Idea.

Looking forward to the final evaluation!

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