An Open Water Data Platform for Clean Water, #OpenWaterTNC 

By and Joerg Erdmenger | 4 minute read | December 11, 2019

What can bring together IBMers from around the world with diverse business backgrounds and areas of expertise to address one of most pressing environmental issues? IBM Service Corps. This is an innovative social impact program that offers a triple benefit: IBM develops global leaders. IBMers receive leadership training and development. And, local communities and non-profit organizations get support in solving challenging problems.

For our project, IBM Service Corps partnered with The Nature Conservancy to develop recommendations for a next generation Open Water Data Platform to tackle the global challenge of water security. The Nature Conservancy is a charitable environmental organization founded in 1951 in Arlington, VA. The Nature Conservancy or TNC has protected more than 119,000,000 acres of land and thousands of miles of rivers worldwide. Our mission was to develop a roadmap that will arm local and global leaders with the right data to drive water decisions for generations to come.

Our Team

IBMers from five continents from communications, finance, engineering, Global Business Services, and delivery came together to tackle this challenge. We were introduced to each other just six weeks before the assignment through a video chat. Despite our different backgrounds, we had common ground to build on: A dedication to client success, an eagerness to innovate, and mutual trust and respect.


Our Purpose

We aligned around a common purpose “to conserve the land and waters on which all life depends,” which is at the heart of The Nature Conservancy‘s mission statement.

Today there is a gap in data products for water quantity and quality globally.  The technology and data that exist is disconnected, not updated with available frequencies of fresh data, have access restrictions, and lack transparency. This impacts the work of organizations like TNC who execute water security programs based on need around the world.

Our goals were to:

  1. Plan and design a water data platform to ensure accessibility and transparency
  2. Provide subject matter expertise on program measurement and evaluation to support the analysis and reporting of water data including the impact of TNC’s programs
  3. Develop marketing to build an ecosystem of partner and developers for the platform

Our Approach

During the first week in Denver, CO, we set off to support this mission.  The first step was engaging with TNC top experts in water funds to work with IBM in a face-to-face Design Thinking workshop. After a week full of empathizing, playbacks and collecting feedback, we had a good understanding of our key users’ (aka heroes) pain points and agreed on a way forward with TNC: a joint roadmap for an Open Water Data Platform that will support communicating the impact of water funds.

According to TNC, water funds are organizations that design and enhance financial and governance mechanisms which unite public, private and civil society stakeholders around a common goal to contribute to water security through nature-based solutions and sustainable watershed management.

The IBM team was divided into three work streams to hone in on specific areas of the roadmap: Measurement and Evaluation, Technology, and Marketing and Communications. Over the next 2 weeks, each work stream worked side by side with TNC professionals in Denver and HQ in Arlington, VA. These weeks were packed with stakeholder interviews, both face-to-face and via video calls around the world; organizational and landscape research; and the testing of several hypotheses.

Quickly we realized the open data platform we had in mind at the end of week one would only be a small part of the overall puzzle. Even more important would be a trusted network of partners inside and around The Nature Conservancy who shared a common goal: openly work together to collect and share the right data and derive common value by leveraging an Open Water Data Platform.

All three work streams would equally contribute to helping:

  • deliver an agreed set of measurement and evaluation guidelines to all partners
  • provide an open water data platform with benefits for all contributors
  • openly communicate the value of this effort and market the benefits

We ran multiple playbacks, one-on-one reviews with TNC sponsors, and tested our prototypes to verify findings and meet expectations. During the final Week 4, the work streams reunited at TNC HQ to converge for the final presentation where it was announced that IBM and The Nature Conservancy are extending their partnership to collaborate on another IBM Service Corps project in Nairobi, Kenya building on our efforts and that of the IBM – Digital Nation Africa: Smart Water Challenge.

In addition to all of this, it is worth mentioning that we took a day off to give back to the Denver community while we were there. IBM Service Corps projects also include a day of service, where IBM teams provide service to the local community in different ways.

We spent a day at Northglenn High School, one of the local Denver P-TECH schools, guiding a group of high school students in water conservation activities that incorporated IBM Design Thinking solution-driven methodology.  It was a special day, one where we were able to share our skills and knowledge with an eager and enthusiastic group of future leaders.

We had so much fun coming together as one team. Through the long days and nights, we learned so much from each other and delivered on an important goal for TNC and the world. It was a wonderful career and personal growth opportunity to have been part of such a dynamic and rewarding project.

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