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WaterWomen [Update 22/12_Final version]

WaterWomen focuses on empowering women and youth of urban slum communities in Jaipur (India) to take control over their water resources.

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In many Indian slums, water supply is not sufficient in quantity and quality. Climate change, urbanization and population growth will make the situation more pressing. Through research in slum communities in Jaipur, we have learned that a lack of knowledge and expertise leads to water-related problems such as wastage of water, illegal pipeline connections, practicing open defecation upstream of drinking water production wells, thinking in limited ways (temporal and spatial). Our idea is to create an educational piece with four interactive audio-visual modules, e.g. “movie on the road”, to enable women to understand and assess the water and sanitation situation in their communities: 1)Understanding: Climate change, local geology, the urban water cycle & how human actions influence the local water situation. 2)Observing: How to measure important water quality & quantity parameters. 3)Data management: Why it is important & how to apply it for water sampling campaigns. 4)Assessing: Simple ways to plot data & to make a first assessment of the situation. A lack of capacity in terms of time, media access and confidence of the slum dwellers requires a concise, entertaining and simple solution. As a second step, we are planning to develop a guideline tool titled “How to solve your local water problems: Guidelines to the implementation of simple solutions” which will be based on the experience gained. This will empower women to take action against deteriorating water resources.


For a start, two urban slum communities in Jaipur would benefit, as we are going to prototype our solution there. After an evaluation phase, we plan to expand it to other areas in India. The overall community benefit is an improved water supply. Furthermore, especially women will profit from this project because their newly gained knowledge will enhance their confidence and strengthen their role within the community (see attachment: UserExperienceMap_WaterWomen).


Climate change affects water resources. Changing rainfall patterns can lead to decreasing groundwater recharge, flood events are more likely to occur and surface water bodies are subject to increasing evaporation losses. All cases have impacts on the quantity and quality of water resources. Urban slums are the most affected places as they do not have the financial and technical capacity to react to decreasing groundwater tables and they are often located in flood prone areas. Identifying how climate change specifically affects the water resources of a certain area will enable communities to either implement measures (e.g. recharge structures to maximize groundwater resources) to counteract the consequences or to demand concrete action from the municipality. We are collaborating with an Indian grassroots NGO, which has been working with women and youth in slums in 14 Indian cities for over 20 years. We therefore have close contact to women community groups in the pilot areas and can build on existing structures. Based on interviews and the application of human-centered design tools, e.g. shadowing and photo essays, we identified the women’s perception of water problems. In addition, we introduced our project to official stakeholders (water supplier, regional groundwater board) during our field research and we plan to intensify these contacts in the future. We believe that with a participatory water management based on sound hydrogeological understanding we can obtain sustainable, flexible and resilient solutions in terms of environmental and social aspects.


  • Yes, for two or more years


  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for at least two years


  • Yes


We are an interdisciplinary team consisting of a creative director with UI/UX background, who is managing a global team of designers, a psychologist focusing on user-research and psychological aspects of design and three hydrogeologists with work experience in Raipur, Delhi, Chennai and Jaipur.


WaterWomen is a novel idea we developed during a workshop in India held by the Indian grassroots NGO "Mahila Housing Trust" (MHT) with whom we are cooperating. Our approach is to bring together people with different backgrounds, so that all aspects of community water problems can be dealt with by an expert of the respective subject area. The participatory approach, in this case focused on women, is new for us but is the specialty of our Indian partners. The hydrogeological perspective is new for our partner NGO but is, of course, the specialty of our team. Furthermore, our team includes a designer and a psychologist with considerable experience in design-thinking. This set-up enables our team to develop a human-centered design approach for a participatory community-based water management.


One would never go to court without a trained lawyer, and one would never board an airplane without a trained pilot. However, it is common practice to tackle water problems without consulting a trained water expert. Hydrogeologists are “groundwater experts”, who understand the distribution, flow and quality of groundwater, surface water-groundwater and sediment-groundwater interactions. They can set up conceptual and numerical groundwater flow and transport models, which help to predict the development of water quality and quantity. Based on this, hydrogeologists develop sustainable water management concepts for different scenarios (see Workplan_Jaipur). To date, most organizations working on water issues at community level do not include hydrogeological investigations. Large organizations (NGOs, Development Agencies) that have hydrogeologists in their team do not work at community level but often concentrate on governance. Classical hydrogeology projects remain at a technical stage and do not consider social aspects. WaterWomen works on a community level connecting (ground)water experts, social scientists and community members creating a link that so far has been neglected.


Assessing the local geology is a difficult task, but absolutely necessary to understand the groundwater scenario, which is strongly linked to the overall water situation. Therefore, the first interactive module “understanding” (see the first question) plays a critical role in all following tasks. It is important to find out which degree of complexity is still suitable for our target group. Choosing the best medium for the modules is crucial for teaching this complex matter in an entertaining manner. The degree of complexity and the choice of medium are therefore the central questions.


Most poor communities have water problems. On the one hand, deteriorated water comes from the tap, well or water tanker. This is the starting point for many projects that aim at improving water supply. On the other hand, people do not have access to sanitation infrastructure. Constructing community/individual toilets is the end point of many projects aiming at improving sanitation. However, to find sustainable solutions for water problems, the impacts on the water resources caused by water abstraction and of sanitation measures have to be considered, especially in the face of climate change. Existing concepts, therefore, start one step too late and end one step too early.


We got feedback from the target communities through detailed interviews with five women, four camera user studies and one shadowing-day. After the feedback phase we had several aha moments: 1) We recognized that most women have mobile phones but no smartphones. Therefore, solutions requiring mobile applications or mobile data connections are not suitable for the target group. When designing for the younger generation, an educational mobile application might be appropriate because some young people already have smartphones. 2) Time is very precious, and the women have little free time. The more related to the women’s daily life and the more entertaining, the more effective our training might be. 3) The target group is not willing to pay for groundwater. 4) There is a strong need for communication between official water supplier and community. The feedback showed us that our modules should not be internet-based as we had planned. Furthermore, we have seen how little time the women have, which is a new challenge for the design of our modules. The obvious need for communication with officials has strengthened our confidence in our approach because empowering women in water issues will be a good way to start fruitful and constructive discussions between the supplier and the community.


We want to initiate change at four levels: 1)The water situation in the target communities should improve in quality and quantity. This can be achieved by protecting the water resources against contamination and using them in a sustainable way. 2)In case the pilot studies are successful, the application of the modules should be promoted at other locations. 3)We want to show organizations who are planning water projects that it makes sense to involve hydrogeologists in their projects. 4)As natural scientists, we want to understand the behavior and needs of communities to be able to develop solutions that will be accepted and are applicable at a community level (see Workplan_WaterWomen).

How does your idea connect to the broader system of the city where you plan to implement?

Our main partner is MHT, an Indian grassroots NGO working in 14 cities in India, one of them being Jaipur. For the past 20 years they have been educating and empowering women community leaders from urban slums. Through their work they have created an awareness of water issues in many communities. We can connect to their structures and supply water expertise and hydrogeological background to support their work and achieve a holistic approach to making communities resilient. We established first contacts to the city’s water supplier to include them in the project and create a trustful working atmosphere. We are keeping them informed about the progress and will cooperate with them closely. Our first meeting was successful and very promising. Furthermore, we cooperate with initiatives outside Jaipur. It is planned to use water testing kits designed by the NGO “Development Alternatives”. For scientific exchange we are connected to the Indian Institute of Public Health in Gandhinagar.


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Photo of Chioma Ume

Hi Theresa!
Below is some feedback from our experts. We look forward to reading your responses!

It's great how much effort you have taken to get feedback from the community. Based on what you learned about the time constraints women have, how do you imagine them making the time to learn these skills and put them into practice?

Related to this, what motivation do women have to undertake this training? What might you do to better understand these motivations?

Photo of Theresa

Dear Expert Team,

Thank you for your helpful comments! As you recognized, the time and motivation issues are the most crucial points. Therefore, we kept these in mind during the entire planning phase.

We are focusing on women who are organized in community groups. That way, we do not need to come up with selection criteria for reliable people. The group leaders already go to regular meetings of our partner NGO and feel committed to their communities. Thus, the motivation constraints are minimal in the beginning because our target group is already dedicated to improving their environment.

There are two stages concerning the time and motivation issues: 1) The target group needs to find time and motivation to attend the training, and 2) the target group needs to find time and motivation to carry out the hydrogeological investigations.

Regarding the first point we are planning to make the modules short, entertaining and flexible. We were thinking about the following procedure:

1) Together with our partner NGO we will announce a new workshop to the community leaders about a week in advance and ask for suggestions of a date.

2) The community leaders will inform the other women and together they will decide on a date and a time.

3) Subsequently, we decide on a location together with the women. Depending on the module it can be our office, a home, or a public place with a well.
a. If the women come to the office, they have to spend money for transportation and have to take a day off at work. Therefore, we will compensate their financial losses and offer refreshments. The advantage of this version is that the women will experience a new environment, which is usually not open to them and this could enhance their self confidence. We believe that the women will feel more important and will also think that the topic is of high priority.
b. If the workshop takes place at a private home we will compensate the expenses (tea, electricity) of the house owner.
c. Regarding the public space meetings the women should decide at which place they feel comfortable and which well is of high interest to them.

Our partner NGO has made good experiences with this procedure since 20 years.

In the trainings we want to improve the attitudes the women have about their water management, mainly by increasing awareness and education and decreasing the lack of knowledge about causality of water problems. As part of the training we want to show that it is possible to take control and create an impact, empowering the women to have a higher self-efficacy and confidence. This will lead to a positive attitude change and target some of the possible obstacles, such as technical barriers. A positive attitude and the understanding of the importance of the measurements will result in the intention to carry out the investigations.

The main problem we will be facing is the time and motivation constraints at the second stage (hydrogeological investigations). To motivate the women to carry out novel actions (=investigations), we should be aware of the following model:

Positive attitudes →Intentions to carry out behavior → (Dangerous intention-action gap!) → Action

To overcome the intention-action gap, we will have to train them to carry out the investigations in an easy manner. In addition, it could be a good idea to have them write down how and when the necessary measurements would fit in their daily routine. This increases the commitment and makes the plan more precise. Once we understand the group dynamics we could use social commitment (a.k.a. group pressure) as another tool by having them report on their measurements and problems every time they come together.

Material rewards often do not work well in the long term, so we should make sure that the investigations are rewarding in itself - because of their responsibility for and the social approval from their communities and the group. Related to this, we will concentrate on the negative emotions felt with the current situation (diseases, not satisfied with water supply, anger, sadness, fear to drink water) and the positive emotions with their role in changing the water situation (pride to improve situation, satisfaction).

To finally close the intention-action gap, we need to remove all possible obstacles and have strong intentions. We have to make sure that the investigations are easy and that the group leaders have a high self-efficacy to carry them out. Furthermore, habit formation is important: The hydrogeological investigations should seamlessly fit in the daily routines and should not take a lot of effort to remember and complete. Therefore, we will develop an attractive and portable sampling-kit including measurement devices, a notebook and pens that they can store in a place they frequently come by (such as next to the door). This way the kit will act as an environmental cue, reinforcing their intentions.

Photo of Chioma Ume

Thanks so much for all of these details! Three quick questions for you: what is the name of the grassroots organization that you are working with? Is there someone at that organization who will be dedicated to doing this work with you? Lastly, how do you envision using Amplify support?

Photo of Theresa

Dear OpenIDEO Team,

We are collaborating with the organization Mahila Housing SEWA Trust (MHT). It is an organization founded by the Self Employed Women's Association in 1994 with the vision to realize the right to shelter and dignity for all. MHT focuses on enhancing civic engagement, particularly among slum residents and women by the promotion of Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) and grassroot women's leadership.

The project “Devising local coping mechanisms and adaptation technologies to build climate-resilience capacities of urban poor in South Asia” under the lead of MHT is one of the winning projects in the Global Resilience Partnership. The consortium consists of 17 project partners, including the Freie Universität Berlin (FUB) from Germany, who will be responsible for the hydrogeological investigations of the Jaipur case study (see attachments). One hydrogeologist of our WaterWomen team is in charge of the hydrogeological part of this case study. Besides our contacts to MHT’s main office in Ahmedabad, we work closely with two employees of MHT in Jaipur.

We founded WaterWomen to amplify the output of the Jaipur case study (a training manual and a guideline handbook). The goal is to reach more women, ensure a sustainability of the project beyond its end and achieve a better transferability of the project results. For more details please see the attachment Workplan_WaterWomen_project.

We hope to get support from the Amplify team to develop our four interactive training modules, improve our guideline handbook and create a documentary as described in the attachments. The application of human centered design thinking to the outputs mentioned above will enable us to better reach our target group and overcome the limitations of purely scientific solutions.

Photo of Chioma Ume

Very helpful Theresa, thank you. If you haven't already, it would be great if you describe as much as possible in the submission form and make reference to any relevant attached documents within the submission form -so evaluators know where to look if they have questions! Thanks!

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Dear Chioma Ume,
thank you for highlighting the importance of adding references to our attachments within the text!
We are looking forward to hearing from you!

Photo of Chioma Ume

You're quite welcome. Happy Holidays!!!

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